ANGLERS have begun removing stocks of prized fish from a 300-year-old mill pool which could be drained.
Angler Neil Boaz is just one worried villager who is working with bosses at the Environment Agency to save wildlife from the waters of Oulton Mill Pool in Cotebrook.
Mr Boaz, a member of Tarporley Fishing Club, says it will be an 'environmental disaster' if the historic pool is drained for safety reasons.
Engineers working for Cheshire County Council fear the pool may burst at any moment and flood homes, due to a fragile sluice-gate.
However, parishioners hope to come up with an idea or money to repair the sluice-gate, which could prevent the historic waterway from being drained.
Hoping to find a solution are members of Rushton and Tarporley parish councils, staff and pupils at The Sarah Bartholomew School in Tarporley, Eddisbury MP Stephen O'Brien, worried villagers and also representatives of Oulton Estate, which owns the pool.
Staff at the Mill Pool restaurant, which overlooks the beauty spot, also want to save the waterway.
Mr Boaz, of Spurstow, says 600lbs of fish have already been relocated to other waters and says the work will continue in case the pool is drained suddenly.
The pool is well known in Cheshire for its natural beauty, and because it contains a range of good fish including carp, bream, tench and pike.
Rumours abound that the pool also contains great crested newts, a protected species, which could prevent the pool being drained full-stop. However, these claims have yet to be conf irmed.
Mr Boaz said: 'It would be an environmental disaster if the pool was drained. It is only three feet at its deepest. Draining it by 16inches would just leave a mud heap.'
Repairs to a nearby wall would also have to be done to satisfy engineers that the pool does not pose a risk to neighbouring properties.
'People have been asking why we have been moving fish from the pool,' said Mr Boaz.
'We are removing them because if the pool was suddenly lowered we would not be able to cope and remove all the fish at once.
'I and others have been working in conjunction with the Environment Agency for two weeks.'
Pupils at The Sarah Bartholomew School feel so strongly about the need to protect the pond, which is home to ducks, swans and fish, they have created 'Save the pond' posters and written to MP Stephen O'Brien.
Headteacher Catherine O'Donovan said: 'The children love animals.
'They would be upset if the wildlife wasn't there and if there were no longer ducks and swans and cows coming down to drink.'
Caretaker Philip Moss, who is also secretary of the village hall committee, said: 'The main object of the exercise is we want to save the pond - it's not a danger.'
Mr Moss, of Woodlands Close, Cotebrook, said the pond dated back to 1272 and had been the site of a glass-works and corn mills.
He says Tarporley Fishing Club is unhappy with any proposal to lower water levels since they have stocked the pond with £20,000 worth of fish. Mr Moss has heard there are similar plans for a lake in Little Budworth.
Cheshire County Council is responsible for the safety of reservoirs under the 1975 Reservoir Act and regular inspections are required by law.
A spokeswoman said: 'An inspection was carried out at Oulton Mill Pool in August 2000, which recommended, on safety grounds, measures which included the lowering of water levels by 0.4 metres. Because this work has not been carried out, we have a legal duty to begin enforcement action.'
Michael Scott, a senior partner in Chester-based Denton Clark, which acts as agent for the Oulton Estate, declined to comment.