The Redmire Restoration
Welcome to the first part of what will become an ongoing project for us, as we watch the efforts of Mark and his team as they restore quite possibly the most iconic water ever, to its former glory...
Welcome to the first part of what will become an ongoing project for us, as we watch the efforts of Mark and his team as they restore quite possibly the most iconic water ever, to its former glory...
September and October are the most important months of 2018 for me because it is during this time that the long-standing conservation plans for Redmire Pool come to fruition and we will be carrying out the work on site to restore the pool and set the foundation for its future. If you have any interest in carp angling whatsoever, the name Redmire will conjure magic and open a gallery of images in your imagination, from a time when carp fishing was in its infancy and everything was a glorious and exciting adventure. Whilst the underlying beauty and magic of Redmire can still be found, you need to look pretty hard these days. No small pool, the size of Redmire, can possibly sustain the angling pressure it has experienced, without showing the signs of wear and tear that are evident on the banks. These days though, there are far more significant pressures on Redmire than just the constant attention of anglers.
The land around Redmire, is cropped for potatoes and the Pool is a sump in the landscape for all of the silt, nutrients and pesticides that run off the surrounding fields. Potato cropping leaves bare soils every winter and the heavy rains of the past few years have taken their toll, leaving the pool so badly silted that you can now stand on the spot where The Bishop snaffled Chris Yates’ sweetcorn, without even getting your boots wet. Wasp Island is now just a part of the boggy bank, the shallows are filling with sediment and even the depths off the dam are a fraction of what they used to be in Walker’s day. In short, Redmire is dying.
The death of the Pool and the remaining stock of Leney carp could be very close unless steps are taken now to protect the lake and its fish for future generations to enjoy. The nitrate and phosphate run-off from the farmland are potentially even more of a threat to the Pool than the siltation. Last year, in the spring, there was an algal bloom at Redmire that shaded out the rooted weed growth and left the pool barren of weed throughout the summer months. Then in the autumn, another algal bloom took hold and when the bloom crashed, the decaying algae caused oxygen levels to fall to dangerously low levels. The shift from a rooted-weed ecology to
a planktonic algal system is very hard to reverse and this change threatens to literally suck the life out of Redmire.
An aerator was installed in the nick of time to save the stock but this is like triage for an accident victim in Accident and Emergency and what is needed is a long term, sustainable solution to deal with the future farm run-off.
I’ve been working for the Richardson family, who own Bernithan Court, for the past three years and the restoration of Redmire Pool is just one component of a conservation project on the estate that has a far wider scope than just restoring and protecting the lake itself. Kim Richardson asked for my help with de-silting the pool back in 2015 and my advice was that there was no point in spending money removing the silt that had accumulated in the past, if steps weren’t taken to prevent further siltation in the future.
Bernithan Court sits in a critical pinch point in the Garron catchment, between the intensive, arable and potato farming in the upper catchment above Redmire and the salmon and sea trout spawning grounds of the Wye and Garron downstream.
The impact of the silt, nutrient and pesticide run-off from the farmland above Bernithan is as damaging to these important salmon and sea trout nursery grounds as it is to Redmire. I have designed and implemented a land management transformation for the owners of the estate that essentially turns Bernithan into a landscape-scale filter for all of the agricultural run-off from the upper catchment. The changes in land management and the emphasis on nature conservation rather than farm production will protect the Garron and Wye and, of course, Redmire itself, from the intensive farming that is taking place above the pool.
The project will transform the entire Bernithan Estate into a conservation haven that will not only protect the important aquatic habitats and fisheries beyond its borders but also generate more income from conservation management than it could ever earn from pure farming.
Across the wider estate, extensive grassland management and reinstating the hedgerows shown on the old estate plans from the 1700s will make Bernithan a wildlife haven and provide environmental benefits far beyond the estate borders. The land will still remain productive and generate farming income but the grant income derived from this long-term conservation management is better and more stable than that which used to be generated from farming on its own. Bernithan Court will become an environmental filter, a buffer, which will deliver environmental benefits for decades to come.
