Buried beneath the foliage of the Fishpool Valley lies a forgotten history, a landscape that has been both playground and workshop for people of an era long since past. Nature has won back the landscape; as perhaps it always will, where man has lost interest or moved on to exploit the benefits of new ventures.
Over the past seven years I and other Rangers have worked to maintain, what could be considered, the status quo in the Fishpool Valley; maintaining the walks, repairing the gates and bridges, removing Rhododendron and the excess conifer that had self seeded and grown to shut out the light along the sides of the pools.
Lack of funding I guess has been a major contributor to what one could describe as the deterioration and neglect of the valley. Over the past four or more decades numerous surveys, of both landscape and natural history, have recommended action plans for the benefit of various species and structures; all recognised as highly desirable but none have been really implemented with any vigour.
In recent years there have been breaches of two dams in the valley both a result of heavy and continuous rain fall and their structural integrity is in question. The dams all leak and there appears to be little information available to tell us exactly when or how well the Dams were built. Flood management has been high on the agenda following recent years and new guidance for owners and operators of reservoirs was updated in 2016. This has raised the issue of the status of the Dams in the Fishpool Valley and coincided with the already declared intention to repair all the existing dams in the valley and to rebuild one dam that has for many years held no water at all.
Funding has now been made available to undertake a quite extensive restoration programme that will continue for possibly the next five years. The restoration project is aiming to restore the valley to how it might have been in about the year 1800, with a strong connection to the Picturesque Landscape Movement.
It is quite incredible how quickly nature takes over plots of land that have been neglected and returns them to what we term a wilderness; a word we attribute to overgrown ground we want to take back in hand. There are no wildernesses left in Britain of course, true wilderness is land untouched and unexplored and this was one interpretation of what the picturesque period was about.
The forgotten history referred to above has strong associations with Croft Castle not just because the valley lies within the Croft Castle Parkland but through former owners of the Castle in the period when the Picturesque was very much in vogue. The names of Richard Payne Knight, Thomas Johnes and Uvedale Price are synonymous with the picturesque landscape movement and the Knight and the Johnes families are former owners of Croft Castle with Price a close neighbour. Whilst there is little evidence to link these three influential individuals to the development of the Fishpool Valley, it could well be the case that the sense of natural beauty and tranquillity to be found in the valley left an impression on them in their early years.
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