Force of nature - Andover

There's something fishy going on in Andover, Elizabeth Barnett goes down to Rooksbury Mill to investigate

Starting life as a humble flour mill, Rooksbury offers so much more with its stunning nature reserve, fantastic wildlife and lively fishing ponds. Test Valley Council brought the mill and the surrounding land two years ago with the intention of selling the building and using the funds to improve the River Anton and create a safe and enjoyable habitat for rare forms of wildlife. Countrywide Planner Jim Adkins has been in charge of ensuring that this plan is being put into action: “Since 2008 we have been working hard to transform this beautiful area around the River Anton. When the Mill was used for flour the river was widened to increase the amount of water, however, because it is a chalk stream the widening damaged the banks which in turn led to a build up of sediment on the river bed. Our job has been to bring the river back to its narrower form by building up the banks using locally sourced hazel faggots to ensure that the bed can be restored to its original gravel state.”

“Rooksbury Mill is a fascinating place to be involved in and, especially during the summer months, it is the perfect place to observe some of our county’s finest birds, flora and fauna”

Back to natureJim and his team of dedicated volunteers have worked tremendously hard to bring the river back to life and now, two years on, they are beginning to reap the rewards.“Now that the river has been restored we are starting to see the appearance of salmon and trout as they make their way upstream to spawn. This is an excellent sign that the ecosystem is finally balancing and with the salmon come otters, water voles and a whole host of other wild river dwellers. “The otters are of particular interest to us and we have recently welcomed around six of them into the nature reserve by enticing them with four manmade Holts. Rooksbury Mill is a fascinating place to be involved in and, especially during the summer months, it is the perfect place to observe some of our country’s finest birds, flora and fauna. We have had sightings of Kingfishers, Turns, Bitterns and a wide variety of wild ducks, not to mention some of the rarest plants in Britain such as the Long Stalk Yellow Sedge and our beautiful wild flowers.”

Hooked on fishingAs well as the spectacular wildlife, visitors to Rooksbury can also indulge in a spot of fishing at either of the two lakes that lie within the site. Both lakes house carp and pike and are now the only places that you are able to fly fish after it was banned in the nature reserve. Jim says: “Although it may disappoint some of our local fishermen, this has been vital to maintain the safe environment for our ever increasing wildlife. “Protecting the species that now inhabit the river will lead to a thriving environment in years to come, species such as the water vole that were once given four or five years to survive will now be around for many more generations to enjoy.”Rooksbury Mill Nature Reserve is a fantastic place to visit and is a true credit to Jim Adkins, his volunteers and the Test Valley Council. The Anton River Conservation Association is made up of local residents and enthusiasts who aim to ensure the reserve is maintained to the highest levels. Further information can be found on their facebook page under T.A.R.C.A for those who wish to volunteer their time or simply want to find out more about the work that goes on in and around the river.

James Blunt grew up in St Mary Bourne, a small village on the outskirts of Andover. Capulated to fame in 2005 with hit single 'Your Beautiful' he stayed at the top spot for six weeks

Through the mill

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The Grade II Listed Rooksbury Mill building dates from the late 16th or early 17th century, and is just one of the 11 mills that, according to the Domesday Book, existed in Andover in 1089.Flour milling ceased at the site in the early 20th century, after which the building itself had a plethora of uses, including being used as a small theatre. Test Valley Borough Council sold the building in 2002, shortly after it had been devastated by fire following an arson attack. The new owners, Anthony and Sarah de Sigley, restored the building in 2003, rebuilding much of the original structure.

5 Andover anecdotes

• In Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the first murder in the A.B.C Murders was an Alice Ascher of Andover. The killer sends a letter to Hercule Poirot before each murder, telling him where and when each will take place, but Poirot and the police always arrive too late, only to find a distinctive ‘ABC’ left behind. • Andover was granted its first charter in 1175 by King Henry II and has been in continuous inhabitation since Saxon times. • Chris Britton, Ronny Bond, Pete Staples and Reg Presley of the The Troggs were all born in Andover, their biggest hit, Wild Thing reached number one in America in 1966.• The popular singer James Blunt grew up in St Mary Bourne, a small village on the outskirts of Andover, and was catapulted to fame when his hit single, You’re Beautiful hit the charts in 2005, where it stayed at the number one spot for six weeks.• Andover is twinned with Redon in Brittany, France, Goch in Germany and Andover in the USA and has around 30,700 people living in the town.