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