The Haddon riverkeepers
How did you come to work at Haddon?
“I grew up on a farm with a river running through it. When the time came for work I wrote to Chatsworth in the hope of joining their gamekeeping team, I never imagined work with rivers. The Duchess wrote back and explained that all the apprentice positions had been filled but I should try Haddon, next door. There wasn’t a place as a gamekeeper on Haddon either but at 17 I was offered a place as an apprentice river keeper under Philip White: two very fortunate events.”
“I couldn’t get enough of it. Working alongside Philip and off to college in Hampshire, where I met friends I will keep for life.”
What were your first impressions of the rivers?
“I couldn’t get my bearings at the time. We would hop out of one river valley and into the next. The rivers were all so different; small clear streams and big rivers, the colour of tea. We also had a little bit of excitement on that first day when we saw off a poacher. I was hooked.”
What’s it like to work on the rivers at Haddon?
“On occasions the day begins soon after the mid-summer dawn outside a medieval hall, with a brood of fly catchers being taught to feed by their mother only a few feet away. It often ends coming home through the riverside meadows with kilos of olive spinners in the air above my head, their wings lit up by the low evening sun. On other days it’s about putting on wet chest waders and stepping out into the December afternoon to carry rocks through knee deep silt and fit them into the river bed, with water cold enough to give you an instant headache and deep enough to touch your nose as you lean over.”
What do you like most about Haddon?
“The Dry Fly Only rule. I love the fact that the fish must come into our world for them to be caught. They have sanctuary below the surface from everything but kingfishers and otters; it’s how it should be in my opinion”.
How did you come to work at Haddon?
“I’d never have thought that I’d be working as a Riverkeeper after spending 17 years of my life growing up in London. I’d have to thank a couple of friends that got me into fishing when I was 12. My passions grew for wildlife and fish when spending time on the banks and after picking up my exam results from school that day the dreaded time came to decide where I wanted to go with my life. I found a course at Sparsholt College in Fish Farming and Fishery Management, which I absolutely loved. It wasn’t like studying because it was enjoyable. Three years whizzed past, and after gaining my National Diploma, I was lucky enough to get a break into the industry. The next three years were spent fish farming in Surrey, raising Rainbows to be stocked into lakes”.
Where did your love of rivers come from?
“Whilst at Sparsholt, I was lucky enough to do all sorts of work in and around the southern rivers of England. Field trips were particularly exciting, whether it was electro fishing on the Itchen; weed cutting on the Test, or just walking the banks of the Avon. This is where my harboured interest in rivers grew, so when the offer came to work at Haddon I took it with both hands. I still remember coming on my interview. I had never seen any rivers like it! No stocking, yet fish were everywhere and wildlife in great abundance”.
How have things progressed for you at Haddon?
“Three years into working at Haddon, and I now know where my specialities are. The fish, wildlife and the rivers as a whole on Haddon need all the protection they can get from invasive weeds and non native animals. I enjoy trapping mink in order to keep the right balance of native wildlife on the river. Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed the water vole population getting stronger. The lengthy process in applying for cormorant and goosander licences has now enabled me to get up at first light every morning through winter, ensuring none of the birds even get their feet wet on the river. Through the summer my job is to ensure no invasive weeds such as Giant Hogweed, Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed are allowed to grow and seed. One day, Haddon Estate will be a haven for having no invasive weeds or non-native animals”.
“I am still learning everyday about the river and how it wants to live. There are areas of my work that I wish to excel in and areas that I want to enhance my knowledge in. There is no better place than Haddon”.