Today we met with Mick, Angela, Barry and Simon, all committee members of the Colchester Piscatorial Society (est. 1924) who manage and fish many waters around north Essex, including a 3 mile stretch of the River Stour near Langham. They have an agreement with the Tolhurst family to maintain and use the land for fishing and were keen to show us the work that they have been doing recently to provide better access to the river and more suitable places for anglers.
We met at the Lowlift Bridge next to Langham Pumping Station, which Mick informed us used to be a Mill. In fact, lots of the pumping stations exist on sites of old mills, such as those at Stratford St Mary and Boxted. The bridge itself is relatively new (40 years old) having replaced the old brick built bridge that was destroyed when it was hit by lightning. Mick's knowledge of the area goes back a long way as he began fishing the river in 1958 and remembers that night well, having been on the river bank during that particular storm, in which he said that the rain came down 'like the sea in strips'.
We then walked along the river bank, at their invitation as the lands are private and open to members only (see http://www.cpsangling.co.uk/ to join), and conversations immediately began, which is of course why walking is such a good vehicle for learning. Simon and Barry have been hard at work clearing certain parts of the bank to make 'swims' for the anglers to fish from. They've also been making a consistent path as most of the area was inaccessible for many years.
In recent years work by the Environment Agency has done a lot to help improve water quality, and we could see evidence of structures that the EA had built a few years previous which have provided calm areas and sanctuary for fish to hide and mate. The anglers were aware of lots of different fish in the waters but in particular told us about trout, roach, chub, bream, gudgeon, perch and pike. Eel populations have also been climbing in recent years, which should help the small numbers of otters on the river. We also saw a fair amount of wildlife too including several large chub, lots of damsel flies, a dragon fly laying eggs in the river, moor hens, lots of butterflies, grasshoppers and a Kingfisher, albeit rather fleetingly.
There are lots of Cricket Bat Willows growing along the banks and Mick gave us an in depth explanation of the process used to grow wood to make cricket bats, which is evident along a lot of the river we have walked for this project. As we progressed the landscape became more flat and open and was referred to as the Higham Prairie, and the names of the swims reflected this. Here, the River Box, that we had been walking along yesterday, joins the Stour in an area that Barry said used to have a Trout Farm, which during floods added to the river fish stocks. The terrain here was also more gravelly, meaning different plants such as Burdock were growing here, where nearer the bridge there were more ferns and moss. Next, opposite a house on the river, the River Brett also joins the Stour behind a rather understated reed bed.
Further along, and after passing a small gate that we stepped over Langham Hall came in to view. The great great great (?) grandson of John Constable, also called John Constable once commissioned some aerial photographs from the Hall. Mick said that a huge crane was brought in to the grounds and from the top of it were taken a lot of photographs in order to understand where certain trees were in the landscape in comparison to trees in some early sketches made by the famous painter.
As we made our way back along the farm tracks from the Black Barn to where we began, a man in a car stopped to have a friendly chat with Mick, which turned out to be the tenant farmer on his way to check the combine harvester that we had just passed. It was evident that they had a good relationship, but this extended past a personal level. The society has had a long relationship with the various landowners and farmers, and by working together they all help to manage and conserve the varying aspects of the land and its wildlife enabling a very positive symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial.