The Redmire Restoration – Part II
With all the hard work now done and dusted, Mark takes the time to reflect upon the intense juxtaposition presented to him whilst undertaking all the hard work he and the team carried out on this, the most sensitive of angling projects
With all the hard work now done and dusted,
Mark takes the time to reflect upon the intense juxtaposition presented to him whilst undertaking all the hard work he and the team carried out on this, the most sensitive of angling projects
“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven W. B. Yeats
This quote, from one of my favourite poems, captures my approach to the Redmire restoration. I always knew that the planning and implementation of the restoration of Redmire would be the easiest part of the project. The hard part was always going to be explaining why the work was necessary and carrying the many carp anglers who love Redmire, with us, during the project and after its completion. Redmire is all about history, myths and dreams, and the Pool is the embodiment of those things that make carp angling so compelling.
From a personal perspective, as an angler and conservationist, someone who was taught to catch carp by my lifelong friend, Chris Yates, and as someone whose early carp angling was inspired by tales of Redmire, I have deep and conflicting emotions about the work of the past month.
It has been a privilege to be entrusted with the restoration of Redmire and I am genuinely pleased with the empathetic way in which we have secured Redmire’s future, without destroying its character or damaging the banks and swims.
On the other hand, I am a carp angler who was brought up on the Redmire myths and I have loved every minute I have spent fishing the Pool. I share the sadness and anger of some, that the work was needed, and mourn the loss of myth and mystery. As I explained in my last article though, without the work we have just finished, Redmire would have had no future as a carp water. I know in my heart that the loss of some of the mystique is a price worth paying to ensure that the Pool’s Leney carp can inspire future generations of carp anglers, as they inspired me.
Of course you will never please everyone with a project as sensitive and invasive as de-silting a lake which means so much to carp anglers everywhere. One post on a Chris Yates page on Facebook struck a chord with me: “Without putting too finer
[sic] point on it... They have properly screwed a whole generation of carp anglers [sic] dreams by completely destroying the Mistry [sic] a historic water... and before you go on and say ‘owwwhh but its for the greater good !!!! Its not... there are somethings [sic] that should be left alone and Redmire was one of them!... So please save me your feeble excuses as to the whys and whens...”
Undoubtedly this was a post, written from the heart, that captured the reaction of some anglers to the restoration work. In fact, I empathise with the sentiment the post expressed, although I disagree with its assertion that Redmire should have been left alone.
In an ideal world, Redmire would never have been touched and those myths and dreams would live on, unsullied forever. Sadly, we don’t live in an ideal world.
Contrary to the view expressed in the Facebook post, the rationale for the work is important and worth repeating. Redmire is surrounded by intensive farming and the Pool is a sump in the landscape for the soil, nutrients and pesticides washed from the bare winter soils generated by cropping potatoes. The nutrients and silt caused algal blooms last year that prevented the rooted weed from growing and nearly killed all of the carp through an oxygen crash. Lastly, the ghost carp, introduced in error years ago, had bred with the Leney carp and sorting through the entire stock to remove any ghost carp and their progeny was the
only way to restore Redmire’s Leney provenance.
The choice was a stark one, between allowing Redmire to die or intervening to keep more than just the history and memories alive. That’s an easy choice to make if you want to have the chance to fish Redmire, rather than merely read about its past in a dusty book.
My own perspective reaches far beyond simply saving the Pool and its stock. At a time when I see carp fishery management reduced to the stocking of huge fish into soulless waters, Redmire can, and should, stand as a beacon of good fishery management and a demonstration of how a longterm, empathetic approach can deliver a fishery of outstanding quality. For me, Redmire strikes to the very heart of what carp fishing is and I believe that with a little careful management, Redmire could produce a superb, self-sustaining carp fishery long into the future – just as it did in the past.
The restoration started with the draining of the Pool. Two four-inch syphons and a threeinch pump were needed to draw the water down prior to the removal of the fish and it took three days to get the Pool down to a suitable depth. A small, hand-picked netting team supervised by my friend, Mark Gregory, carried out the netting and drain down. Mark and I have worked together many times on similar nettings and I used his services when I led The National Trust’s fisheries work.
I slept on the bank throughout the draindown, keeping a careful eye out for distressed fish but all went smoothly and, in the end, the majority of the fish were removed safely in a single day. What a day though! Several feet of thick, liquid silt under a foot of water, made for hard and messy work with the nets and by the end of it we were shattered and looked like a cast of extras from ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’.
