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Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 16:39 UK
Weed cutting on the River Test
Dylan Everet
Dylan Everett has been working along the River Test for seven years

The River Test is internationally famous for its clear waters and brown trout fishing.

A centuries-old tradition of the "Weed Cut" helps keep the river in its prime condition.

National Trust wardens on the Mottisfont Estate near Romsey, spend several weeks each summer wading in the cold waters using hand-held scythes to cut back the build up of river weed.

The tradition helps preserve the river as a premier location for fly fishing.

Traditional methods

Flowing from its origin in Ashe toward Eling outside Southampton, the River Test which is 62km (39 mile) long, supports a huge variety of plantlife, including an abundant quantity of aquatic weed.

The weed is vital to the ecosystem of the river - it oxygenates the water, contains invertebrates on which many species of fish feed, and provides the fish with cover from predators and sunlight.

'Clearing off' days
'Clearing off' days involve sending the clumps of weed downstream

However, to reduce flooding and open up areas of fast-flowing water, large sections of aquatic weed need to be cut back.

The practise also keeps the river's natural gravel bottom free of silt and the waters running clear.

The weed cut takes place along length of the Test and concludes with "clearing off" days when clumps of weed, which have floated downstream and been clogged around bridges and trees, are released to float further down the river.

Eventually, all the weed arrives at Romsey where it is removed by the Environment Agency.

Along the stretch of the river at Mottisfont Abbey, National Trust warden, Dylan Everett, is responsible for the process.

He spends several weeks each summer in waders in the river cutting back the weed.

"It is fairly labour intensive," he said.

"Walking through flowing water is tiring on the legs, there are areas of silt and muddy debris which you have to wade through, and just the repetitive action of using the scythe or muck-rake all day is tiring on the arms.

"It is all good for the fitness regime so no need for the gym for me!"

River Test
The River Test's banks are rich in flora and fauna

However this year the trust did employ some modern technology to speed up the weed cut.

A 1.5m (5ft) wooden boat was fitted with a mechanically-driven blade to be used in the deepest sections of the river where it was too deep to wade.

For Dylan, who has been working on the Test for seven years, it is the ideal career.

"As long as the sun is shining and you are out on the watercourses, it is a fantastic place to have an office.

"I do not think I could do anything else - it has become my life now.

"It is fantastic to be able to see things like kingfishers, watervoles, otters and all the salmon and trout on a daily basis is just wonderful for someone with a conservation background."

Fishing haven

Clean gravel beds provide the best conditions for spawning sites of the Test's most famous inhabitant, the brown trout.

The River Test Weed Cut
The weed continues to drift downstream towards Romsey

Consequently, the Test is one of the world's best rivers for fly-fishing, with anglers paying up to£500 for a single day's fishing on the river.

"The Test is an incredibly important river in England and indeed around the world," added Dylan

"It brings a vast source of income for the region from fishermen as well as revenue for restaurants and lodgings."

The trust leases fishing rights along the length of the riverbank which it owns, with the money put back into conservation work for the abbey estate.

Despite the high prices, Dylan insists the fly-fishermen are paying for "the fishing experience of a lifetime - a special treat."

They are following in the "hallowed footsteps" of FM Halford, the pioneer of fly-fishing who fished at Mottisfont.

The river is also the home of the Houghton Club - the first, and probably most exclusive, fishing club in England.

Walkers' way

The Test is one of the most species-rich in the UK, and home to some nationally protected and rare wildlife.

While some of the Test riverbank is owned by private fishing clubs, the Test Way footpath gives members of the public the chance to follow the course of the river along 44 miles (70km) of water-meadows, riverbank and woodland.


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