When dealing with the effects of intensive agriculture on a fishery, you need to think on a large scale. You must understand how water, and the pollutants it carries, moves through the landscape and, if possible, act to mitigate their impact before they ever reach the fishery. Ideally, responsible farmers would stop the problems at source by only cropping appropriate soils, avoiding ploughing on slopes and creating effective buffers around our waters. Sadly, however, the drive for profit often means that farmers push the limits of the environment and both the incentives to protect our waters and the penalties for failing to do so are inadequate.
It is essential that fishery owners take matters into their own hands as much as possible and take practical steps to protect their waters. At Redmire, there is a narrow area of rough pasture around the pool that acts as a protective buffer against the agricultural run-off. I’ve designed swales (dry ditches) to divert all of the agricultural run-off from the surrounding fields into a series of silt traps, and a new wetland and area of reedbeds. These will allow the sediment to settle and strip the water of most of the nutrients it is carrying before it enters Redmire itself.
These features will have to be maintained and managed but they will reduce the sediment entering the pool sufficiently to provide longterm stability and justify the capital expenditure needed to remove the silt already in Redmire.
It is that de-silting work that is about to take place, starting with the draining of the Pool and removal of the fish in a few weeks. The carp will be held in a safe location on the estate until the restoration work is completed and the pool is ready for their return. The plan is to remove as much of the accumulated silt as possible and restore the 1952 depth profile of the lake. By the time this article goes to print the work will be well underway!
Siltation and eutrophication are just the start though. About 13 years ago, some ghost carp were stocked into the Pool by accident and these have bred with the Leney carp. If the Leney legacy of Redmire is to be restored, these ghost carp and any carp that may be their progeny have to be removed.
Of course the draining of Redmire for the desilting work means that all of the fish in the Pool will need to be caught and held safely whilst this work is going on (including the precious gudgeon and eels). This is the perfect opportunity to sort through the stock and remove the ghost carp and any fish that might be their progeny. Only a low density of carefully selected original Leney carp will be returned to the pool and these carp should thrive in their restored environment.
I am already encouraged by the transformation seen at Redmire this year, after some very basic work was carried out last autumn to test the effectiveness of the planned silt traps and wetland. We threw a bund of earth across the seasonal stream that feeds through the farmland above Redmire and carries much of the silt and nutrient into the pool. This stream only flows at times of high rainfall, in the winter, and when there has been prolonged rain at other times of the year. The earth bank allows the water to percolate through to feed Redmire but it backs it up first into a wetland area where the silt settles out in the still water. Last year, I visited Redmire after a thunderstorm before the bank was in place and Redmire (as its name suggests) was the colour of tomato soup. I went back in the late spring this year, after an even heavier spate of thunderstorms had swept the Wye valley and the area above the bank was full of red, silt-laden water. The contrast in Redmire itself was dramatic and the pool remained gin-clear and I could see the bottom in seven feet of water.
The creation of the simple bank above the lake has meant that, for the first time in years, Redmire has remained clear throughout the year and the growth of the rooted weed in the lake has been prolific. This remarkable change, caused by taking such a simple measure has meant that
the ecology and oxygen levels in the lake have remained stable and the fish have remained safe though one of the hottest summers on record. It gives me confidence that the long-term health of the pool can be secured and that the restoration project will succeed in its aims.
Even if Redmire Pool never produces another carp of the size of those witnessed by The Carp Catchers Club and caught by anglers such as Bob Richards, Dick Walker, Eddie Price, Jack Hilton, Bill Quinlan and Chris Yates, it remains a very special and quite remarkable fishery. For such a small pool to produce so many huge carp is just astonishing and defies the accepted science of fishery management. Waters in this country should naturally be capable of sustaining between 200 and 400 kilos of fish per hectare (200-400 pounds per acre), yet any estimate of the Redmire stock, grown naturally in just three acres of water, far exceeds those accepted norms.