The fish were sorted into tanks on the dam and separated into groups of fish to be restocked at the end of the restoration, and fish to be removed from the estate (any that were ghost carp, or may have had ghost carp genes). The gudgeon went into tanks in the old tithe barn and by the time you read this article, they will already have been stocked back into Redmire, along with the swan mussels that we rescued from the silt.
Sixty carp, known to be pure Redmire Leneys and suitable for restocking, were taken to another small lake on the estate, where they will be held safely behind otter fencing and with an aerator running until the main lake is ready for their reintroduction. The plan is to handpick 50 of these known Leneys for restocking, once the Pool has recovered from the trauma of the desilting work.
There has been plenty of speculation on social media but, the truth is, that only a very small group of people know exactly what was removed during the drain down and, consequently, what will be reintroduced once Redmire is ready to hold carp again. Those of us involved have all been
sworn to silence and even in these days when leaks on social media are inevitable, I think we have kept the exact details of the Redmire stock a secret. Were there any monsters? All I will say is that over the course of this project I have handled some remarkable and beautiful carp that reflect the very best of the Leney legacy.
The most important thing is that we know for certain that no ghost carp or their progeny remain, so the Leney provenance of the Pool has been restored. Why 50 carp? In three acres of water, 50 carp will have plenty of room to grow and reproduce, so that with careful management Redmire will once again support a remarkable stock of fish. The other reason for choosing to restock 50 fish is that the first Leney stocking was of 50 fingerlings and I love the symmetry of reflecting that original introduction in the rebirth of Redmire.
Once the fish were safe and secure, we drained the lake completely in preparation for the desilting work. Or rather we tried to – the biggest challenge throughout the restoration was dealing with the volume of water flowing from the springs that feed Redmire from beneath. Whilst we managed to dry the lakebed out completely on some days, if we didn’t keep a syphon running it would refill overnight to a depth of several feet.
We had been told that there was a bedrock base under the silt on which the excavators and dumpers would be able to track and that there was one main spring feeding the lake. The reality was that the lakebed beneath the silt was almost pure red sand, with only small areas of bedrock. We found one major spring in the spot where Pitchford’s Pit swim is recorded on the old maps of the Pool (perhaps explaining why the Pool at this point was reputed to be “bottomless”) but we also found numerous other minor springs throughout the lakebed. These springs and the constant flow of water through the silt was our greatest challenge as the work progressed.
With any project like this you need to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve. Do you restore the lake to its original profile from the 1700s? Do you take it back to the Walker era? How do you deal with modern perceptions of the Pool and recent features, such as the fallen oak and the collapsed willow pollards? These recent features will form part of the memories of anglers who have fished Redmire in the past few years and their removal was bound to raise controversy.
It was a little bit like restoring an old masterpiece, and removing the layers of silt was like removing the layers of old varnish to reveal the true colours of the original painting beneath. The challenge is that if you go too far, you may damage the painting you are trying to restore. In any case, it is inevitable that the end result will look quite different to the image known to those who have seen the painting in modern times.
The key to success was to form a project team who had empathy with the vision for the restoration and I had asked my friend, Clive Pearce, to drive the excavator. Clive has worked with me before during the restoration of Ashmead, and he was the one person I would have trusted at Redmire. Clive knows just how far he can push the machine and he has a practical approach to every challenge; there is no obstacle that can’t be overcome with a ‘Farmer’s Fix’ and a bit of lateral thinking!
Another vital component of this sort of project is to have the confidence and backing of your clients, and for them to trust you to deliver the vision you have agreed. Les Bamford, who manages Redmire, sought me out and asked me to manage the restoration work about three years ago and it was Les who recognised the need for the work we have done since then to safeguard the Pool’s future. The Richardson family, who own Redmire Pool, backed the project from the start. They understood that the desilting work was only one component of a much larger project that was needed to protect Redmire and restore the lineage of the carp stock. We have transformed the land use at Bernithan, creating a conservation haven that will buffer the Pool from future siltation and underpin the restoration of the Pool and the future management of the wider estate. Les and the family have been brilliant throughout the project, backing it to the hilt and funding the work but stepping back and letting me run the project without any interference. Without their backing and trust, the task would have been impossible.
We knew we would never please everyone but the vision was clear and we wanted to restore the profile of the lake as closely as possible to that mapped by Walker at the time of his record capture. At the same time, we knew that by the time Walker fished Redmire, the lake had been collecting silt already for a few hundred years. There was a pragmatic need to allow for further siltation in the future, even though this will be mitigated by the new wetland above the Pool, which is designed to trap the farmland run-off, before it gets into Redmire.
