Urban fly-fishers familiar with the River Chess above Scotsbridge Mill in Rickmansworth will know it can prove a spooky stretch to fish successfully.
Historically canalised and perched above its floodplain to provide constant power for corn- and paper-milling, this lovely little outer-London chalkstream is now a popular circuit for local dog walkers (whilst tackling up for a stealthy session last summer I was overtaken by one such who proceeded slowly up the bank ahead of me, hurling a branch into the river for her large black Labrador every 5 yards!)
Unsurprisingly when faced with this level of disturbance in a straightened, homogeneous channel without adequate cover, many adult fish have simply gone elsewhere. But thanks to the River Chess Association’s hands-on determination to convert the Rickmansworth stretch into a demonstration site for urban river restoration techniques, with permanent installations of large woody debris to scour humps and hollows in the gravel, and anchor the river’s natural beds of watercress, this once-famous wild trout and grayling fishery may be on its way back.
River Chess Association chairman Paul Jennings has sent us his inspiring report from yesterday’s large woody debris-based practical visit delivered by experts from the Wild Trout Trust…
We had an excellent day yesterday with the Wild Trout Trust on the Chess upstream of Scotsbridge Mill, being given a masterclass by Andy Thomas and Shaun Leonard on how to improve and enhance habitat for fish.
The stretch of river we worked on is open to the public and forms part of the Chess Valley Walk. It is very popular with the public but less so with the fish, with this project we are hoping to change that.
There is excellent habitat for fry and smaller fish but not so for mature larger fish. The techniques demonstrated will encourage larger fish to take up territory and hopefully spawn. We created pinch points designed to clean gravel and scour out pools, half logs were installed to provide cover for fish and we built a brash barrier that will encourage bank side plant growth and habitat for fry and smaller fish.
The event was supported by a great group of partners. The landowner Three Rivers District Council provided access, large woody material and participating muscle. The Environment Agency gave their consent and participated in the event as well as providing an explanation as to why and how consents are obtained. The Chiltern Chalk Streams Project and Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust drew together a number of environmental and river groups who also attended. This was an important element of this masterclass – these groups can take what they learnt back to their individual organisations and implement the techniques on their rivers.
We had considerable interest from the public, and while we were there a school group arrived from Twyford to do kick sampling. They had some excellent results finding stone loaches, chub fry, bullheads, minnows and sticklebacks.
We are going to follow up with further work on this stretch of the Chess and other locations. A big thanks to all involved yesterday, it was a fantastic success.
Lots more photos from the event are now online on the River Chess Association’s Facebook page… click on over to have a look!
(Photo: River Chess Association)