fishing lines: Heron today, gone tomorrow

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The Independent Online
Walking my springers during the winter, I came across an extraordinary sight: more than 20 herons dotted randomly around a large field for no apparent reason. I assumed that it was something to do with imminent floods and lots of worms coming to the surface, but quite why they should choose that particular meadow, I didn't know.

Last week, reading a book about life in the Fens around the turn of the century, the mystery was solved. Herons, it seems, sometimes have "standing places" where they congregate. It's nothing to do with food or security: it's just the heron equivalent of an angling club, where they meet to talk about fishing, and probably the hotspots for poaching goldfish.

Over the past month, I seem to have been advising people almost daily about how to stop her- ons raiding their ponds. One invariable advice has been: don't bother with those plastic herons. There's a belief that herons will not land where another is fishing. On the contrary, I reckon that when a passing heron spots the plastic variety, it zooms in, confident of a day's fishing without disturbance. This can be hugely expensive if you keep carp. With bite-sized kois costing about pounds 100, a heron visit is one of those instances where the water owner pays for an angler to go fishing. Koi owners also like to keep their water crystal-clear to observe the fish better. Herons love that. Spotting gold-coloured fish in clear water is like fishing in an aquarium.

Until recently, I hadn't been heroned. It's probably because the pond was so murky that my children sang "Swamp Thing" and scared each other with horror stories about what lived in there. Recently, I introduced a lot of weed (nature's way of cleaning the pond, rather than the chemical solution) and it has done a marvellous filter job. Tro- uble is, now herons can see the fish. Last week I went out and a big grey-blue bird flapped away. I was astounded at its audaciousness. The pond is less than 20 feet from the house, and right next to a road. One neighbour said the heron had been sitting on the garden wall earlier, and when he stopped his car to look, it just ignored him.

Once upon a time, my dogs would have bailiffed the pond. But Bracken is now 13 and hobbling with arthritis. Chasing away herons is beyond him now. Ginger is far more interested in stalking squirrels. Herons are pretty cute, too. They will raid your pond at first light and at dusk, when people and animals are not about. For trout farms, herons are a constant menace and though they are protected birds, I have no doubt that certain farmers find a shotgun is the most efficient scarer of all.

On the domestic front, fishing line is good for keeping herons away. Interweaving it across a pond will stop any heron. But it does not look pretty; nor does a net. A better system is to rig up wire or fishing line at the places where the bird would wade into the water. Like kids, they prefer to angle with their feet in the water, and can't fish if they have to bend over from the bank.

Having preached the laissez-faire doctrine in this column on everything from killing pike to keeping maggots in fridges, you might wonder why I can't devise a natural remedy. Well, it's true that I could stock the pond with fish too big to interest a heron, but it's not that simple. Last winter, we moved two goldfish into the pond from their aquarium. The pair, a consolation prize from some long-forgotten fair, have been with us for years but had outgrown their tank. You see, it's fine for herons to eat my carp, tench and crucians, but if they snaffle Barbie or Ken, there will be hell to pay.