If you want to improve the biodiversity of a piece of land, one of the best things you can do is put in a pond. We are lucky that our woods are damp, there is water flowing through them, and they have a clay soil base which is eminently suitable for ponds. We started out with one pond that was badly-designed and silted-up. As part of our programme to improve the site for wildlife, and to rationalise the drainage, we put in three brand new ponds in the upper part of the woods, and divided the old pond into three new ponds, terraced along the ditch. The first pond is a silt trap and the remaining ponds now keep free from silt, and drain properly back into the ditch.
When we had the opportunity to buy Betty’s Wood and plant it with trees, we also added ponds – it was a very suitable field, with lots of damp patches and a base of both red and white pottery clay. There were already some natural ponds formed in tractor ruts, and we added 5 more ponds in a cluster. This means we have 11 ponds on site, in three clusters. There is another pond which is more of a pit that gets damp in winter – but these temporary ponds are also very valuable habitat. All of them were put where a pond would naturally want to form, in areas that were already damp. None of them are artificially lined – the clay keeps the water in place. Some of them dry out in the summer, others stay wet. All are connected so that wildlife has a refuge in the deeper water if needed.
We were rewarded in the first year with a few dragonflies and damselflies. As time has gone on, our ponds have brought more life to the woods. The range of dragonflies and damselflies has increased, helped by the fact that we are adjacent to other pools and ponds, a canal and a river. Birds regularly come and drink in the ponds. We have a good population of toads and smooth newts, together with a few frogs. We have some resident mallard who come back each year although are yet to breed successfully. Last year we had a pair of lapwing in Betty’s Wood. We have an increasing population of grass snakes who love to swim in the ponds and bask on their banks. Swallows swoop down to feed on the insects that breed in the ponds. Last year we had a Hobby, which likes to feed on dragonflies. Mammal tracks show that all our resident mammals drink at the ponds – muntjac, badger, foxes, squirrels, rabbits, stoats. Insects also come to drink at the ponds, particularly butterflies, bees and wasps.
Around the ponds are wet areas, in which we get wonderful plants – cowslip, buttercups, snakes head fritillary and a growing area with southern marsh orchid. As well as the usual sedges, reeds, rushes, flag iris, ragged robin, teasel and figwort.
Ponds bring a place to life, and putting them in was one of the best things we have done for wildlife at the woods.