All posts by ChrisH

Restoration of The Old Reservoir, Ross-on-Wye

This old reservoir pond, owned by Welsh Water and situated next to the Town and Country Trail, has clear water and fluctuating water levels, with a broad succession of marginal vegetation, including lots of water mint. However, willow saplings were encroaching on the marsh and pollarded willows on the periphery had grown back. Management work here attempted to reduce the impact of the willows.

Planning required close coordination with a number of departments at Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. Public consultation included a display in the local Heritage Centre for a week with the project officer in attendance on two occasions, and an awareness-raising bat walk. There was an article in a local newspaper, and the project officer took the opportunity when visiting the site to chat with people on the Town and Country Trail. This latter approach was welcomed and effective and indicated that people had heard something about the restoration plans. Ensuring that site visitors parked in an acceptable place alleviated parking worries.

Treework was undertaken by the contractor in November, and was followed by a morning with volunteers picking up willow twigs to stop them growing. Positive comments were received from dog walkers passing by who had watched the on-going work.

Restoration of Honeymoor Common

Honeymoor Common is currently largely abandoned agriculturally because of the problems of stock getting on the roads, and is crossed by ditches. Although it would benefit greatly from grazing, it is a wonderful scrub and wet grassland wildlife habitat.

The Common has several ponds dotted about, mostly overgrown, but there are two bigger ponds. The project wanted to deal with one close to the road, which when surveyed in 2005 had a record of the very invasive non-native species Crassula helmsii (New Zealand pigmy weed or Australian swamp stonecrop). When re-surveyed in 2007 the Crassula had spread across the pond and was forming a dense mat under the bulrush (Typha) and other rushes and sedges. A very small number of great crested newt tadpoles were found, though many more smooth newt.

The management plan aimed to deal with the Crassula by digging out the pond completely, disposing of the waste offsite and spraying any re-growth of the Crassula. Environment Agency waste disposal regulations expect pond dredgings to be spread round the banks, but this would not have been appropriate in this situation because of the high risk of re-infestation of the Crassula in the pond, or further infestation to other water-bodies on the common. The diggings would need to be disposed off-site.

Unfortunately, quotes for disposal of the diggings off-site were in the region of £20,000 and were beyond the scope of the project and it was decided instead to do some work on a nearby pond.

The survey of the alternative pond discovered great crested newts and also a rare (Red Data Book) beetle and this informed the new management plan. It was decided that some shallow scrapes would be dug in the marshy area next to the pond for the benefit of invertebrates, some areas of bulrush (Typha) dug out of the big pond to create open water while leaving some of the habitat to re-colonise other areas. Clumps of trees surrounding the pond would be cut down and made into habitat piles while leaving boundary trees standing.

Work took place in November, with one contractor doing the tree work and another doing the digging of the scrapes and areas of the big pond. Two volunteer mornings were spent building the habitat piles with logs and brash, and clearing paths round the pond.

Restoration of Madley Moat

The moat was almost completely shrouded by a canopy of trees to the extent that viewed from a distance the public did not always realise there was a moat there. The water was dark and murky and fly tipping had taken place previously. Willows were growing in the water and there was plenty of dead wood. Despite all this, the survey found great crested newt eggs.

The site is a listed ancient monument, (though not scheduled) but the county archaeologist felt unsure of its history because of the small size of the island. This did mean there were restrictions in what management work could take place:

  • No digging or de-silting because of disruption to silt layers which might hold historical information
  • Protection of the banks from erosion during work
  • No pulling out of established willow by the roots because of disruption of silt layers.

The management plan aimed to create open water to encourage more vegetation and invertebrate diversity. It consisted of clearing the fringe of willows from the southern (sunny) side to open it up, cutting down and treating willows growing in the water with herbicide, and thinning the big crack willow. A felling license was obtained as the quantity of wood was close to falling into these restrictions if it was taken off-site. A bat survey was also undertaken and although no evidence was found, trees were marked for retention that might provide bat roost habitat.

Work took place in late August and September with dramatic effect. The contractor felled and chipped wood. Volunteers raked dead wood from the water and banks, coppiced smaller stands and manned a fire, built habitat piles and planted up the bare banks to speed up the re-vegetation process.

At a later stage, a herbicide license was obtained and a contractor bought in to re-cut and treat stumps of willow in an attempt to prevent re-growth, particularly those growing in the water. A very small patch of bulrush (Typha) existed in the pond, which the local volunteers wanted to keep and manage to prevent colonisation of the rest of the pond.Some fixed-point photography was agreed to ensure that boundaries were established for the bulrush expansion.

ADD PHOTO GALLERY

Adders

Adder sightings in HerefordshireThe Adder is Britain’s only venomous snake. It is a small squat species, fairly heavily bodied with a short tail and a well-defined triangular head, the female approx 55cm long and the male 50cm. One of the largest adders recorded in Herefordshire was 72cm, discovered by Dr Leighton in 1900.

The adder always has a ‘V’ or ‘X’ shaped mark behind the head and zigzag patterning down the back. Colouring varies between the sexes, the males having a pronounced black zigzag with a white or pale background coloration. Females are normally red/brown or darker with a brown background colour. This makes them very hard to see in a bank of dead bracken. The young, 15 – 20cm at birth, are generally reddish brown with a yellow tail tip. The eyes of the adder are red or coppery red with a cat-like vertical pupil. The reason for this vertical pupil is unclear as they are a typically diurnal species.

Very occasionally dark or melanistic adders, the ‘black adder’, occur locally in many parts of Britain, but are seen more in colder, mountainous areas of their distribution, especially closer to the Arctic Circle. Obviously a dark body colour will absorb more heat.

Range and distribution +

The Adder is absent from Ireland but present in most of Europe as far as 69’ N in Scandinavia, parts of France, Germany, northern Switzerland, Austria, across Russia and through Asia to northern China. This is the most northerly ranging snake species in the world.

Its ability to hibernate for up to 5 months of the year and its dark melanistic coloration enable it to survive the short warm season in the very north of its range. Giving birth to live young only every 2 – 3 years is another useful adaptation. In Britain the adder is sparsely distributed throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Population numbers in the midlands are especially sparse due to high urbanization and fragmentation of suitable habitat.

Heath land, moors, chalk down land, coastal dunes, rough commons with plenty of scrub, brambles, gorse and bracken are typical habitat. Most habitats are situated on a sloping gradient with a south or south-easterly aspect. On flat heath land or ancient meadowland large grassy tussocks or anthills make good sunning spots for the adders.

The Adder Year +

Males emerge first from hibernation at the end of February or beginning of March, depending on the weather conditions. They shed (or slough) their skins in mid April and disperse toward the breeding areas and favoured basking sites, ready for the arrival of the females a few weeks later.

This is the best time to observe adders as their patterning and coloration is at its peak after this first skin slough. In March/April, the males begin the ‘Dance of the adder’ where the males perform spectacular mating combat rituals. The males entwine and twist against each other with the front of their body and try to wrestle each other to the ground. The larger snake is normally the victor and goes on to mate with the female who has remained in attendance.

Female adders appear to have a particular smell around this time, perhaps a pheromone, which the males can detect. Mating can last up to 2 hours with the male being dragged through the vegetation backwards. After mating is over the male will stay near the female for several days before departing to summer haunts. These are usually a damper site than the winter one and here they will feed.

Adders give birth to between 3 and 10 live young. Having young tends to put great stress upon a female. Good prey years could result in more frequent births. This has only been proved in captive animals so far, but in theory this could happen in the wild. Females do not become sexually mature until 4 or 5 years of age and can live to over 10.

Population densities in the wild are about 1 to 12 individuals per hectare, and occasionally higher in some of the good southern heath lands. Male adders will travel 0.5 – 2 km from hibernacula sites to breed and to reach summer quarters.  So plenty of habitat is essential to this species.

The adder year ends with a return to the hibernation site ready to emerge again in late February/March the following year.

Prey +

Adults’ prey will mainly be voles, mice, frogs, newts and lizards including slow worms. The prey is dispatched with a venomous bite, taking less than a minute to kill a lizard. The injected venom starts to digest the prey from the inside, speeding up the time when the snake may be vulnerable to attack. Adders 25cm in length are capable of swallowing a fully grown common lizard. The adder will eat between 6 and 9 vole sized meals within a year. Good vole years will mean a good adder year.

Young adders tend not to feed until their second year as straight after birth in September they go into hibernation. They feed on small lizards and mice pups.  Captive young snakes have shown no reaction to insects, but have fed on lizards and vole viscera.

Adder bites +

Belonging to the subfamily viperinae, a family ranging from Europe, Asia & Africa and closely related to the rattle snakes subfamily crotalinae, from the USA. The adder possesses 2 sophisticated fangs up to 7mm in length which, when the snake strikes, hinge forward, each fang having a venom gland supplying venom to the hypodermic fang. This is embedded into the victim and venom pumped in. The venom is cytotoxic, attacking the blood system and eventually the heart.

Adders very rarely bite humans. If they do it is in defence, possibly as they are frightened of being trodden on or roughly treated. Most bites are to young males picking up adders in a show of bravado. The chances of being killed by an adder bite are very rare. There is a greater chance of being killed by a wasp or bee sting, stray dog or in a horse riding accident. Statistically one person in a decade of bites in Britain has died, and with nearly one hundred bites per year fatality must be one in a thousand bites. 70% of bites are dry bites, all bluff no venom injected. Deaths of pets or domestic animals from adders are also rare.

