Tuesday, 6 September 2022

                 WE’RE BUZZING FOR BEES 


Please don’t fear the worst. This will be a good news story because even though Britain is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, there are things that we can do to make life better for wildlife - and for us humans too, like planting flowers for bees and butterflies. 


After one of the worst years of widespread climate chaos in living memory, most wildlife enthusiast will have noticed that this has also been a sadly depleted summer for bees and butterflies. We don’t really understand why they haven’t shown up here in sunny Dorset, but my wife Sue and I were determined to do what we can to attract them to our patch and if all of us helped them a bit, the world would be a better place. 

 

 

We do appreciate living in a lovely big garden, creating places for wildlife with a spade, and we didn’t need to spend much cash at all, simply planting in gravel patches or mending old pots, even finding containers that could be filled with compost, peat free of course, then planting them with buzzer friendly plants. Most of these plants were carefully stored perennials from last year and once re-potted and watered, they burst into life in a kaleidoscope of colour. Re-cycled wildlife. Perfect!


 


During our forty years living here and tending the garden to attract wildlife, we’ve gathered pots one by one, so over time we have lots. But all anyone needs to do is find just one and plant it with a salvia or dahlia and the bees will zoom in, three at a time. 




The good news is that you only need one pot to make a positive difference and they don’t even have to be big to attract and feed lots of buzzers. 


This little cluster of three inch tall vases, a present from a good friend, is decorated with a fresh group of flower cuttings every couple of days so that, when placed on a table by our garden seat, we can enjoy close encounters with the many winged wonders while sipping tea.
Pink persicaria is an ace attractor, nasturtiums too, though the best magnet of all is the yellow daisy like blooms of this more subtle version of a sunflower, helianthus ‘lemon queen’.

 

 

All cosmos are beautiful, attractive to us and the bees and a little packet of seeds provides a garden full of joy. 



In our larger pots, salvias such as white ‘whirling butterflies’ and this gorgeous ‘blue butterflies’ thrive.


And dahlia’s such as ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ and ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ prove irresistible to honey and carder bees as they provide a snow storm of pollen and nectar.

 

 

 

Hoverflies are always good value too, especially exotic looking critters such as ‘helophilus pendulum’, sometimes called the ‘footballer’ because of it’s kit!

 

 

 

Devils-bit scabious are an essential plant to have in your pots and gardens and purple loosetrife is a winner for many weeks, providing food for bees and butterflies, including this delightful holly blue. 



Of course, every public library in the country is stacked with gardening books filled with gorgeous plants that attract and feed our buzzers and the few examples we have selected and enjoyed here have hardly opened the honey pot of choice. 


So, if everyone in your neighbourhood planted just one pot of flowers, our gardens and yards, window sills and dusty corners would be filled with the delightful sound of buzzing insects, forever grateful for our kindness in providing them with pollen and nectar. It needn’t cost the earth because all it needs is some earth, a few seeds and a little patience. And do leave the nettles ... they come free.

So just give it a go. It’s a win, win treat and the bees and butterflies you're helping will make you smile.

Thursday, 28 July 2022

BERNARD CRIBBINS


                                

Such a sad day for so many of us because Bernard’s death means we will be denied his extraordinary talents to make us laugh and cry … and cry laughing. Sue and I still fall about when seeing him playing the ‘hotel inspector’ in Fawlty Towers.

His story telling skills were unmatched by anyone and he was never recognised in the way many of us felt he should be. Yes, he was awarded an OBE but no one could doubt he richly deserved the title Sir Bernard Cribbins.

The joy he provided for us millions along with inspiring so many children was wonderful, not least in ‘Old Jack’s Boat’. He told me many times how much he enjoyed telling those stories and during his hundred episodes, grew very fond of his doggy companion, Salty, who in turn loved Bernard. But then, didn’t we all.

I first had the privilege of working with him in the mid ’70’s when I asked him to narrate our RSPB film about Robins. He spoke our star robin’s thoughts so amusingly that he had them rocking in the isles at the Festival Hall and for years the film became a prime time fixture on BBC1 at Christmas.

When creating our ‘Passion for Angling’ series for the BBC, it was a no brainer to choose Bernard to describe the adventures of Chris Yates and Bob James and it was his dulcet tones that contributed so much to the success of the series.