If you think about the number of truly enormous carp that Redmire is known and rumoured to have held, then you realise that Redmire is simply magical. In contrast to many of the large carp around these days, the Redmire fish grew big naturally and without the support of angler’s baits. For such a small pool to produce Bob Richard’s 31lb 4oz record and Dick Walker’s 44lb common naturally is remarkable but Redmire also grew carp like the 58lb mirror netted by Walker on the shallows when it was stranded during spawning. Add to these the other known big carp, including the old thirty-eight, which grew on to become Chris Yates 51-pounder and the record of this sleepy, three-acre pool will never be surpassed.
And then there are the myths! The King, the huge common seen by so many yet never landed; The Black Mirror hooked and lost by Chris Yates one October and seen by other anglers including my friend Barry Mills; The Knights, a pair of big commons seen by several anglers and estimated to possibly be over 60lb apiece. Even today there are rumours of a ‘four-foot’ common and a huge linear...
By the time this article is in print a carefully selected group of people will know for certain if the modern myths are truth or fiction but these people will be sworn to secrecy and the mystery of Redmire will be preserved, as far as possible. That mystery is such an important element of fishing Redmire that it would be a tragedy if it was lost as a result of the restoration project.
As part of the Redmire restoration, I have been delving into the archives of old Redmire photographs and I have spent time with some of the great anglers from Redmire’s halcyon past. The reason for this is to get an image in my mind of how the Pool looked in its heyday and an understanding of the extent to which the Pool has silted up over the years. While we have Walkers depth plan from 1952 as a guide, there is no substitute for actually spending time walking around the lake with anglers who know it intimately and who can describe in detail how it looked.
What I have gleaned from spending time with these anglers though is far more than a plan of depths and the lie of the banks. I have been inspired by their passion with a true sense of the magic of Redmire and how it must have felt to fish there at a time when legends swam in its depths and in the imagination of the anglers who cast their lines in the hope of making the myths real. It is in that magic and sense of mystery and promise that the real importance and uniqueness of Redmire lies. No other water has ever or could ever inspire a generation of anglers in the way that Redmire has done.
Chris Ball arranged a day at Redmire with some of the early anglers from the ‘Nixon’ period in
the Pool’s history, to mark what would have been Dick Walker’s 100th birthday. It was a wonderful day, attended by anglers whose names are of key importance in Redmire’s history. Charlie Kirkham was there, the angler who made a surreptitious visit to the pool in 1963 following the big freeze up, which The Carp Catchers Club believed had killed all of the Pool’s carp. He described how he crept down to Greenbanks and saw large numbers of huge fish cruising on the Redmire shallows. This visit provided the evidence that Redmire was still very much alive and was the spur for John Nixon to secure the fishing rights and open the Pool to members of select groups of specimen anglers.
Others who fished at that time, before the Hilton syndicate, were also there, including Bob Rolph, Bob Jones and Roger Bowskill. Roger has gone down in Redmire legend as the angler renown for catching a 38lb mirror that he took to Llangarron to be weighed on the potato scales at the greengrocers. This was the carp that grew on to be Chris Yates’ 51lb record – The Bishop.
As well as these anglers, Chris Ball had arranged with the owners of some important pieces of angling history for key pieces of tackle to be returned to the pool for the day. Chris Sandford brought the Mk IV built by Dick Walker, on which he landed Ravioli (later renamed Clarissa). My old friend Pete Rogers brought along the landing net in which Pete Thomas enmeshed the record carp, when it dived under the brambles next to The Willow Pitch on the end of Walker’s line. Lots of other Redmire memorabilia was brought for the day, including Walker’s original bite alarm (the one that signalled that the record common had taken his hookbait) and, of course, Chris Ball brought his remarkable collection of photographs.
Missing from the day were anglers from the Redmire syndicate years and I arranged to meet a number of old friends from the Jack Hilton era later in the year, for a tour of the lake. Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to become friends with a number of the old Redmire syndicate, who I have met on various carp lakes, including of course, Ashmead. This year there was a bit of a Redmire reunion planned and I spent several hours at the Pool with Keith Hilton and Mike Mintram (sons of the Redmire syndicate leaders) as well as John Carver and Barry Mills (both of whom were there when Chris Yates caught his record mirror). John, of course, took on the mantle of leading the Redmire syndicate after Tom Mintram.
