Chris McCully


Trees, stress and drought

Sunday, 14 August 2022 at 08:20

Droughty leaf I drove from Yorkshire to Dorset and back recently. England didn't look like England: particularly south of Oxford, the land looked like Italy or the Dordogne in late summer - tawny and parched. On the return journey, as I witnessed a blood-red, dust-shrouded sun rise over Stonehenge, I began to reflect on drought, stress and trees. Many trees I saw while I was driving up and down the country had leaves which were turning; just as in autumn, the tree's systems are shutting down, only in this case they're shutting down prematurely. The lack of water means that trees find it difficult to photosynthesize and thereby generate necessary nutrients (the lack of light and warmth has the same effect as winter comes on) - and so the tree shuts down, with the results that we're now seeing all around us. Most of the affected trees won't necessarily die, but they are stressed and therefore are susceptible to other airborne and/or parasitic infections.

Blasting out

Sunday, 14 August 2022 at 07:59

Gas For years I've serviced fly- and other reels with pipe cleaners, ear buds, old toothbrushes and sewing machine oil. A few years ago my old friend Gardiner Mitchell gave me a tip about blasting fiddly bits of dust and dirt from hard-to-reach places on cameras (including lenses) by using compressed gas, and that tip I adopted to blast similarly recalcitrant dirt and fluff from the innards and bearings of reels. And so to yesterday, when I gave a light servicing to a recently-acquired Hardy Perfect. Lovely reels, which thrive on use. Incidentally, another tip, this time from that fine engineer and reel-maker Gary Mills: as well as the reel's inner workings, keep the reel handle clean and lubricated, too. There again a few squirts with compressed gas help to lift any dirt that's been compressed at the foot of the handle (you'll feel that dirt as a sort of irritating grittiness under your fingers when you wind).


Wednesday, 10 August 2022 at 16:19

Knapweed We currently have an infestation of chafer beetle grubs in one of the lawns. The crows and magpies have been at the turf, tearing it up while looking for the grubs. I may well turn this particular lawn into a wild flower meadow - I was thinking rather idly about doing so in any event - and among the plants I was considering sowing and growing was the knapweed, which I find in the Dales (and almost everywhere else). Among all the idle wonderings I puzzled as to where the knap- of knapweed might have originated. The OED tells me that the original name (first attested in the 14th century) was knop+weed, where knop denoted a knob or hard protuberance. You can see in the image how the flower forms such a knob before it opens. (The OED records a synonym of knapweed in hard-head.) The plant - I imagine, a distillation made from the leaves - was once used widely as a treatment for swellings and particularly, eye infections.


Friday, 29 July 2022 at 16:02

Scar House Scar House, lying almost at the head of Nidderdale, is around 15' below normal level. That's an estimate - it may be 18 or 20'. I don't know how many million cubic gallons of water are represented in the difference between 'full' and '15 feet below full', but today's water level is concerning, particularly if what has been to date a dry year is followed by a dry autumn and winter. Let's hope not.

In terms of resilience, wouldn't it be an idea to construct two pipelines (easterly and westerly) which would allow water to be imported from Scotland/the North to other parts of England and Wales? Certain water companies - Yorkshire Water is one - already move water around their regions by interlinked pipelines, so why not conceive of something like that on a trans-national scale? Drought would be a thing of the past, farmers, fisherfolk and growers would be happy - well, slightly happier -  and national governments could deliver such a project together.

Low but cool

Thursday, 28 July 2022 at 17:11

View I've seen - many times I've seen - the river running lower. There was a small but welcome and usable lift of water earlier this week, just 30cm or so. That has now almost wholly run off but nevertheless, the extra water will have freshened the flow and this morning I did find some trout up and doing. They were sufficiently keen to feed that they ignored my mistakes and five of them came to hand - not big fish, up to 1lb.4oz., but strong scrappers and a welcome surprise. What surprised me still further, though, was how cool the river was. After all the hot, dry weather we've had I expected surface temperatures of 19C. Not a bit of it. The temperatures I measured (twice) consistently gave readings of 13-14C so that was grand and helped to settle my conscience: I'd been wondering, given the previous heat, whether to fish at all, so was pleased to find the fish and the river alike in good order.


Thursday, 28 July 2022 at 16:55

Harebells Distinctive bell-shaped, pale blue flower. (To me the harebell is a campanula; that denotation came belatedly from Scotland and (one imagines) the north - earlier, the name hare+bell referred in England to the hyacinth.) I love harebells for their delicacy and for the fact that they flower when much else is looking dusty, tired and so-last-month. I see them just as the heather is also colouring so the two plants together make me think of the wild places. The OED doesn't help much with the etymology, noting that the plant gets its name perhaps - ah, perhaps - because it grows in 'places frequented by hares'; Grigson says that the campanula's vernacular names suggest some association with the hare as a magic animal.... Neither piece of information gladdened my heart or helped my limping understanding.

Proofing Names

Thursday, 14 July 2022 at 20:32

Names of the Fish entry for dace The page proofs of Names of the Fish arrived last week together with a list of editorial queries, so I've spent the past few days attending to both the queries and the proofs, giving the whole text an intensive re-reading as I've been working. The job was completed this morning and I don't think it will be long before the text appears on sale. Jon and Rosie at Medlar have done a most wonderful job of setting up the work and (not least) illustrating it so well and so appropriately. I hope readers - yea, even those multitudes yet unborn - will enjoy it and that the text will form a modest contribution to our contextual and cultural knowledge of freshwater fish.

Names of the Fish in British and Irish Freshwaters may (eventually) be ordered from the Medlar Press, see

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