Following that up with Martin Bowler’s ‘Catching the Impossible’, I wanted Bernard to be Martin’s angling companion and because he is such a good angler, he never failed us when required to catch a particular fish. We all became great friends and would have included Bernard in every ‘impossible’ challenge but he was very busy at the time, chasing David Tennant’s Dr.Who round the film sets at night. Even worse, he was suffering from cancer and had to put up with chemo every week. How he managed to successfully battle big carp and twenty pound pike after all those challenges was remarkable.
As the years rolled on, he became a bit lame due to his habit of jumping out of aircraft with the Paras and getting shot at in Palestine. He loved the Paras but hated the bullets!

When he came to stay with Sue and I and our two children, we naturally became even more fond of him. Katie and Peter just reminded me that Bernard has been making them laugh and smile all their lives and are tearful at this news, along no doubt with so many of todays children. He was such a lovely man, so kind and generous, amusing too of course and I wish I had the space to tell you some of his stories.

Oh, alright, just one then. Bernard described playing celebrity cricket with Fred Trueman at Lords when a naked lady streaker ran onto the pitch and Fred said “That’s the only thing that’s swung all day!”… and of course, all told by Bernard in a perfect Yorkshire accent.

Bernard has been described as a creative genius and non of us could ever doubt that. His extraordinary variety of talents means he will be missed by us all and having had the privilege of sharing a tiny portion of his life, his passing brings tears to my eyes. Rest in peace Bernard and catch another one for me please.


Monday, 27 June 2022

I LOVE TENCH

 

                                 I LOVE TENCH


‘Amo, Amas, Amat’ are the few Latin words I remember and mean ‘I love’. So if like me you were unfortunate to suffer fifth form Latin lessons at school, then you would know that the latin name for these most iconic freshwater fish with red eyes is ‘tinca tinca’.
 


Tench live in some of our most beautiful countryside, thriving in lily decorated lakes, weedy canals and gravel pits, slow flowing rivers, even very small ponds and in recent years, these rotund, golden scaled, muscular fish have been voted our most popular fish. 


What’s more, their homes are havens for a rich and diverse wildlife and the enjoyment of sharing the wilds with nature is one of the most important reason for being an angler and as is often said, ‘there is more to fishing than catching fish’.

Tench have of course been a favourite angler’s quarry for centuries,
[I wonder if the Romans fished for them?] and I love tench, not just because of their beauty but because they can be tricky to catch, especially the big ones, and we all like a challenge don’t we?



What’s more, if we’re lucky enough to hook one, they fight like mad for their freedom and using their large rounded fins, they make it a proper contest before we’re finally able to admire them face to face. 




I first clapped eyes on a tench when still a schoolboy at Ely in the Fens. My pal, nicknamed ‘Purdy’ Hawks and I were very keen birders and fishermen, cycling long distances over that inspiring ‘land off skies’ to find wildlife.

 


Here’s Purdy with our two tawny owls called Archibald and Susie. We acted as the Ely bird hospital, these two owls falling out of the cathedral tower and brought to us for rehab. A few weeks later they fledged successfully but even after flying free they would float down to us from the nearby trees to be fed. Magic! 

 Back to our tench because when a farmer told us about a small pond off the beaten track that provided a home for tench, we were there as fast as our bicycle wheels would spin. 

The pools were dug long ago to provide clay for bricks, their banks now overgrown with willows, hawthorn bushes and brambles, the perfect home for the sadly now rare turtle doves and even a pair of long-eared owls. 

As we arrived with rods strapped to our cross bars, redshank and snipe jumped alarmed from their nest sites in wet ditches, so we were careful as we approached the water, forcing our way through brambles and stingers before a mysteriously dark pool magically appeared, separated into two by a thick strip of phragmites [latin again], from which sang several reed warblers. 

We were excited by the possibility of catching our first ever tench, so hurriedly assembled our ancient cane rods and threaded on little porcupine floats, adding a small shot that would rest gently on the muddy bottom. We’d scrounged some old bread from school, mashed some of it up and flung it beside the reeds before casting out a lump of bread flake. 

