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.
Update September 2018
Heavy overnight rain has meant standing water has once again returned to all of the scrapes. It’s only a bit but it is the start of the next cycle. I am just pleased they are doing exactly what they should do.
For the record (and our more sceptical readers) 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.
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.