I have immersed myself in a year of Redmire history and it has been both a privilege and a pleasure. I’m very grateful to all of these anglers for their time, support and encouragement. The first-hand knowledge they have shared as we walked the banks together will be invaluable as the restoration takes shape. The depth and accuracy of their recollections was incredible:
If you think about the number of truly enormous carp that Redmire is known and rumoured to have held, then you realise that Redmire is simply magical. In contrast to many of the large carp around these days, the Redmire fish grew big naturally and without the support of angler’s baits
even a bit of rusty old corrugated tin sheet that was buried in the bank, was transformed by the revelation that it was a sheet of tin laid down by Maurice Ingham on one of his early visits to the water, to enable him to fish a new swim to the left of the old Willow Pitch.
I now carry an image of each swim in my mind and an understanding of how far the silt has encroached into the shallows and how much the profile of the lake bed has changed. This detailed map is overlaid with tales of encounters with the Redmire myths. Above all, I am grateful for the inspiration that spending time with these anglers has given me for the restoration work. This will perhaps be their most important contribution during the weeks ahead.
I also fished Redmire myself for three days this summer with three friends, while I was working on the estate. In the full throes of the project work and all of the planning and stress involved, it is easy to lose sight of what we are really trying to achieve. Those few days served as a further reminder that Redmire is unique in the world of carp angling. Whilst the problems at the Pool were all too evident, fishing Redmire still held a special magic and experiencing it first hand, after hearing so much from the anglers of times past, really brought home how worthwhile and important the restoration is.
The vision we have is to restore Redmire to a condition such that if Bob Richards, Walker or BB strolled onto the Redmire dam, they would instantly recognise the Pool they fished and encounter the same naturally-rich fishery environment that they loved
I fished The Fence swim but the fishing itself wasn’t really the point of the visit (although I enjoy it). I spent most of my time walking the banks and savouring the pool’s atmosphere. Chris Ball had given us a tour of the Pool during the Walker birthday visit and he had described each swim and the momentous events that had happened in each spot with his usual enthusiasm. Now I had time to absorb those tales in a more leisurely way and it was wonderful.
Anglers visit Redmire today for nostalgic reasons and to pay homage to the cradle of carp angling and those who fished there. It is essential that the Redmire they experience, matches the Pool that lives in their imagination. The vision we have is to restore Redmire to a condition such that if Bob Richards, Walker or BB strolled onto the Redmire dam, they would instantly recognise the Pool they fished and encounter the same naturallyrich fishery environment that they loved.
Between the writing of this article and that vision becoming a reality, lies a great deal of hard work and stress, but I am confident that the project will be successful and the outcome worthwhile. As Chris Yates said to me recently when we were chatting about the pressure involved in delivering an invasive project like this at the cradle of modern carp angling: “Redmire will die in any case without the work, so any risk involved in trying to prevent that from happening must be worth taking.”
By the time you are reading this, with a fair wind, the restoration work will be complete and the carefully selected Leney carp will have been reintroduced to the Pool. If everything has gone well, they will be rediscovering Redmire as it should be – a healthy and vibrant lake that will inspire future generations of carp anglers in the same way that it inspired me.
The land around Redmire is cropped for potatoes TOP LEFT
ABOVE A new wetland and area for reedbeds
The pool remained gin-clear after the storms ABOVE TOP
ABOVE BOTTOM After the storms it was still possible to spot the Redmire carp
TOP LEFT Dick Walker’s 100th birthday
BELOW Roger Bowskill with Dick Walker’s rod and net
BELOW Roger Bowskill, Chris Ball and Bob Jones
A guided tour of the swims by the master of ceremonies ABOVE
LEFT My friend, Darren, playing a fish in the summer