Our tackle and methods were basic but it wasn’t long before both floats slid below the surface and we were battling with fiesta little tench of about two pounds, maybe more as some were very plump. I remember our joy so vividly that it’s as if it was yesterday. 

We continued catching several more, hardly noticing the increasingly heavy rain and with the fishing so good, choosing to ignore it. But by the time we had caught enough we were throughly soaked and cycled back across the Fens to school, chilled but happy, our catch totalling thirteen tench.


My Box Brownie recorded some of them and no tench will ever be as memorable as our catch, shared with the best pal a schoolboy could ever wish for. I wonder where Purdy is now? 

 

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

TASTING TROUT

              

 ‘Variety is the spice of life’ and that’s never truer than if you’re an angler. So when our local Wimborne club offered us members a ‘Trout Taster Day’ to learn how to catch one, I jumped at the chance to learn about fly fishing and move closer to nature. 

Our location was one of the club’s trout lakes just a few minutes drive west of Wimborne at rural Winterborne Zelston, the village’s name identifying the source of the crystal clear chalkstream water that creates the perfect home for the many trout that, as we arrived, encouraged us with their swirls. Watching the cruising fish as they swam in a garden of colourful aquatic weed, it looked very beautiful - and the fish were big! 


Our tutor for the day was the renowned guide Mike Bilson. He’s fished all over the world for a wide variety of species, so we were lucky, indeed privileged to receive the best possible advice to help us get started. After essential health and safety instructions, most notably to wear glasses to protect our eyes, he gave us sixteen beginners guidance on the most suitable tackle to use, on how to identify what the trout might be eating, then how to cast the imitation flies to fool the fish. 


There’s a bewildering selection of invertebrate life in the lake, from damsel nymphs to cdc's, sedges, upwing olives, daddies, floaters and sinkers but learning the lingo is all part of the fun and some of the great books that were brought along for us to study will impart the knowledge we will need as we develop our skills. 


John Goddard was a god of fly fishing during his life and has written a few bibles in his time and of Peter Lapsley’s many books, ’Matching the Hatch’ is one of the most useful. 



Mike, and Mike Hirsh our chairman alongside him and our Game Secretary on the right, Paul Baker who organised the gig, said that the most suitable tackle for this lake was a 6wt rod with middle to tip action, a reel with a good clutch loaded with 30yds of backing and a weight forward floating fly line attached to a tapered leader of 9ft. Along with a few flies, this lot will cost you about £100, so it’s not too expensive to get set up and start a lifetime of thrills and if any further help is required, then Paul is always on call, when he's not catching trout!



Once Mike had taught us enough to make it more likely that our casting would result in the fly landing on the water instead of the hedge, we were each promoted to our personal instructor for one to one coaching. The club’s Game Secretary Paul had masterminded the event superbly and had pulled together a large team of volunteers to ensure the day was a success. So when twenty of us ‘students’ arrived in perfect sunshine, we were able to admire an immaculate fishery along with a host of willing guides and their tackle. 

Many of the clubs trout fishing stalwarts had given up their day to help us in our faltering steps to become fly anglers and the quality of Mike Bilson’s instructions and our guides was proven by the fact that everyone caught at least one lovely rainbow trout and all were big enough to put a serious bend in our rods. One lucky tyro even caught a monster of eleven pounds! The smiles of triumph from both young and old made it a delightful day for us all. 



This is Willam's very first trout. He was very happy of course, as was his grandad Brian Heap, our club President who takes William fishing as often as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

My personal guide was Iain Scott, the club’s deputy chairman and we had a really enjoyable couple of hours talking club business while swopping fishing stories as he helped me in trying to fool a fish by tying on a thin 'tippet' of 5lb line. I was keen to catch one on a dry fly because the excitement of seeing the swirl of the take is a top adrenaline rush, but in the end we lowered our sights to a slightly sunken gold head nymph and it was only moments before a surging take tightened the line and battle commenced. 



The fish put up substantial resistance and was big enough to not only provide my wife Sue and I with two substantial meals but the crystal clear water and rich fly life of the lake ensured it was very tasty. So if you want to try tasting trout, buy your club day ticket costing £20 and you’ll have hours of fun and with luck, take home two big fish and enough delicious meals for a week.