Adders in Folklore +

Adders are surrounded in superstition even today in the 21st century. One tale I still regularly come across from countrymen who have spent their lives amongst adders is that female adders swallow their young to protect them from danger. I have also seen this in old natural history books. This most likely originated when a gravid female adder was killed with well developed young inside her. If she did attempt to swallow her own young the strong stomach acids would digest them.

Snakes do not hypnotize their intended prey. This story was even related in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Snakes do appear to stare, as they have no eyelids, meaning they even have to sleep with their eyes open.

Adders will not die till sunset if mortally wounded. More fantasy – they will take time to die if wounded, but won’t wait till sunset.

Adders and Game Birds +

Gamekeepers have informed me that if an adder comes across a clutch of pheasant eggs it will eat the whole clutch. While they may occasionally take the odd ground nesting bird I have never heard of or seen an adder take eggs. The biggest threat to egg clutches is from rats, hedgehogs, corvids and foxes.

Adders live mainly on rodents and lizards with also the occasional amphibian. In reality game birds do more damage to them. In the late summer they constitute a lot of reptile mortality, feeding on lizards and small snakes. The large numbers released must have an impact on the ecosystem. Anyone who keeps chicken will know how in a coop they clear the ground of vegetation and insects leaving bare earth.  More game birds appear to die on the roads than go to predators anyway.

Conclusion +

The adder has survived in our country for hundreds of years and should remain for the future. Human persecution and habitat loss are its main threats. Folklore and superstition even today have helped instil a hatred for this shy and retiring reptile, which many people have never even seen. It has a fascinating natural history and is essential to the balance of our ecosystem.

Watch Springwatch on BBC Midlands Today +

References +
  1. British Snakes, Leonard G Appleby, 1975
  2. Collins Field Guide Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe, E.N. Arnold & Denys Ovenden, 2002
  3. Snakes & Lizards, Tom Langton, 1989
  4. Amphibians & Reptiles, Trevor Beebee & Richard Griffiths, 2000
  5. Habitat Management and conservation of the adder in Britain, Chris Wild & Carole Entwhistle, British Wildlife Volume 8 No. 5, June 1997

Pond plants

The most obvious thing people think about in relation to pond plants is usually the flowers – water lilies reflected in the water, stately bullrushes or yellow irises growing along the bank. But there’s much more to plants than meets the eye. From the point of view of the creatures which depend on ponds there’s a whole network of plants, above and below the surface, which are of vital importance to them for food and shelter.

These plants can be split roughly into four groups depending on the part of the pond in which they grow: those which are submerged; those with floating-leaves; those emerging from shallow water; and those on the margins. A balance between all these types ensures a healthy pond with plenty of wildlife.

Submerged plants +

Submerged plants are adapted to grow entirely below the surface, some of them not even rooted. They maintain oxygen levels in the water and provide shelter for invertebrates in the deeper parts of the pond. Examples are the native hornworts, which actually flower under water; water-milfoils, and water crowfoot, which has delicate white flowers on the surface of the water.

One particularly unusual and uncommon submerged plant is Bladderwort which occurs in a few sites in Herefordshire. It is carnivorous, bearing small bladders which suck in & trap small creatures. Attractive yellow flowers appear above the surface.

Plants with floating-leaves +

Plants with floating-leaves are rooted in the mud at the bottom of the pond but their broad leaves cover the water surface, cutting out light and so reducing the growth of algae. The leaves also provide cover for invertebrates and amphibians. Lift a lily leaf in early summer and you’re likely to find a newt sheltering beneath. Common plants in this group are broadleaved pondweed, amphibious bistort and of course, water-lilies, the native ones being the vigorous White water-lily and the globe shaped Yellow water-lily.

There are also a few free floating plants in this group like Frogbit (see image on left) which has small lily-shaped leaves and white flowers; and the duckweeds which can completely cover the surface of nutrient rich ponds.

Emergent plants +

Emergent plants have their roots in water and can grow out into the pond, sometimes completely taking over shallow ponds. Tall emergents like Branched Bur-reed and Reedmace (often called bulrush) are particularly invasive, but provide protection for nesting moorhens and places for dragonfly nymphs to emerge from the water. On windy days numerous damselflies can be found taking shelter among the tall stems.

