Ponds, often overlooked, hold an irreplaceable ecological value in the English countryside, writes our Flood Resilience Project Manager, Tarun Ingvorsen. They are vital hubs of biodiversity and ecosystem stability. However, due to various threats, including urbanisation, pollution and neglect, ponds in England are facing an uncertain future. According to the Freshwater Habitats Trust, since the turn of the 20th century, Britain has lost 50% of its ponds.
Ponds are exceptional biodiversity hotspots, supporting 66% of freshwater species. They rival larger water bodies in terms of species richness and are critical for the life cycles of many amphibians. Female amphibians lay their eggs in ponds, where tadpoles develop before transforming into adults. Without ponds, amphibian populations would decline, disrupting the balance of the local food web.
As well as amphibians, ponds are a haven for countless invertebrate species, including dragonflies, damselflies, and the rather awesome water scorpion, which we were lucky enough to find in some of our ponds this summer. Freshwater invertebrates play an essential role in nutrient cycling and in their adult forms, pollination, contributing to the overall health of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Moreover, they are vital food sources for birds, bats, and other wildlife, creating intricate ecological relationships that rely on the presence of ponds. As it stands, out of all the ponds that remain in Britain, only 20% are in a good ecological state.
Ponds can be either be offline (not connected to a watercourse, as you might have in your back garden) or online (connected to a river or a stream, like the reedbed on Barnes Common). Both of these types of pond can act as a natural filter, purifying water by trapping sediments and absorbing excess nutrients, either as water runs across the land from rain or, as it flows down a watercourse. This filtration function helps maintain water quality in nearby rivers and streams, benefitting both aquatic life and humans.
In an era of climate change, ponds play a pivotal role in enhancing ecosystem resilience, providing refuges for species during droughts and heatwaves. This sanctuary may help species survive changing conditions or perhaps even local extinction. The vegetation supported in these prized ecosystems can sequester carbon, aiding again in climate change resilience.
One problem faced in our modern world is the increasing fragmentation of habitats and ecosystems. You may think that because ponds aren’t connected, this fragmentation will not affect them. In fact, filling in ponds, or increasing the distance between ponds can seriously impact animals such as frogs, grass snakes and water beetles. Ponds act as stepping-stones in the landscape, facilitating the movement of these, and many more species of animal. In doing so, they create corridors for species to travel between fragmented habitats, promoting genetic diversity and increasing the chances of survival for populations. Protecting and connecting ponds can enhance the overall health of ecosystems. Who doesn’t love looking into a pond bustling with life?
To preserve England’s ponds and their ecological importance, several conservation efforts are essential. Efforts should be made to restore degraded ponds and create new ones to enhance connectivity and increase habitat availability. Strict regulations and public awareness campaign, such as that run by WWT are needed to enhance ponds and networks of ponds. We must also aim to reduce pollution entering ponds from agricultural runoff, urban development, road run-off and industrial activities. Invasive species can disrupt pond ecosystems, too. We know that the River Thames suffers from zebra mussels, which can choke out a pond, and act as a vector for avian botulism, and we have all seen the terrapins in Barnes Pond and the Leg o’ Muton. There are many invasive aquatic plants, too and management strategies are crucial to control these threats and protect native biodiversity.
Ponds, often underestimated, are ecological gems that deserve our attention and protection. Their importance in sustaining biodiversity, improving water quality, and enhancing climate resilience cannot be overstated. To secure a future where ponds continue to enrich England’s natural heritage, we must prioritise their conservation, recognising their invaluable contribution to our ecological landscape. By doing so, we can ensure that these vital ecosystems remain a source of inspiration and wonder for generations to come.