Whilst clearing out are farm ponds last Autumn, whilst the digger was on site we also took the opportunity of putting in a series of wildlife ‘scrapes’.
Our scrapes quickly filled up with rainwater during one of the wettest winters on record.
The scrapes are just shallow depressions in the land with gently sloping edges, which (importantly) only seasonally hold water.
They create wet areas in the field that are very attractive to wildlife and support a wide variety of invertebrates that provide important feeding areas for breeding wading birds and their chicks as well as a watering hole for passing mammals.
The most important parts of scrapes for wildlife are the margins. Shallow water and muddy edges provide ideal conditions for wetland invertebrates and plants, and allow access for waders and their chicks to find food. Scrapes should hold
water from March ideally through to the end of June.
An invertebrate survey was done whilst the main ponds were being sampled. All three scrapes were teeming with life only a few months after being dug which begs the question where do they all pop up from?
Our cluster of three scrapes provides a variety of shapes and depths, designed so that each is at a different stage of it’s cycle at any one point in time during the breeding season. The middle one was the first to dry up in mid June after a prolonged dry spell but the other two still held water.
For the record (and the sceptical) there were no grants received or stewardship schemes entered into etc. Just us doing our bit.
An out of the blue call from Helen Greaves changed the plans for the day as it became the day to do an audit of invertebrates in both the restored farm ponds and the newly created scrapes.
A lovely hot sunny day isn’t the best sort of day to don waders but, if you want to count pond invertebrates, they are essential attire. Sherpa, helper and stopwatch operator were just some of the roles fulfilled by Helen’s mum with Millie the dog just enjoying the walk and the sunshine.
A three minute sampling technique was interesting to watch and tubs of findings have been taken away for analysis. I really do hope we can share the data here in due course.
It’s been a few wet months since we cleaned out and restored the main pond and despite the rain the retained water level held in the pond has been disappointing.
As we had a digger on site today to prep a shed floor, it had a few minutes diversion to carry across a few buckets of clay to raise the level of the outfall ditch. Not a big job (with a digger) but hopefully it will have a big impact.
The vegetation around the pond has started to reappear after the shock of all the cleaning out activity.
The only wildlife I spotted today was a moorhen hiding in the scrub, four male mallards on the pond and a frog in the ditch.
Ecologists wanted for Hesketh Bank pond restoration project.
Ponds and scrapes provide environments in farmland for aquatic biodiversity covering plants, invertebrates, amphibians, fishes, and mammals. Many farm ponds in the area have already been lost to modern agricultural practices.
Our own derelict ponds have now been cleared of most of the overhanging trees, scrub, scrap and general detritus and the next phase will be the digger work. A habitat survey has been completed earlier this year to provide a baseline but if anyone is interested in following, monitoring or documenting the changes to the habitat and ecology they would be very welcome.
We are particularly keen to take a scientific approach to steering the re-establishment of these farm ponds and measure wherever possible the influence of pond restoration and management on the biodiversity in both the ponds themselves and the surrounding area. We ourselves have no previous experience in doing any of this but have sought advice from the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group, Freshwater Habitats Trust and the RSPB.
Grants or any other source of financial assistance have not been identified but we are pushing ahead on a very limited budget rather than wait any longer.
This opportunity to be involved may be of interest to any Ecology and Conservation Management students or Geography students as a as a case study or basis of a dissertation but the offer is also open to local amateurs / enthusiasts to have an input or just people who might be interested in volunteering as and when a bit of help is required. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact details for more information.
Please, please share this post with anyone individuals or organisations who you feel might be interested in getting involved from the outset.
In between dodging the heavy showers, we have had a few hours armed with a billhook and some loppers to begin clearing the felled overhanging branches and brash from the pond.
It is slow work and hard graft plodding through the mud to get at the fallen willow branches and even harder work dragging them out onto firmer ground but it has to be done. I can see why many of these restoration projects advertise for volunteers; I am sure that the old adage of many hands making light work was never so true.
On our fields at Hesketh Bank we seem to have a comprehensive selection of different farm pond types:
A derelict natural pond that has never been cleaned out for ages and is full of rubbish, general detritus and the odd bit of scrap metal.
A ‘ghost’ pond where a natural pond used to be but has been filled in to square up a field for agricultural use.
An overgrown man made pond that could possibly be a marl pit but, in my view, is more likely to be a bomb hole left over from the WWII attack on the boat yard.
A series of linear ponds created when the natural river bank was excavated to provide material for the new bank when the marsh land was reclaimed. The ponds have subsequently been drained to create additional grazing land.
These ponds all need bringing back to life for habitat and wildlife but it is a big and potentially expensive job. But, if we don’t try then nothing will change so this week we have made a start.
Job one was to begin the process with WLBC to ensure we don’t fall foul of any regulations or permissions as rework after the event would be unaffordable.
Job two was to call in the experts and we have had site visits from both Gavin Thomas, a Conservation Adviser for the RSPB and Helen Greaves, a PhD student from UCL who is involved in the science of farm pond restoration. Both were enthusiastic about the potential project and hopefully will be able to offer ongoing advice and support.
Job three was to drop all the overhanging willow branches of the derelict natural pond (Pond 1) as the DEFRA guidance is to do no farm tree work between 1 March and 31 August so as not to impact on the bird breeding season. The easy bit has been completed this morning but the clearing up may take a bit more time.