Marginal plants +

Marginal plants grow in the marshy areas around the pond and out into the water. Many pond animals live in dense vegetation in very shallow water, often only a few centimetres deep, so the low growing plants, rushes and grasses around the edges of the pond forming a tangled network of stems and roots are very important for wildlife. Great Crested Newts lay their eggs on flat leaves like Water Forget-me-not, Water Parsnip or Flote Grass. The mauve flowers of Water Mint attract bees and butterflies.

Continuing outwards from the margins of the pond are plants of damp ground and marshy areas. Here there are many with colourful flowers, like Marsh Marigold, Ragged Robin (see image on left), Purple Loosestrife (image at head of page), and Hemp Agrimony, whose large flat pinkish flowers are irresistible to bees and butterflies.

Problem plants +

As well as these native plants which have adapted to life in British ponds over thousands of years, there are a number of vigorous introduced species which have escaped into the countryside from garden ponds and aquaria and now pose a serious threat to our plants and wildlife. Many form dense mats of vegetation which smother native plants, deplete oxygen levels in the water and create a poor environment for amphibians, fish and invertebrates.

Those which particularly need to be watched out for are:

  • New Zealand Pigmyweed (Crassula helmsii or Tillaea recurva as it’s sometimes known).
  • Parrot’s Feather
  • Water Fern
  • American Pennywort

For more information on these plants click here.

Plants for wildlife +

A balance between the types of plant listed creates a habitat which will attract wildlife, but some plants are particularly important for certain species.

Great Crested Newts choose plants with flat leaves to lay their eggs, particularly Flote Grass and Water Forget-me-not, whereas Smooth and Palmate Newts prefer small leaves of submerged weeds.

▸ Follow the link for more information about pond creation and management.

Dragonflies need plenty of submerged plants for their developing larvae, while their emerging larvae need tall emergent plants, which also provide sheltered places for perching and roosting. A variety of plants is also required for egg laying, some dragonflies and damselflies laying their eggs into the stems of marginal vegetation, others into floating or submerged plants. Red-eyed damselflies spend long periods perched on the leaves of water-lilies.

▸ Follow the link for more information about dragonflies and damselflies.

Moorhens and coots build their nests within the protection of tall rushes and reeds, which also shelter the chicks from predators like foxes.

There are even moths, the Chinamark moths, whose caterpillars live under water, feeding on pondweeds and duckweeds.

So it is the variety and balance of plant species which is so important.

Invertebrates in Herefordshire ponds

Apart from dragonflies, in general Herefordshire’s ponds have been poorly studied for invertebrates. For example to date only 156 species of water beetles have been found within Herefordshire (of which about 120 are associated with still water habitats) a relatively low number in comparison with the 250 species of water beetle recorded within Britain and Ireland.

The exception to this rule is Moccas Park National Nature Reserve with its associated water bodies where remarkably over 100 species of water beetles have been recorded over a 30 year period. Notable examples include Graphoderus cinereus which is listed as Red Data Book 3. The Lawn Pool at Moccas Park also supports the nationally scarce Medicinal Leech (Hirudo medicinalis) which is specially protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and also listed as Red Data Book 3.

At the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust Sturts reserve at Letton in the Wye Valley, the Mud Snail (Lymaena glabra) a Red Data Book 2 species was recorded in April 2003. It was found within the ditches and shallow ponds and typically was found in associated with the local Moss Bladder Snail (Aplexa hypnorum) and the Button Ram’s-horn (Anisus leucostoma). The latter species is known from 2 other sites within the county.

There are few records for aquatic bugs within Herefordshire, however, it has been interesting to observe how many ponds support all 3 species of the commoner backswimmers: the Common Backswimmer (Notonecta glauca), the Spotted Backswimmer (Notonecta maculate) and the Black Backswimmer (Notonecta obliqua). The latter species is generally found in upland habitats, but turns up frequently in ponds on the Devonian Sandstone.

Dragonflies & Damselflies

Herefordshire supports 25 of the 40 or so species of dragonfly recorded in the UK. There are 5 species which are very rare and 10 which are very common within the county. Some species lives by running water and other besides ponds. Features of good dragonfly habitat include unpolluted water, sun, shelter, emergent and floating vegetation and muddy edges.

The following species account was prepared by Mike Williams of the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group following a talk by Peter Garner, former dragonfly recorder for the county.

 

Dragonfly Species found in Herefordshire

Broad-Bodied Chaser

 

Flies from mid-May onwards. Very common in all types of ponds, even very small ones. Male gunmetal blue, female yellow/bronze.

Four-Spotted Chaser

Can be confused with female Broad-Bodied Chaser but it is smaller. Four spots on wings. Only seen on 12 ponds in Herefordshire and only known to breed on 3.

Club-Tailed Dragonfly

Breeds by large rivers, never in ponds. Only found on about 12 rivers in the UK, the Wye, Severn and Avon are its stronghold. It has also been recorded on the Lower Teme and the River Lugg near Hereford. It is common on the Wye south of Hereford. Flies May – June. Sits on vegetation and easy to see when vegetation is disturbed. After emergence commonly disperses several miles from the river.

Emperor Dragonfly

 

The largest dragonfly in the UK. Common on big garden ponds, it is blue with a black line down its back. Patrols a pond incessantly, flying 1 to 1½ metres above the water. Found in about 60% of all ponds. Climate change has led it to spread its range to include Herefordshire in recent years.

Black-Tailed Skimmer

 

Flies 5cm above the water. Needs a pond with a bare bank, gravel pits or mud at the edge of the pond. Recent colonist. Male/female coloured similarly to the Broad-Bodied Chaser.

Golden-Ringed Dragonfly

Common in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire. Likes stony streams. Only common in Herefordshire in the Olchon Valley, also occasionally seen in Brilley and Cusop, and near the Forest of Dean.

Southern Hawker

 

Flies from late July to October. Uses ponds as small as a metre across. Patrols less than an Emperor and does not have the black line of the Emperor down its back. Emperors are gone by the end of August. Wanders away from ponds more than the Emperor. Curious of humans, will come up to you and hover, then fly off. It may repeat this behaviour. Clear end blue segments on the tail are the defining feature of the male. It has a perch that it returns to regularly to eat its food.

Migrant Hawker

Flies from mid-August onwards. There are about 25 known breeding sites in Herefordshire. Until recently it was only a migrant in the county. Almost a centimetre shorter than the Southern Hawker and more than a centimetre shorter than the Emperor, and with more black on it. The tail is not pure blue.

Common Hawker

Very rare in Herefordshire. Found only on 2 sites. Probably breeding near High Vinnals. Similar in size to the Southern Hawker.

Brown Hawker

Cannot be confused with any other species. Only found in the east of Herefordshire, particularly around Upper Sapey, Mathon and Whitboume. Large and brown, brown wings, it is slightly smaller than the Emperor.

Common Darter

Flies from the end of July onwards. Commonest dragonfly in the county. It is possible to see 100 at once on a good-sized pond.

Ruddy Darter

First seen in Herefordshire in 1987. It is different from the Common Darter, being a brighter red and having black legs.

Banded Agrion

Found commonly in good numbers on slower flowing rivers, e.g. the Arrow below Pembridge, the lower Lugg and the Wye.

Beautiful Demoiselle

Found on faster flowing rivers and small streams, e.g. the Arrow above Pembridge. The wings of the male appear brown or blue depending on which way the light falls on them.

Large Red Damselfly

First damselfly to appear, usually in late April early May. Hides in vegetation, especially nettles, Appears in smaller numbers than the blue damselflies.

Emerald Damselfly

Very common in west Herefordshire, rarer in the east of the county. It is not very conspicuous and the male has a blue tail. The female hides like a stalk in vegetation near the river.

White-Legged Damselfly

Found by rivers including the Wye, Lugg, Arrow and Monnow, Can be very common beside the Wye, which is one of the best sites in the UK. Has very blue eyes.

Blue-Tailed Damselfly

Will tolerate mildly polluted ponds, Thorax varies greatly in colour between blue, pink, bronze and violet, but all have a blue tail on the penultimate segment of an otherwise black abdomen.

Scarce Blue-Tailed Damselfly

A nationally rare species, its only site in Herefordshire is a gravel pit. It is Britain’s smallest damselfly. Needs shallow water that does not freeze. Less blue on the end of the tail, marking it as different from the blue-tailed damsel fly.

Red-eyed Damselfly

About 10 ponds host this blue damselfly with conspicuously red eyes – likes floating vegetation to bask on especially water-lilies.

Azure Damselfly

Very common and many found in most ponds. Very similar to the Common Blue Damselfly.

Common Blue Damselfly

Very common and many found in most ponds. Very similar to the Azure Damselfly.

 

Further Reading:

  • The Dragonflies of Herefordshire” by Peter Garner. View on Amazon.
  • An excellent book for dragonfly identification is “The Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland” by Brooks and Lewington. View on Amazon.

Pond creatures

Ponds support an incredible diversity of animal life. Some, like the microscopic protozoa and tiny water fleas, freshwater shrimps, fish and snails, spend their whole lives in the water. Others, including of course frogs, toads and newts, numerous bugs and beetles and the spectacular dragonflies, come to ponds to breed and are dependent on water for the early part of their lives. Even a few moths have caterpillars which live under water. As well as these which depend on ponds, many birds, mammals, insects and the grass snake come to find food and water. All these creatures, together with the plants, make up an interdependent community which has had millions of years to adapt to ponds.

Here are just a few samples from the great variety of pond animals.

 

At the bottom of the food chain:

Water fleas up to 1.5mm long, swim freely in the water and are very common. They have a transparent shell covering thorax and abdomen through which the heart can be seen beating. Most species feed on minute plant life, and form a very important source of food for many predators.

Freshwater shrimps  are an important source of food and are often found in shallow water among plants and under stones where they feed on decomposing animals and plants.

 

Some of the larger creatures:

 

Pond skater

Pond skaters skim across the surface feeding on insects which have fallen into the water. They are some of the first colonisers of new ponds.

 

 

 

 

Backswimmer

Backswimmers are often seen swimming upside down as they hunt just below the water surface, propelling themselves along with their powerful back legs. Their piercing mouthparts can inflict a painful bite. See drawing on right (courtesy of English Nature).

 

Whirligig beetles are the small beetles frequently seen swimming in rapid circles on the surface of ponds. Their eyes are in two parts so that they can see both above and below the surface.

Diving beetles are carnivorous and swim swiftly through the water hunting for food. They have strong wings and can fly from pond to pond, usually at night. Most can live for several years and lay eggs every year, which develop into larvae which are voracious predators. The larvae inject poison into their prey which partially dissolves the internal organs.

Dragonflies and damselflies are brilliantly coloured and incredibly skilful fliers. They are one of the oldest orders of life, their ancestors having been around 300 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs emerged. Eggs are laid among pond plants where they develop into nymphs which live under water hunting for small insects and tadpoles. After one or two years the nymphs crawl out of the water, split their skin and emerge as adults.

Moorhens frequently nest on even the smallest of ponds, building a nest amongst marginal vegetation.

 

 

Some useful aids for identification:

  • Small Freshwater Creatures, Lars-Henrik Olsen, Jakob Sunesen, Bente Vita Pederson. Oxford Natural History Pocket Guides 2001 ISBN 0 1985079 8 4  www.oup.com
  • A Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain & Ireland, Steve Brooks, Richard Lewington. British Wildlife Publishing, 2002, ISBN 0 9531399 0 5
  • Fold-out charts published by the Field Studies Council  www.field-studies-council.org, include Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Ireland, The Freshwater Name Trail, Commoner Water Plants, Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain, and are on sale at HART meetings.

Ponds in Herefordshire

Ponds within the County of Herefordshire are many and varied. This article by Will Watson explores their origins, formation and history.

Herefordshire’s Ponds

Most of the county’s undulating landscape is on the Lower Devonian Sandstone. The central plain is on the Raglan Mudstone Formation consisting of mudstones with smaller amounts of sandstone and limestone. The weathered rock breaks down into sandy silts shales and clay. Clay tends to concentrate in the river valleys and lower ground and this maybe augmented by alluvium clays on the river floodplains. The lower-lying parishes in the county support higher densities of ponds because clay is more predominant and the water table is higher. For example Pembridge, Letton and Madley have relatively large numbers of ponds, reaching in access of 5 ponds per Kilometre Square. Such ponds are typically between 100 to 2500 metres in area. Most of the smaller ponds were dug for the watering of stock and/or horses. In some areas ponds were formed after the digging of pits for clay which was used for daub, cooking pots, tiles and latterly for brick making. The smaller ponds which periodically dry up provide good habitat for amphibians; particularly for newts. Other ponds have been constructed around farmsteads as duck/fish pools and or cart ponds/horse ponds. Where the ponds were located close to the buildings they would serve in emergencies as fire ponds.

The St. Maughans Formation is located on the higher ground in the northeast and south of the county; these formations also comprise of sandstones, mudstones and calcretes but have a greater concentration of the harder sandstones. The ponds on the higher, steeper ground are often of larger construction because water may only hold once the water table is reached requiring more extensive excavation. For example on the freer draining ground on Bromyard Plateau in Hatfield, Grendon Bishop and Bredenbury the majority of ponds are between 2500 to 5000 metres in area, many are stream of spring-fed and typically support fish and are hence of limited value for newts. The average pond density on this formation is between 1 and 1.5 ponds per square kilometre – less than the English average of 1.7 ponds per square kilometre. Despite the fact that there are low numbers of ponds many of the semi-permanent ponds over sandstone support all three species of newt.

Hard Silurian Limestone is to be found in several parts of the county. The three largest areas for this stratum are the northwest Herefordshire Hills, the Woolhope Dome and the west flank of the Malvern Hills. These landscapes typically have low pond densities.

On the river terraces beside the River Wye kettle holes were formed after the last glaciation. As the ice retreated the hollows were filled with water creating a series of natural lakes and pools. Many still exist to the south of Wye between Hay and Hereford, although often modified by ‘restoration’. The Lawn Pool at Moccas Park is one of the best known of these natural landscape features. Natural ponds and pools are particularly special because, apart from supporting rare or unusual freshwater life, they contain uninterrupted sequences of sediment with preserved pollen and wood deposits which can inform us about past climatic conditions and vegetation communities. They are also nationally scarce; it has been estimated that only 2% of ponds are of natural origin.

The county also has its fair share of moats with 120 confirmed sites. These were usually constructed for ornament rather than defensive purposes. Lower Brockhampton, near Bromyard is one of the finest examples of a moated medieval manor house in England. However, the moat at Bronsil Castle (privately owned) is clearly a defensive feature (see photo above). Herefordshire is also renowned for its large country estates. Medieval moats, such as the one at the Court of Noke were transformed into water features in the 17th century. The great period of the country house was in the 18th and 19th centuries. On many of the larger estates at this period many ornamental lakes and pools were constructed. For example at Croft Castle (National Trust) a series of fish pools were constructed in what is now known as Fishpool Valley (SSSI), at Berrington Hall (National Trust), a pool with an island fed by a tributary of the River Lugg was created by Capability Brown and at Eastnor Castle (a private visitor attraction) a lake was constructed as backdrop to the castle in the 19th Century. (See photo below)

In the mid 20th Century we began to lose ponds in Herefordshire. Some were filled in as pasture was converted into arable and others were destroyed because ponds no longer had an economic function within the modern farm landscape or were lost simply through neglect. It has been estimated that there was an overall loss of 30% of ponds within the county from the 1920s to the 1980s (A Survey of Herefordshire Ponds and their value for Wildlife 1987 – 1991). Most of these losses occurred in the fertile arable farmland of the central plain and mainly the smaller field ponds were affected.

In the latter half of the 20th Century new fishing pools were constructed across the county for both commercial and private amenity use. Many of these sites support good breeding common frog and common toad populations, but they have very limited value for newts. At the beginning of 21st century HART along with other organisations such as FWAG (the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group) are seeking to redress the balance by encouraging the restoration and creation of small ponds in the countryside through the Herefordshire Ponds and Newts Project.

Pooling together – Reviving the Wetland Landscape

The Pooling Together Project set out to revive the pond landscape across 850 hectares of North-East Herefordshire by restoring 19 ponds on Bromyard Downs, the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate and Bringsty Common.

This partnership led by the Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team(HART) and Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (HWT) builds on the work done by the Ponds and Newts Network Heritage Project in 2014, which showed that only 34 ponds remained in existence across the Bromyard and Brockhampton parishes out of nearly 100 at the end of the 19th century.

The Pooling Together Project therefore aimed to restore some of the historical wetland habitat of the Bromyard Plateau, (Bromyard Downs, Brockhampton and Bringsty Common) by working with partner organisations in the area to improve the condition of existing ponds or create new ones. Many of the species that would benefit from this were nationally threatened or declining through the loss and fragmentation of their preferred wetland habitats.

The Project also set out to involve local communities around the area, by helping the people of Brockhampton, Bringsty, Bromyard and its other surrounding parishes to connect with and appreciate the importance of pond habitats, along with their wildlife. It would do so by offering opportunities for people of all ages to work with The Project in carrying out the immediate and ongoing restoration work, long-term wildlife monitoring and participating in events organised through The Project.

A significant part included working with teachers and pupils at local schools. The approach was to create new education resources around the theme of pond and their wildlife, which schools could use, and link this to the newly restored ponds in their local area. This work also included the creation of a purpose-built outdoor education facility at The Grove, Brockhampton.

Overall Project Summary +
  • The Pooling Together Project set out to revive the pond landscape across 850 hectares of North-East Herefordshire by restoring ponds on Bromyard Downs, the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate and Bringsty Common. The Project began in April 2015 and ran for just under 2 years.
  • The Project was funded by the grants from the National Lottery’s Heritage Lottery Fund, BIFFA Award and Severn Trent – “Welcome to Our Future” fund. There was also in-kind match funding provided by The National Trust and Herefordshire Wildlife Trust.
  • It was a collaboration between Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, The National Trust, Bromyard Downs Common Association (BDCA) and Bringsty Common Manorial Court (BCMC). Working with these partners has helped The Project contribute to the land management of the wider area of Bromyard for improving biodiversity.
  • At the outset, The Project aimed to create, restore or improve 19 ponds across Bromyard Downs, the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate and Bringsty Common. As new opportunities arose during The Project period, it was possible to improve 21 ponds and hence greatly improved the biodiversity potential from the work carried out over the 2 years.
  • The restoration of the ponds has increased the number of freshwater habitat across The Project area, benefitting several local/national priority wildlife species. These include the nationally scarce and protected great crested newt along with palmate and smooth newts, common toad, frog, and grass snake. Other species including bats, birds, a wealth of invertebrate species and freshwater flora will also benefit from better-connected pond habitats in good condition.
  • All of ponds on which The Project worked, are now covered under long-term (10 year) management plans. The project invested in expert pond ecologists to develop the plans. These include a yearly breakdown of the tasks for maintaining the biodiversity value of the sites and monitoring these changes.
  • The project has recruited 56 volunteers (including 7 young people under the age of 18) who have been actively involved with pond restoration and surveying. Other volunteers have contributed to The Project steering group, managing wildlife data and other administration activities. One work experience student also took part as a volunteer.
  • The Project has organised 7 training days, with 53 total attendees, with the aim of educating volunteers and the local community about the ongoing practical management of their newly restored ponds, how to survey them for wildlife and even how to build compost toilets. Feedback from these has been very positive with most people noting enjoyment of the courses, improving their knowledge and increasing their appreciation of the value of the sites and the work of The Project.
  • Volunteers participated in 6 practical work days and 8 wildlife survey days/evenings. Some of these have been run in collaboration with volunteer groups from partner organisations. The Project has liaised with representatives from the partner organisations (BDCA, NT and BCMC) to ensure that their volunteers can deliver the ongoing management for the ponds after The Project ends.
  • Their total effort has contributed 136 days, with an equivalent value of £11575 over this time. It is anticipated that many of these volunteers will continue to assist with future management work and/or surveying for wildlife.
  • During the Pooling Together project, there were 12 days of educational activities with nearly 360 young people taking part, from primary school to university age. This also included groups from local girl-guides, brownies, rainbow and home-education groups.
  • Working with the National Trust as a partner, The Project has invested in a new, bespoke outdoor classroom called “The Grove”. It includes a large restored pond, purpose built dipping platform, a substantial timber-constructed shelter with seating, information boards and even “composting toilets”.
  • “The Grove” is being advertised to schools, community groups and even families wishing to use it as an educational facility about ponds. The project has purchased pond-dipping kits (nets, trays and ID guides) which the can be borrowed (for free) from the National Trust visitor centre by such groups wishing to use “The Grove”. The same pond-dipping kits have been purchased and added to the Bromyard Downs Project’s resource box at Brockhampton School, allowing staff and pupils to use the equipment for curriculum based activities with ponds on the Bromyard Downs. (Further details can be found on the National Trust website – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brockhampton-estate/features/the-grove-pool)
  • Alongside this, The Project has worked with teachers to produce an education pack containing information and activities related to ponds and The Project area. This has been designed around the KS1/KS2 curriculum.
  • The project has helped members of the public to interpret and understand the biodiversity benefits of the wetland landscape with information panels installed alongside each of the restored ponds. These specially commissioned notice boards provide a guide to the ponds, the special wildlife to look out for and a QR link to the Pooling Together Website.
  • Further information about the Pooling Together ponds has been included as part of the information board for Bromyard Downs. This prominent location is one of the main visitor car parks for the Bromyard Downs Common and provides visitors with an opportunity to learn about both projects and plan their visits include the ponds of interest.
  • The Project commissioned a printed walks leaflet called “Ponds Trails” which provides 3 walks that incorporate many of the restored ponds on Bromyard Downs, Brockhampton Estate and Bringsty Common. It has been distributed to the local information centres, the National Trust Visitor Centre at Brockhampton and the Bromyard Downs car park where it will be prominently displayed for members of the public to take copies.
Conclusion +

The Pooling Together Project has over 2 years, helped to reinvigorate the pond landscape of Bromyard, Brockhampton and Bringsty by restoring and creating 21 ponds and helping to establish them in good condition for the future.

The work of the Project has benefitted a range of wildlife including nationally threatened species by increasing the network of ponds over The Project area. This offers greater opportunities for these and many other species to increase in number over the coming years.

Initial signs suggest that key indicator species are colonising the newly restored ponds. The ongoing management plans for these sites will ensure that they continue to be the focus of the improvements, for the benefit of a much larger range of species.

The commitment of volunteers during the project has ensured it has achieved its aims whilst the education resources put out during the project will help young people to experience and understand their greatly improved pond habitats around Bromyard.

Watch the Pooling Together Video Blog +

How has the project been funded? +

Funding has gratefully been received from Heritage Lottery Fund, BIFFA Award and Welcome to Our Future. An exit strategy has been produced to ensure the sites that have been restored will be managed and maintained into the future.