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First national survey shows Britain’s wildlife ponds are in a ‘terrible state’

posted 28 Mar 2010, 09:42 by Mark Pollitt - SWSEIC   [ updated 28 Mar 2010, 09:47 ]
A report published on 4th Feb 2010 by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Pond Conservation shows that 80% of ponds in England and Wales are in a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ condition. Although pond quality is better in Scotland, the study also shows that the condition of lowland ponds has got worse since 1996. The work was funded by Defra and the Natural Environment Research Council as part of the Countryside Survey 2007, a major programme to assess the state of the UK's countryside.

Long valued by conservationists and the public as wildlife havens, recent research has shown that ponds are much more important for the protection of freshwater biodiversity than previously suspected. Ponds support more endangered freshwater plant and animal species than either rivers or lakes and, in a typical patch of English countryside, a wider variety of common species too. The news about the condition of ponds follows reports last autumn showing that 75% of Britain’s rivers will fail to reach new European standards on the variety of plant and animal life they should support. The Environment Agency says that there has been a long-term improvement in rivers, but little-reported Agency data show that these improvements have now largely stopped.

The British countryside has around 500,000 man-made and natural ponds, found everywhere from the heathland ponds of the New Forest in southern England to the tarns of the Lake District and the remote wild mountain pools of the Scottish Highlands – as well as on the classic English village green. The Ponds Report shows that small waterbodies are in poorest condition in intensive agricultural areas and where they have high nutrient levels, usually where they are connected to streams or were fed by water that ran off from farmland, towns, villages and roads. Many ponds were both shaded and polluted which further reduced their wildlife value.

However, the report is not all bad news: ponds close to rivers, streams and other wetlands were higher quality, suggesting that there is a ‘protective network’ effect when different kinds of freshwater habitats are close together. Significantly, the study also shows that large numbers of new ponds are created annually in Britain (more than 7,000 ponds per year), and that many of these new ponds rapidly became rich wildlife habitats. Unfortunately, most new ponds are located in areas of intensive agricultural land use where they will accumulate polluted sediments, so are not expected to maintain their high value in the long term.

The results also point to an important way we can protect Britain’s freshwater biodiversity in the future. If most new ponds are located in areas where they are protected from pollutants, and are not fed by streams or ditches, they rapidly become wildlife oases that help to protect Britain’s freshwater biodiversity in the long term.

Dr Jeremy Biggs of Pond Conservation said: “It is shocking that ponds are in such a terrible state. This should be a wake up call for everyone concerned with protecting freshwater wildlife and involved in water management. Practically unnoticed, wildlife-rich, clean and unpolluted ponds have become a rarity in the countryside. Biggs added: “This discovery of the poor state of ponds is worrying especially following the realisation last year that 75% of rivers will also fail new biological standards. Our freshwater environment faces huge threats, with all water bodies, big and small, endangered. The poor condition of most ponds is particularly worrying as ponds are an important indicator of how water friendly our management of the countryside is. At present ponds are telling us we’re not getting it right. But they also show how we can do things better”.

Countryside Survey report

Pond Conservation press release