Bringing back the British pond

Alice Lipscombe-Southwell reports on the launch of a project to reintroduce ponds to the British countryside

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The UK’s ponds are in turmoil. Their numbers have reduced dramatically and there are now only half the number that existed 100 years ago. And of the ponds left, eight out of ten are damaged by pollution.

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This is terrible news for species such as water beetles, newts and dragonflies that rely on fresh water sources to survive. Even though ponds are generally small in size, they are just as diverse as lakes or rivers and therefore urgently need help. 

The only way to create new ponds is by digging an area of suitable land, away from any factors that may contribute towards its degradation such as areas of high human traffic or agricultural run-off from fields containing fertilisers or pesticides.

One charity has noticed the problem. Pond Conservation has launched the Million Ponds Project. The Million Ponds Project is a collaboration of 11 major partners, co-ordinated by Pond Conservation. It kicked off i September 2008 with the official launch last month. Their vision is to put back 500,000 ponds over the next 50 years, starting with 5,000 in England and Wales by the end of 2012. 

Managing the existing ponds is difficult because it is hard to keep them clean. Agricultural run-off and pollutants may affect them and re-vamping will disturb any delicate wildlife and habitats. It is far better to create a new pond with a clean water source and to wait for animals and plants to colonise it. People are even encouraged not to add plants, as natural succession is important. Penny Williams, Senior Freshwater Ecologist from Pond Conservation, says: “Stages without plants are important for early animals. Use nice clean water from a water butt or rainwater and don’t do anything to it.”

In the past, ponds would have formed naturally, but now man has such huge influence and control over the countryside that this does not happen any more. Ms. Williams says: “Ponds formed in lots of ways in the past. One third of the UK used to be wetland so any depression would have formed pools. Historically, wild boar would make pools everywhere and expand them. Upper parts of streams would have natural dams forming, maybe from beavers. Little pools would form at the bottom of hill slopes when it rained – this can be seen in the New Forest where the landscape is covered with these pools. Now, man won’t allow water to do that and it is re-routed so natural ponds have been replaced by man-made ones”.

There are 80 pond species that are a national priority for conservation action under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) and one fifth of ponds will be targeted to support them. Funding is available for BAP sites and submission for this will be opening in Autumn 2009.

Major land owners are encouraged to create a new clean water pond if they are able to do so, advice is available on the Pond Conservation website. But don’t worry if you cannot build a pond, you can still help by becoming a Pond Conservation supporter for £2 a month. You’ll be invited on pond dipping days out and can get tips on garden ponds. Alternatively, you can donate to the Pond Digging Fund where every £1 donated will generate £10 of funding through the Landfill Communities Fund. Even if a pond is not suitable for inclusion in the Million Ponds Project, building one is still an brilliant way of increasing biodiversity in an area as not only are they a habitat for a wide range of species, some animals will also use it for drinking, hunting or washing.

David Orchard of the Herpetological Conservation Trust told Countryfile Magazine: “The ponds are planned to benefit species in need of help from conservationists such as common toads, great crested newts and grass snakes. Countryside ponds don’t have many common frogs any more, their stronghold is in gardens. Amphibians and reptiles are suffering from a loss of habitat and their populations are becoming fragmented so inbreeding is a problem. We can’t just create an isolated pond, it must be in an area with target animals or they’ll never populate it.”  

FACTFILE

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  • A pond is a man-made or natural water body which is between one metre squared and two hectares which holds water for four months of the year or more.
  • Ponds have existed for millions of years and the animals and plants that rely on them have evolved perfectly to fill this niche.
  • Human activity has led to a loss of ponds. About 2000-3000 years ago around one third of the UK was wetlands.
  • Seasonal ponds are important as fish can’t survive in them. This allows amphibians and insects to breed and thrive.
  • Ponds don’t need to be deep. In fact, many species are happiest in just a few centimetres of water.