Barton Court river keeper tidies up the Kennet over the winter in readiness for the fishing season
As winter drew to a close, river keeper for the Barton Court Estate, near Kintbury, Nick Richards had to wait for the flooded waters to recede before he could assess what damage may have been done and look forward to the fishing season, which started on April 15.
Mr Richards is responsible for two and a half miles of river bank and plans his days based on the weather and, in fishing season, times when anglers are booked in.
The river is an important environmental resource and Nick’s role is to maintain the ecological structure of the land around it.
Here he talks about what he did over winter and how he prepares for the return of anglers to the river.
"The water meadows are wonderful in a wet winter and it is almost unimaginable that such a world of water lies where so many ground-nesting birds will be rearing their precious broods in just a few short weeks.
For now they are the haunt of jack and common snipe, mallard, teal, herons and little and great white egrets.
The little egret is becoming an increasingly familiar sight on our rivers and ponds, but the great white egret is scarcer and frequently over-looked, despite being as large as a grey heron.
Look for a yellow bill and black legs and feet in contrast to the black bill and legs, but yellow feet, of the little egret.
The river is now running very high and carries a lot of colour after the rain.
There are periods of clearer water and in those moments of vanishingly brief sunlight this winter, there were signs that the trout had spawned in all of the habitual places and that some of the habitat work of the last few winters is paying off and a few redds have been cut in new sites.
To me, this is the highest accolade the fish can grant a river keeper.
The redd is a depression that the female trout creates in the gravel bed of the river into which she lays her eggs before covering them with another layer of gravel.
The process is brutally demanding on these hen fish, but the reward to the population might be as many as 1,000-2,000 eggs.
The eggs will have hatched by now and the fry will be actively feeding on tiny insect larvae and defending their own miniscule territories from one another.
The chances of survival for these fry are naturally slim and much of the wildlife that we delight in seeing on the river will be their undoing.
Kingfishers and the larvae of the wondrous dragon and damsel flies will actively hunt these vulnerable and precious small fry.
High flows can also threaten the survival of these diminutive fish and will cause significant downstream displacement.
These are among the reasons that trout produce so many eggs and tend to move upstream to find suitable gravel for spawning.
I have high hopes for my efforts at creating ‘sinuosity’ in a previously canalised stretch of the river, but I now have to sit on my hands and let the river and the fish tell me what they think of what I have done.
I have been turning my attention towards the opening day of the trout fishing season and hoping fervently that new and returning fishermen will be able to come and join me on the river banks and that we might all begin to return to a freer lifestyle.
One of the greatest joys of being a river keeper lies in the positive impacts that can be achieved and one of the greatest challenges lies in the patience required in flood times.
As the water recedes I will know more about the success of my projects and have a clearer picture of the damage to bridges and banks.
For now I will continue to work in the drier areas, keep my fingers crossed for the durability of my winter work and for the prospects of the coming season and continue to revel in the unfolding glories of a British riverside spring."