The other objective was to damage the banks as little as possible during the restoration. These represent famous swims and contribute to the wider ecology of the lake. We wanted anglers to find the swims and the overall look and feel of Redmire unchanged and unsullied as much as possible. We also wanted to return the carp at the end of the project to a Pool that reflected the rich, diverse and productive environment that the Carp Catchers Club would have known in Redmire’s heyday. It was a challenging set of objectives, but I was confident that we could deliver them.
To stretch my previous analogy, like the first scrape of the pallet knife by an art historian
charged with restoring the Mona Lisa, taking the first bucket of silt from Redmire was a momentous and slightly daunting action. The main difference, of course, was that our pallet knife was a 14-tonne excavator and that the first scrape of silt weighed about a tonne!
The silt in the shallows where we started work was three to four feet deep and the bed of the Pool beneath was hard sand, rather than the bedrock we had been led to expect. The difficulty this presented in conjunction with the small springs we found became clear immediately. When tracking the excavator onto the firm sand and starting to work forwards, the vibration of the machine drew water from the surrounding springs into the sand around the tracks and this transformed what had been the firm bed of the Pool into quicksand. It was like standing on a firm sand beach, just back from the tideline, and wiggling your feet; any movement created a sinkhole of quicksand. Within ten minutes the machine was going down and Clive retreated to terra firma with only a moment of panic, when it looked like the Redmire shallows might end up with a new, excavator-shaped island.
Time for a complete rethink! Our next approach was to start at the dam end and work back up the Pool towards the shallows. In this way, we could divert the water, from any springs we uncovered into a single holding Pool at the dam, where a syphon could be left running to keep the overall level of water in the lake under control. This would allow us to dry out the areas of lakebed where we were working as we progressed.
We opened up an entry point in the corner near the outflow and made good progress from the start. Working with the excavator and two eight-tonne tracked dumpers running in relay,
we settled into a rhythm of work that extracted about 300 tonnes of silt a day. We spread the silt elsewhere on the estate, as agreed with the Environment Agency and we removed between 5000 and 6000 tonnes of silt in total during the restoration.
We worked up the east bank from the dam, stripping the silt back from the margins and then moving the silt from the deep central channel to recreate the lake profile that existed in the 1950s. Drydigging the silt made it possible to be very accurate in terms of what was removed from each area of the Pool. It was interesting to see the layers of silt – with old silt and decaying weed from decades past overlaid with what was essentially topsoil from the surrounding fields that had run into Redmire during the recent period of intensive potato farming around the Pool. This was all capped with a thin layer of new organic silt that held the weed and invertebrates from the past year or two.
The way we carried out the work left large areas of organic surface silt and weed untouched, so that Redmire’s rich, natural larder will be largely unaffected. We dug a very deep channel along one side of the Pool and then dumped the remaining silt into it, by digging out the base of the bank of remaining silt and by jetting water at the bottom of this bank, this meant that the surface layer across much of the Pool remained intact, with the weed and food supply it held, untouched. We also spread organic silt back across the areas where we excavated down to the basal sand layers. As a result of this innovative approach, the weed should return in profusion in the spring and a rich supply of swan mussels and other invertebrates will be available to recolonise the Pool after it has refilled. The depths of the Pool had to be restored with the minimum damage to its ecology and natural productivity as a fishery.
I am sure that the most controversial work we carried out was the removal of the fallen oak and the pollarding of the ancient willows on the east bank of the shallows. Removing the oak before it collapsed, and whilst we had the machinery there, was the sensible thing to do. Both the oak and the collapsed pollards have become recognised features of Redmire in recent years and I am sure there will be some that will be unhappy, but, it was right to remove them, and essential to give us the access we needed.
Willow pollards are second only to the oak tree in terms of their value to British wildlife. Pollarded willows provide a rich habitat for a wide range of species from insects to bats and there are even specialised fungi that can only be found in the mouldering hearts of old pollards. The willows should be pollarded regularly and the work we carried out will keep them healthy for years to come.
After the second week, we moved back up to the shallows, creating an access on the west bank, just up from the Number One pitch. It was still like working on a set blancmange and Clive soon had the excavator buried up to the cab. The secret was to work quickly and to keep moving on the soft substrate until we found a harder base from which to operate. Once a hard spot had been found, Clive could draw the silt back towards him and swing it into the dumpers for removal.
