Stemps Pond Restoration
Author – Ray Huskisson
After such a positive response from the article on Cart Pond we asked former Bognor Regis and District Freshwater Angling Club Secretary Ray Huskisson if he would do a similar article on Stemps Pond. Ray, who is still very much involved in the Club, was happy to oblige and was even able to supply the photos to accompany the following article.
I wonder how many of you who fish Stemps Wood Pond know how much work went into creating this fishery by restoring an ancient pond that had endured decades of neglect. Those of us who have been involved with the Club for more years than we care to remember believe without this pond we may not have even survived as a club.
Back in the early 1980’s the old BRDFAC was desperately seeking new venues, it had been steadily dropping members after losing some quite high profile waters such as Vinnetrow and Westhampnet when the club was in it’s heyday. Try as we might nothing seemed to happen and the membership level continued falling drastically. I was looking at some old large scale maps of the areas around Bognor Regis and on one of them there was a largish pond shown in a copse near Walberton. The copse was called Stemps Wood and the pond itself was dated at over 250 years old. Although it was shown on the old maps with two islands it wasn’t much of pond when I first came across it. Years of neglect had taken their toll. There was virtually no water and the outline of the pond and islands was barely discernable. It was like the proverbial jungle.
This though could be what we were looking for and needed investigating further. Enquiries led to the late Mr. John Forse of Barnham who was the farmer of the land in which Stemps Wood was situated, and first contact was made with Mr. Forse on 29th August 1984. Permission was given to visit the site and I went along with Dale ‘Mac’ McCavish the Club Chairman on Saturday 1st September. Even though the site was so overgrown the potential stood out. It would take hard work and a lot of money. It was not impossible to restore the pond and make it a fishery – but could we do it.
We needed funds. The Club had some money and through our membership of the Hants and Sussex Anglers Alliance we were confident some money would be made available but would it be enough. Both the Sports Council and Arun District Council were contacted on 3rd September to enquire if grants were available for our project.
On 4th September we were back on site with Ian Geall who would end up as our contractor and again on site on 6th September with a representative from the Sports Council who wanted to do an evaluation. They were impressed and said that they would send us a grant application pack. Mac was again on site on 11th September with another contractor looking at prices and ideas.
From the start Mr. Forse had been very supportive. He did not own the land but rented from the Church Commissioners and said that if we could raise the funds to undertake the project he would speak to the Commissioners Agents and ask them to issue a lease to the Club. By November Mr. Bill Forse (John’s son) was getting involved and proved to be just as enthusiastic as we were.
To keep costs down it was decided that the actual clearance of the pond site would be undertaken by club members with contractors machinery being used for the actual dig. Fortunately we were being allowed to spread the spoil in the woodland area, which would save a great deal of money. Even so our best estimate of costs was £5575 including legal fees. We were now at that difficult stage where we needed a lease of at least 7 years to apply for grants, but did we need a lease if there were no grants forthcoming. Thanks to the Forse family being so supportive the Church Commissioners Agents came up with a draft lease in December 1984 which only needed signing if our bid was successful. On 25th January 1985 our application for a grant was sent to the Sports Council. We waited and kept our fingers crossed.
The good news arrived early in May and we were awarded £2000 towards the project. The HSAA had promised £1000, which we could have probably matched from Club funds but we were still short. Mac renegotiated a daily machinery rate with the contractor and by doing a bit more work voluntarily we thought we could do it, took the plunge and signed the lease. The cost for the first year whilst the construction work was going on would be a token £50.
Under Mac’s leadership it was work parties, work parties and even more work parties to get the site cleared. These were well attended with sometimes over 20 guys turning up to axe, saw and burn. Gradually it started to take shape with the outline of what was once a one acre pond becoming visible. It was decided to consolidate the two islands into one to save costs on spoil spreading. The voluntary work took a lot longer than expected and it was not until June 1987 that we were ready for the machinery to start digging.
The 18th June 1987 saw Bernie drive the Poclain Hymac off the banks into the silt and start – and what a start it was. As each scoop of silt was moved water poured out and very quickly the tracks of the machine were almost underwater. Very quickly a pump was hired to keep the water from the springs down to a reasonable level and allow work to continue. At least we knew where the water was going to come from. As the two islands were merged chicken wire and stakes were purchased to hold the spoil in position.
The dredging operation lasted through to mid July and the machine came back on site for a week in August to clear and tidy the banks. It looked a complete mess but Mother Nature is good at healing her wounds and the first green shoots soon appeared. The first stocking of fish came courtesy of the old Southern Water Authority in October 1987 followed by some tench taken from Smiths Copse.
The pond opened for fishing on 16th June 1988 four years and a lot of hard work after it was first seen. The final cost was £3022.87. This was financed by a Sports Council grant of £2000 with £1000 from the Hants and Sussex Anglers Alliance and club funds, and was over £2000 below our original estimate. All those work parties had paid dividends. Although hard work at the time, for all those that got involved they proved to be very rewarding and the end result was not only had we got ourselves a new venue, we had also consolidated our membership and it has continued to grow from that season onwards.
Looking back it was certainly worth the effort, it probably wouldn’t have happened without the driving force behind the project, that was Mac McCavish who kept everyone on their toes. All the time Stemps was being dredged Mac kept on about the fact that there was probably room in the woods for a second pond. Eventually we all gave in to him and Cart Pond was born, but that’s another story.