Willingham – Calling all pond lovers

Via Willingham Parish Council, because “[Willingham] parish is one of the few parishes in the county which qualifies for this funding as some of the land around the village is deemed to be especially suitable habitat for bolstering and connecting existing populations of this endangered species”.

Ponds are a cherished part of the parish landscape; familiar features found at the heart of most village centres and in the wider countryside. Many ponds in Cambridgeshire pre-date parliamentary enclosure and are a fascinating and often overlooked historical resource, with much to tell us about local land use over the years. From marl pits to hammer ponds, in times past they were essential to agriculture and other industries. Uses ranged from watering livestock, retting cloth, rearing fish and trapping ducks for the table, to sourcing manure (when cleaned out) to fertilise the land. Wagons were driven through them to help tighten wagon wheels (think Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’). When steam power arrived, the same ponds that had watered thirsty teams of plough horses were used to fill the water tanks of traction engines.

These days ponds are still vital to the farmed environment – as resources for wildlife. A wide array of flora and fauna is associated with pond habitats, including amphibians, grass snakes, bats, numerous dragonflies and other insects, water voles, otters, and many species of farmland bird. Many of these species are under threat. Sadly, due to changes in land use and agricultural practices, the UK has lost around 50% of ponds in the 20th Century alone.

Excitingly, funding is now available in certain parts of Cambridgeshire for the restoration of existing ponds and the creation of new ponds, capable of supporting thriving populations of great crested newts. The funding is part of Natural England’s District Level Licencing Scheme (DLL) for great crested newts, a new strategic approach to compensating the loss of newt habitats, which seeks to provide new ponds and bigger, better, more joined-up habitat for this orange-bellied amphibian at a landscape scale. The ponds restored and created under the scheme will not only provide high quality habitat for newts; they will benefit numerous other pond-associated species.

‘Humans have created pond habitats for thousands of years, usually for purposes linked to agriculture’ said Lucy Jenkins, Farm Environment Adviser at Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) East. ‘Over the past century however, humans have changed from being ‘net creators’ of clean water ponds to ‘net destroyers’ of pond habitats.

‘In Cambridgeshire the drivers for pond loss have arguably been felt more keenly than in other counties, due to the demand for intensive, high quality arable land brought by the second world war and the associated demise of mixed farming, which made many farmland ponds redundant. Development continues to put pressure on the precious pond habitats which remain in the county.’

‘As farmland ecologists we know that digging and restoring ponds is one of the best things landowners can do to support nature on their land and so it is very exciting that funding is now available for great crested newt ponds in strategic areas. We would urge anyone with half an acre or more of land in Cambridgeshire to contact us to find out if their pond project might qualify for funding.’

In Cambridgeshire there is a high demand for such wildlife ponds through the DLL scheme. As such, FWAG East and the Wildlife Trust BCN (who are working in partnership to deliver this project in the county) are calling on parish councils, farmers, smallholders, large garden owners and other landowners to come forward if they have a pond in mind for restoration or if they are interested in creating new wildlife ponds (or both!). If your project is in one of Natural England’s strategic areas for great crested newts it could be fully funded. If it fails to meet project criteria, we can still give you advice on how to successfully and sensitively restore or create your pond habitat.

Please email jilly.mcnaughton@fwageast.org.uk or martin.baker@wildlifebcn.org to receive further information or to arrange an informal chat.

Picture 1 (at top): Great crested newt. (Credit: L Jenkins, FWAG East.)

Picture 2: Restored farmland pond in a Cambridgeshire village (Credit: J McNaughton, FWAG East.)