Thursday 27 July 2017


If you’re a passionate angler like me, what could be better than a birthday tench. Beautiful but feisty, big enough to fight back when hooked and a joy to behold when finally on the bank, they make the perfect present.
a perfect six pounds of birthday present
Fishing for them on my special day has become a tradition, so each year I venture forth in an attempt to prove that I’m not yet past my sell by date.
nearly seven pounds and thin but what a birthday beauty

waiting for the bobbins to fly
The locations for my adventures have been purposefully varied. This year and last I have been on a wonderfully scenic gravel pit in Hampshire. I’m there right now as I write.

this tame robin has noticed a bite on the buzzer
Two years ago it was in the Cotswold Water Park, the pictures taken by my good friend Mark Woodage.
nearly safely in the net and time for some relief

a beautiful fat Bradleys eight pounder
an inspiring place to fish
It was snared from Bradleys, a huge but inspiring clear-water wildlife haven that is challenging at the best of times.
spring fishing can be freezing in the wind and Mark is well wrapped up preparing for a blank

there are wildfowl galore to keep us entertained
lots of small fry provide food for many grebes and big perch
the odd couple but inseparable
I love it there and would fish it more often if it wasn’t a distance away.

a simply gorgeous tench and at 8lbs the ultimate river prize
In contrast, this next fish was taken from the intimate waters of the upper Bristol Avon. At exactly eight pounds it is the best tench I’ve ever caught, not because it’s the biggest but because it was caught from a river, on a traditional float and pin, used to edge a lobworm under an alder tree. The catch included an 8lb15oz bream and a 2lb6oz perch so it was a memorable day.

what a gorgeous start to any day
a lobworm snaffling tench from under the willow
On several years I’ve tench fished in the Fens, a place close to my heart as I grew up there dreaming of catching tench instead of the ubiquitous bream.
what a remarkable place to grow up and sing for my supper

I never did succeed when I was at school in Ely but recently the lovely Lodes have provided me with a few, including this six pound battler.
Fenland tench seem to fight harder than any others but the tackle held - just
the beautiful Fenland Lode from which I caught several good tench and bream

My biggest tench is stuck on 8lb9ozs. I’ve caught one this size from five different waters, the first from Sywell in the good old days. You’ll be relieved to hear that I have no pics of any of these big tench but I’m after a double, aren’t we all, and when I catch it I’ll make sure I take a pic. Hopefully it will come along on my birthday ; now wouldn’t that be a present and a half.
those lilies scream tench, especially during this magic hour

Tuesday 11 July 2017


Travelling the world to film wildlife is a privilege but for ultimate fulfilment there’s no place like home when you are a wildlife friendly gardener.

My wife Sue and I are the grateful guardians of two acres of what was once largely derelict grass and dense woodland but when we first viewed it we could see the potential to create our own haven for wildlife. The cottage is 18th century cob and on arrival thirty-six years ago we noticed two ditches around the property that had running water in them.

the main pond is 'puddled' with clay Capability Brown style
spade work to create frog and newt habitat - it jumps with them in spring
Within weeks we had thinned excess trees and diverted the water to create a stream that flowed through the
five ponds we dug with spades and a JCB. Each year we have created more wetland habitat and can’t stress enough how magical it is to add water to your garden. It doesn’t have to be big, just wet.

what a lovely surprise it is when little egrets drop in to fish
Only the other day I’d cleared a small marshy area and within hours two little egrets arrived, no doubt looking for our numerous frogs, newts and tadpoles. As all wildlife enthusiasts know, create habitat and the animals will soon take advantage.

With this in mind we decided to start a wild flower meadow and so the lawn in front of the cottage was left uncut one spring. An amazing transformation took place as within weeks a host of flowers emerged from the grass, including three southern-marsh orchids.

no mowing - no seed - just a miracle of nature
We haven’t sprinkled seed but the variety of flowers keep on coming and the orchid head count is now in the hundreds, including pyramid and a few spotted. The bees, butterflies and grasshoppers love it and for us, it’s simple colourful summer joy.

pretty as a picture
brimstone beauty

lots of flowers are good for all insects, not least the colourful peacock butterfly

commas are a common treat on our patch and lichens a big bonus
the impressively sized silver-washed fritillaries visit every year
Sue has planted masses of insect friendly flowers, our woodland too, so the place hums with butterflies and bees. She’s a great fan of hover flies and solitary bees so we have a couple of insect homes for them, along with bird and bat boxes and old wood stacks to create beetle and bug banks.
one of several beetle-banks - very good interest rates too

frequent and exotic visitors - mandarin ducks - and our pheasant is called 'Prince Wilhelm The Second' - don't ask why
We feed the birds too of course and have some ‘interesting’ visitors at times, mandarin are regulars with three broods of mallard ducklings most years, the garden resembling Slimbridge.
two of these ducklings survived the hazards of foxes this year to become free flying

we usually have up to three pairs producing big broods
just some of the male escorts - ain't wetlands wonderful
We’ve left ‘no go’ areas with lots of scrubby bits and so every summer we revel in the song of blackcaps along with chiffchaff, song thrush and the beautiful warbling of the blackbird, serenading me as I write.

the great tit is one of our commonest residents
The latest bird count in and above the garden is one hundred and seven species so we know it’s a privilege to share this patch with so much wildlife. Water is the key, particularly as I love fish, for they are wildlife too.
rudd and golden orfe - all scoffed by the 'playful' otter last autumn

What’s more, fish provide food for herons and our ultimate garden visitor, otters. We receive a raiding party most years and though it’s a real treat to see them, it’s distressing when they eat our wildlife in the middle of the night. We used to have breeding moorhens but not since the otters discovered us. They are killers so are a mixed blessing.
our 'friendly' otter enjoying a midnight feast

minnows breed so well in the streams that we always have plenty of survivors
kingfishers are a frequent summer visitor - what a privilege
The streams provide a place for our minnows to spawn, food for kingfishers, magpies and even blackbirds. Yes, they do eat fish! Running water is great for bird-washing, stock doves, grey wagtails, buzzards and sparrow hawks being some of the more exciting bathers.

stock doves are a delight and several pairs nest close by
emperor dragonflies find our ponds ideal for egg-laying
The ponds are alive with dragons and damsels and on one memorable day last summer we were sat admiring a golden-ringed dragonfly close to our tea drinking spot when a hobby swooped down and snatched it with a loud crack. Simply amazing!

this golden-ringed dragon provided supper for a hobby
As if our own patch isn’t enough, the Dorset Wildlife Trust became our nearest neighbour when they bought the surrounding woodland as part of the exciting Great Heath Project. In our view that took us one step closer to heaven and being part of the growing army of keen gardeners who create so much for wildlife is the ultimate reward.

you can never have too many wisterias - the bees love 'em
In order to encourage everyone to create wildlife friendly gardens, the DWT give advice and award plaques to those who fulfil specific criteria and we wanted to become a part of this crusade. We were even encouraged to enter their wildlife friendly competition and Sue was surprised but delighted when we won the award for large gardens. Seeing all those happy, smiling folk at the Gardening Awards Ceremony last year just proved to us how much good that hard digging does for us all. So if you’ve ever wondered where paradise is, simply step outside into your wildlife friendly garden and get digging ... and planting.

It's always suggested that planting trees isn't for us but for our grand-children and it's simply not true. We planted many of the trees in this picture and look at the size of them, especially the glorious beeches across the pond, only thirty years old and BIG.
the glorious colours of autumn are always enjoyed, especially the acers
no, we didn't plant the ancient oaks but we did dig the marsh