Fishpool Valley restoration project at Croft Castle

Project
The purpose built bird hide at Fishpool Valley, Herefordshire

What is Fishpool Valley?

“How best to bid the verdant Landscape rise,
To please the fancy, and delight the eyes…”

Fishpool Valley was landscaped in the late eighteenth-century in the ‘Picturesque’ style. This was the movement to create a more natural landscape, using the principles of intricacy, roughness, variety and surprise. It features a chain of dams and pools, as well as architectural features such as an icehouse, grotto, pumphouse and limekiln. The careful planting of Oak, Ash, Willow, Poplar and evergreen species suggested the ‘bold roughness of nature’. Carriage rides and other walks were designed to follow the contours of the landscape, providing dramatic views across a wild, but beautiful, contrived scene.

You can see below a map extract showing the location of Fishpool Valley in relation to the Croft estate: all hidden between the medieval castle, ancient parkland and historic avenues, an Iron Age hillfort and the neighbouring common land.

A map extract showing the location of Fishpool Valley in relation to the Croft Estate
A map extract showing the location of Fishpool Valley in relation to the Croft Estate

What is the Fishpool Valley project?

“That grace which springs from an unfetter’d mind,
Which rules the body, free and unconfined…”

A decline in landscape management has meant that the dams and features within the valley are now in a poor state of repair. Part of the grotto has been lost, machinery in the listed pumphouse requires conservation, the remaining pools are leaking and their banks are eroding and key vistas within the valley are completely obscured by tree growth.

One of the carriage-ways as it looks today.
One of the carriage-ways in Fishpool Valley as it looks today, at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

Thanks to funds raised by our supporters, we’re able to restore this almost forgotten valley. The aim of the project is to revive and enhance its Picturesque features, including the rescue of the ‘Gothick’ and other built structures from further degeneration.

We also aim to:

  • Repair the dams and spillways
  • Re-instate pools which have drained
  • Enhance access for visitors, including the re-instatement of walks
  • Improve habitats
  • Clear invasive tree and shrub growth in order to open up those lost key vistas.

The tree clearance will also improve the diversity of the woodland structure and help other species to thrive by increasing light levels in the valley.  

A view from inside the grotto in Fishpool Valley
A view from inside the grotto looking out at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

Why is the valley being restored?

“Delights to shew the curling waters glide,
Beneath reflected rocks, or antique towers,
Amidst o’ershadowing trees, or lightly tufted flowers…”

Fishpool Valley is a historically significant landscape, with built structures that have sadly fallen into disrepair. A large proportion of the valley is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with diverse bird life and aquatic plants and lichens. Importantly, it is home to protected species which include several species of bat and the endangered white-clawed crayfish. It is therefore fundamentally important that the valley is restored and revived so that the historical features and wildlife are protected and conserved for future generations.

Fishpool Valley as it looks today
A wooded walk in Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle

Why do we need to manage the trees?

Good woodland management is about creating a diverse species range and age-structure of trees. At present, the valley is choked by secondary growth where trees have prevented light reaching the valley floor. Early Ordnance Survey maps for the valley show considerably more sparse populations of trees in the different valley areas and it is this level of cover we will be working towards over the next five years. As part of the project we will be continuing our wildlife monitoring and updating conservation methods throughout the project’s development and implementation.

An artist's impression of how the valley could look post-restoration. The 'Picturesque' view has been revealed; the perfect spot for contemplation.
An artist's impression of Fishpool Valley, post-restoration

How and when are we restoring Fishpool Valley?

“Pure abstract beauty’s fleeting shades to trace,
And fix the image of ideal grace;
Combining what he felt with what he saw;
And penetrating nature’s inmost law…”

It is likely that this project will take years to complete, due to its complexity and significance. Research and planning has already begun and we will keep updating this article with news surrounding the project, including any clearance work and repairs to the structures within the valley.

Volunteers carrying out scrub clearance in the valley
Croft Castle volunteers undertaking clearance work in Fishpool Valley

The National Trust will continue to rely on funds raised by its supporters to see the project through to fruition, including the vision of a restored, Picturesque valley in the midst of Croft’s ancient parkland. This is an ambitious project and we are in need of donations to target specific aspects of the work, including re-instating walks, reviving built structures and restoring the pools, which will eventually bring to life the ‘Picturesque’ experience.

Latest posts

18 Sep 17

Woodland management

At present, Fishpool Valley is choked by secondary growth where trees have prevented light reaching the valley floor. In order to improve woodland management, the project aims to create a diverse range of species and age-structure of trees. Early Ordnance Survey maps for the valley show considerably more sparse populations of trees in the different valley areas and it is a balance between this level of cover and one which is sympathetic to the ecological significances of the valley, which the Trust will be working towards achieving over the next five years. Sensitive thinning using experienced conservation foresters occurred from September to November, with the next phase of work commencing in February. They have experience working with protected species, which is particularly important, as part of the valley is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its bird life, aquatic plants and lichens, and its protected species which include several species of bat and the endangered white clawed crayfish. Some species in the SSSI listing for the valley have not been recorded for over two decades, and this is largely believed to be down to the increase in shading on pool sides and the valley floor generally. Gradual thinning of invasive tree and shrub growth will reduce impacts on the ecology and wildlife that might otherwise occur from sudden changes to light levels from large areas of block felling. Thinning will therefore continue in stages over the next five years, avoiding the bat hibernation and bird nesting seasons. Secondary tree clearance will open up those lost Picturesque vistas and will also improve the diversity of the woodland structure and enable other species to thrive by increasing light levels in the valley.

Conservation foresters in Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

13 Sep 17

Archaeological investigations

From 14 August to 15 September, our team of archaeologists and volunteers have been carrying out excavations in Fishpool Valley. These investigations have unearthed fascinating built structures, cascades, spillways and more, helping us to piece together a clearer image of Fishpool Valley as it would have looked during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Follow the link to our archaeology article below to find out more about these discoveries.

A tunnel which has been unearthed in Fishpool Valley

31 Aug 17

Geotechnical investigations

Samples were taken from the dams in order to conduct geotechnical composition tests ahead of the restoration work due to take place over the coming years.

Dynamic probing in Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle