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Conserving Herefordshire’s Ice Age Ponds

The Ice Age Ponds Project
(Conserving Herefordshire’s Ice Age Ponds) 

In early 2020, the Ice Age Ponds project was awarded £252,600 through the National Lottery Heritage Fund to protect the special kettle hole ponds in Herefordshire. It is a partnership project between organisations with complementary interests and skills: Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust and Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team.

What are Kettle Hole Ponds and why so important?  They have been here since the end of the last Ice Age 20,000 years and are home to some rare species.  However, sadly, many ponds have been damaged or destroyed. So the aim of the project is to protect these really special ponds from further loss and promote their care in the future. 

More information about the project can be found on the HWT and HWEHT websites on their Ice Age Pond Project webpages:
Herefordshire Wildlife Trust
Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust

 

Kettle Hole Ponds +
Kettle ponds were created at the end of the last Ice Age (around 20,000 years ago) at a time when mammoth and other megafauna still roamed the countryside. The retreating glacier created distinctive landforms called ‘hummocky moraines’ with ‘kettle hole depressions’ which formed as huge chunks of glacial ice melted. Many of these depressions filled with water to create the kettle hole ponds (or ice age ponds), some of which amazingly are still around today. These nationally scarce ponds contain some special and rare species.

Conservation and Management for Ice Age (Kettle Hole) Ponds
One of the major factors affecting ponds (of all types) today is unmanaged dense growth of trees and scrub around the ponds. 

But trees themselves are important for a wide range of wildlife. So, the primary focus of management under the project is to re-pollard existing mature individuals, leaving the trunks and major branches intact as much as possible. Removal of a certain amount of younger growth as well will increase the amount of sunlight reaching the pond and its surrounds. This will provide improved plant growing conditions and will greatly benefit aquatic invertebrates and breeding amphibians.

Courtesy of an article by Will, Giles and Beth in the 2020 edition of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s The Flycatcher magazine.

Activities +
Together with our volunteers we will look for ponds on old and new OS maps, go out in the field to find and survey them. Volunteer work is being coordinated by the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust
Other volunteer activities will include:

  • helping with pond restoration work and supporting the project’s stand at shows and other events.
  • We will be running training courses on geological and ecological surveying and species identification for all our volunteers.
  • We will restore some 15 ponds and enthuse landowners and the public to care for the ponds.
  • HART will be providing the expertise for the ecological surveys of the ponds and supervising the restoration work.
  • The Herefordshire Wildlife Trust  will run education sessions with schools through the Wildplay Team.
  • All the partner organisations will support local events to share our findings with local community groups and visitors.

In addition, HART will also be arranging field visits to these interesting sites with their experts.

How to get involved +
During this project we will be very busy surveying more ponds, training volunteers in extra survey skills, creating apps and trails to encourage people to learn more about these wonderful features and visiting schools and community groups across the project area as well as much more.

We cannot manage this without the help of wonderful volunteers. We have lots of different volunteering roles from studying old maps and records to recording specific species, coring for peat to photographing sites and many more.

Contact Beth to find out more.

What’s so special about Ice Age Ponds+
The value of ice-age ponds for wildlife
Ponds are our most valuable freshwater habitat type and Ice-age pond have some special characteristics and habitats.

  1. The great length of time for which the ponds have been in existence, maintaining continuity of habitat for thousands of years. This has allowed many species of plants and animals to colonise, including slowly dispersing species as well as more mobile ones.
  2. Ice-age ponds are frequently clustered together in the landscape. This makes it easier for species to move between ponds, creating larger and more robust populations which are better able to persist over the long-term.
    Coupled with this is the increased habitat diversity provided by multiple ponds in the same area, with deeper, more permanent ponds existing alongside semi-permanent ponds which dry out occasionally, and seasonal or temporary ponds which dry out annually.
  3. Ice-age ponds also tend to have a saucer-shaped, gently sloping profile with broad shallow margins. These broad margins allow the existence of a wide ‘drawdown zone’ – the part of a pond which is submerged in winter but dries out in summer. This area is the most important part of the pond for wildlife, supporting a large percentage of its plants and animals. Aquatic invertebrates and amphibian larvae thrive in the warm shallow water around the pond edges, while a gradient of plant species occurs in response to the length of annual submergence. Soft Rush Juncus effusus, for instance, prefers to be damp but not flooded so it can often be found growing in a ring around the top of the drawdown zone, marking the winter high water level.

Amphibians and Ice-age Ponds
Great Crested Newts: Four new breeding ponds for Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus have been found. Three of these were on privately owned farmland at Staunton on Arrow, Norton Canon and Canon Bridge, while the fourth was on National Trust land at the Weir Garden. The latter is within the well-known complex of ice-age ponds at Kenchester, where a total of over 400 adult Great Crested Newts in 5 ponds was recorded in May 2018. This potentially makes Kenchester the most important breeding site for this species in the county.
All five of Herefordshire’s amphibian species have been recorded in the Ice-age ponds during the project.

Geology
For more information and detail on the geology and formation of these ponds visit HWEHT

Aquatic plants in Ice Age (Kettle Hole) Ponds+
Aquatic plants in Ice Age (Kettle Hole) Ponds
The submerged aquatic plant Bladderwort Utricularia australis is only known from one site in Herefordshire: the Lawn Pool in Moccas Park National Nature Reserve. Currently it seems to be thriving there; when the pond was surveyed in 2019 it was seen flowering at multiple locations in shallow water around the edges of the pond.

An excellent reference for information about Bladderwort and other local botanical rarities is the recently published book ‘Rare Plants of Herefordshire’ (Smith et al., 2019).

One such species is Golden Dock Rumex maritimus, an annual species which likes to grow in the drawdown zone of ponds as they dry out. This species occurs at several of the ponds at Kenchester and was recorded there during the project, but it was not refound at a site in Canon Bridge where it had been recorded in 2011. Golden Dock has a long-lived soil seedbank, however, so there is every chance that it might reappear in future when conditions are more favourable.

Orange Foxtail Alopecurus aequalis is not nationally rare but is scarce within Herefordshire. It is a semi-aquatic grass associated with seasonal ponds and the drawdown zone of larger ponds; it can be seen flowering both in shallow water and on mud as the ponds dry out. It was seen at several ponds during the project, including at Canon Bridge where it was last recorded in 1894 (Smith et al., 2019).

Slender Spike-rush Eleocharis uniglumis is a rare sedge known only from four sites in the county, including one of the Kenchester ponds (Smith et al., 2019). It was re-found here during 2019 and also at one of the other ponds nearby. Tubular Water-dropwort Oenanthe fistulosa is not an extreme rarity, but it is ‘Nationally Threatened’ and is a conservation priority species. In Herefordshire it is almost exclusively confined to ice-age ponds. Its continued presence in and around the Withy Pool at Kenchester was reconfirmed and it was also discovered at two new sites. These were a marshy field adjacent to the Mere Pool at Blakemere, with over 100 plants counted, and in the drawdown zone of a pond at Canon Bridge.

Aquatic invertebrates in Ice Age (Kettle Hole) Ponds+
Aquatic Invertebrates in Ice Age (Kettle Hole) Ponds

The aquatic invertebrate highlight of the project was undoubtedly the discovery of a thriving population of the 7–8 mm long diving beetle Agabus undulatus in the Mere Pool at Blakemere. This species has ‘Near Threatened’ status nationally, with the nearest known population over 150 km to the east in Cambridgeshire. This discovery is particularly interesting in that A. undulatus appears to be one of a small number of water beetle species that is either flightless or has very limited flight capability. The isolated population at Blakemere, therefore, is likely to have occupied the site for a considerable period of time, with very little potential for colonising other ponds in the area.

Two species of water beetle with a conservation status of ‘Vulnerable’ were refound during the project. The rarest of these locally is Graphoderus cinereus, a strikingly coloured 14–15mm long diving beetle which in Herefordshire is known only from the Lawn Pool at Moccas Park. The last twentieth century record from Moccas was in 1973, but it was not seen there again until Will Watson refound it in 2016 (Watson, 2016). When the pond was surveyed during the project in June 2019, two individuals were netted, photographed and returned to the water. The Moccas Park population of this species is completely isolated from the rest of its national distribution, with the handful of other known sites all being south-east of a line from the Dorset coast to The Wash.

The other Vulnerable water beetle refound at Moccas Park during the Project is Helochares obscurus, a species of water scavenger beetle. Despite its rarity this was present in high numbers in both the Lawn Pool and the adjacent Linear Pool. This species has been described as an ‘also run’ glacial relict species – it is primarily associated with ice-age ponds, but also occurs in other high-quality wetland sites such as Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire and the Norfolk Broads. In Herefordshire it also occurs in ice-age ponds at The Sturts.

Less rare but also worthy of mention is Enochrus nigritus, another species of water scavenger beetle, which was found in a total of nine ponds at six sites during the project. This species is ‘Near Threatened’ nationally, but locally it appears to be frequent in iceage ponds especially in the sites along the Wye Valley. Previously it has also been found in a high-quality pond of recent origin in the former silt lagoon at Brockhall Quarry. This demonstrates that E. nigritus is capable of colonising new sites, but it is clear that Herefordshire’s ice-age ponds provide a vital habitat for this species and are important in maintaining its presence here.

In terms of other aquatic invertebrates, two ponds in Mowley Wood, Staunton on Arrow, were found to support populations of the Mud Snail Omphiscola glabra. This is a medium sized aquatic snail, 12–20 mm high, which is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ and is listed as a species of principal importance for biodiversity conservation. It favours ponds with high water quality that dry out during the summer, and has declined as a result of various threats including agricultural run-off and temporary ponds becoming shaded by scrub encroachment.

A species of lesser water boatman, Sigara iactans, was recorded in pond seven at Kenchester when it was surveyed in July. This species appears to be a recent colonist to Britain; it was first collected in Norfolk in 2004 and since then has spread across East Anglia, south-east England and the East Midlands. However, it does not seem to have previously been recorded in western Britain, so this is almost certainly a new county record for Herefordshire. The population seems to be well established in the pond at Kenchester, with nine individuals collected during the survey.

National Lottery funding to restore and explore Herefordshire’s Ice Age kettle hole ponds

15 projects across the UK have been awarded a share of £7.4 million from the National Lottery to take action for nature, including a project in north west Herefordshire developed by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust in partnership with Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team and Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.

Species and habitats on the verge of extinction have been handed a lifeline as The National Lottery Heritage Fund announces £7.3 million to take action for nature across the UK. The Conserving Herefordshire’s Ice Age Ponds project in Herefordshire has been awarded £252,600 to protect remaining kettle hole ponds in the county which provide a unique and rare habitat for wildlife.

The project will officially start in the next couple of months and will open with the launch of the Ice Age Herefordshire exhibition at Hereford Museum on 4 April 2020. The Ice Age Ponds project will have a big section in the exhibition.  (Hereford Museum opening times etc. here)

Herefordshire’s Ice Age ponds, often referred to as kettle-hole ponds, were created around 20,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, when woolly mammoths were still roaming the area. Herefordshire’s Ice Age Ponds are particularly special, as they can hold an undisturbed record of our climate and wildlife since the time when the glaciers retreated. They are also extremely important today as habitats for some of the county’s most precious pond species, including the highly protected great crested newt, the rare and mysterious medicinal leech and an extremely rare water beetle (Graphoderus cinereus).

 

Sadly, these nationally rare and important ponds are still being damaged and destroyed, thereby losing some of our most irreplaceable natural heritage.

Initial National Lottery funding enabled a development phase to take place last year when ponds were mapped and surveyed, allowing the project team to see exactly what was needed to go ahead with restoration. The development phase also provided an opportunity to engage with local communities and an army of enthusiastic volunteers were trained in pond survey techniques, supported by visits to local schools and other community events.

 

Andrew Nixon, Senior Conservation Manager at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, said: ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to restore ponds which have been key features of Herefordshire’s landscapes for literally thousands of years. Over this time, the ponds have formed an important network across the countryside which many species of wildlife relied upon. Over recent decades, as ponds have ceased to be needed on farms or in villages, ponds have been filled in, or simply become overgrown, and the wildlife associated with this habit is being lost.’

 

Dr Angela Julian, Coordinator of Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK, said: ‘As well as preserving our precious local biodiversity, this exciting new project is an important step to prevent us from losing these unique and ancient ponds from our landscape, and by engaging communities in their restoration will ensure that they will persist for future generations to enjoy.’

 

As the ponds are restored, interpretation will also be created to explain the importance of the ponds. This will include signs and walking and cycling routes but also digital interpretation allowing people a glimpse into the pre-historic past through their smart phones!

 

Since 1994, the National Lottery has invested £829 million into nature and wildlife projects.

 

Drew Bennellick, Head of Land and Nature Policy at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: ‘Urgent action is needed to help nature recover. National Lottery funding is creating incredible opportunities for people to take such action for species under threat and, crucially, equipping a new generation with the skills and passions to make a real difference for the future of our natural world.’

Expert unlocks mechanics of how snakes move in a straight line

From the web

Expert unlocks mechanics of how snakes move in a straight line

Science Daily 

Snakes are known for their iconic S-shaped movements. But they have a less noticeable skill that gives them a unique superpower. Snakes can crawl in a straight line. University of Cincinnati biologist Bruce Jayne studied the mechanics of snake movement to understand exactly how they can propel themselves forward like a train through a tunnel.

“It’s a very good way to move in confined spaces,” Jayne said. “A lot of heavy-bodied snakes use this locomotion: vipers, boa constrictors, anacondas and pythons.”

Snakes typically swim, climb or crawl by bending their spine into serpentine coils or using the leading edges to push off objects. An extreme example of their diversity of movement gives the sidewinder rattlesnake its name.

Jayne already has unlocked the mechanics of three kinds of snake locomotion called concertina, serpentine and sidewinding. But the straightforward movement of snakes, called “rectilinear locomotion,” has got less attention, he said.

See the website for more of the article