After a few days of working in this way, we had taken the shallows taken back 30 yards to where Len Arbery, John Carver and Brian Mills had all told me they reached in the old syndicate days. We were wondering where to stop, when Clive uncovered an old walkway and some cut stumps in the mud, which had been used to give access to the head of the Pool in times past. I’ve worked very closely with Chris Yates, Len Arbery, John Carver, Keith Hilton, Mike Mintram and others, and the information these friends have provided has been invaluable during the restoration.
We managed to work around the two small islands in the shallows, so that they no longer form part of the bank and we managed to excavate behind Climbing Island, Bramble Island and the walkways, so that carp will be able to move freely through the margins behind them once again.
Slowly, but surely, we revealed the Redmire of times past and it felt like we were breathing life back into the fishery. Four weeks after we dug that first bucket of silt from the shallows, our work was done and I am delighted with the result. The shallows cover their original extent; the margins of the Pool are as deep as they were in Walker’s day; the islands in the shallows are no longer part of the bank and fish can once again swim behind them; and the deep central channel once again runs towards the shallows from the dam.
Only four points of access to the Pool were necessary, so the banks were left untouched around most of the Pool and will look almost the same as they did before we started the work. The main difference that a Redmire regular would spot is the extension of the shallows, which makes the Pool look far larger than it has in recent years. The other differences will be found when the angler casts and their lead sinks through twelve feet of water off the dam, instead of six.
Areas of silt and weed were left untouched deliberately and I’m confident that next spring Redmire will be clear, rich in both weed and invertebrates and have the depth profile of the 1950s. We’ve had the 14-tonne excavator stuck, suffered thrown tracks on the huge dumpers, struggled with troublesome pumps and syphons and wallowed in more mud and mess than you would ever believe, but for every challenge we have found a ‘Farmers Fix’ and I hope Redmire’s regulars will think we have done a great job.
On the last day I found a very appropriate memento of the work, buried deep within the Redmire silt. It was an ECHO mug. I first met Les at an ECHO meeting and it was my presentation there that prompted him to get in touch about the restoration work. Many of the values of ECHO also reflected perfectly what the future of Redmire should be about: Long term fishery management and natural fisheries that connect anglers with nature and the heritage of our pastime.
As I write this, the excavator and dumpers have gone, the syphons and pumps have stopped working and Redmire is now refilling from the abundant springs we have revealed. The gudgeon have been restocked and the 50 hand-picked Leney carp will soon follow them into their restored
home. The creation of a new wetland above Redmire will intercept the agricultural silt and chemicals before they enter the Pool and protect it for future generations to enjoy. Peace reigns once more at Bernithan.
I share the sadness of many who hold Redmire dear, that the work has been needed and regret the loss of mystery and myth. Managing the work has been like carrying out heart surgery on a loved one but it has saved the life of the Pool and secured its future. In a better world, where the environment was protected properly and farmers had the right incentives to care for places like Redmire and penalties large enough to prevent them from destroying them, the work wouldn’t have been needed.
The owners of Redmire, Les Bamford and the rest of the management team have done their best to secure Redmire’s future and to protect the fishery and I applaud them. As we left on the last day, the sun set blood-red over Bernithan and I wondered briefly if it was setting for good on the Pool that has inspired so much of my fishing. Then I thought back to the clear, frosty start of that same autumn day and it struck me that, instead, we have secured a new dawn for Redmire. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have played my part.
Correction: In my previous article about the restoration, I said that Charlie Kirkham ‘rediscovered’ Redmire after the big freeze of the early 60s. It was, of course, Bob Rolph, who made the discovery, accompanied by Graham Igglesden. I’d like to set the record straight and apologise to Bob and Charlie who were both at the Pool for the Walker centenary where I heard the story. I have never been good at remembering names!
BELOW LEFTSwan mussels rescued from the Pool
Redmire, before it became famousABOVE
LEFT Hard, muddy work netting the carp
LEFT Creature from the Black Lagoon
LEFT We found evidence of otters
LEFT TOP The netting party LEFT MIDDLE Starting on the shallows LEFT BOTTOM The retained carp safe in another Pool on the estate ABOVE Removing the fallen oak
BELOW More than 5000 tonnes of silt
ABOVE TOP Back on the shallows
ABOVE Working behind the Climbing Island LEFT TOP The Pool extends for another 30 yards LEFT BOTTOM The shallows completed
LEFT TOP & INSET A memento from the silt Sunset on the Redmire of my imagination? Clive, Seth, Spike and myself: job done! LEFT BOTTOM BELOW
BELOW Or a new dawn for BERNITHAN?
RIGHT STARTING TO REFILL THE POOL