Ponds are fantastic for wildlife. They provide a transition between land and water which has multiple niches for a range of different species, and they are scattered like aquatic ‘stepping stones’ in their thousands across the landscape. A pond can be as small as 1 m² or as big as 2 hectares. Seasonal and temporary ponds are as important for wildlife as permanent ponds.
Ponds are an important freshwater habitat and play a key role in maintaining biodiversity at the landscape level. They provide an important open water resource, as well as keystone refuge habitats for amphibians and reptiles, dragonflies and damselflies, aquatic invertebrates, aquatic plants, mammals and birds. Research from the USA also suggests that ponds can sequester as much as four times the carbon that the oceans can. (Downing, J.A.).
There are around 400 000 ponds in the UK (Freshwater Habitats Trust) and around 18,000 ponds in Sussex (excluding garden and urban ponds). There are 25 Sussex parishes which are listed as ‘lacking’ in ponds as part of a Sussex wide pond network. Roughly half of UK ponds have been lost this Century, although in the last decade this has reversed slightly with an estimated 6 % increase in ponds.
Despite the large number of ponds, high quality ponds are still very localised especially in the lowlands, and around 80% of the ponds in the UK are thought to be in poor condition. Ponds are vulnerable to degradation and are significantly impacted by man through pollution, nutrient enrichment, non native invasive species (predominantly plants and fish), infilling, agricultural intensification, urban expansion, drainage etc.
As a combined area of open water, ponds contribute a significant proportion of the wetland resource in Sussex. Identifying which ponds are of particular importance for biodiversity is a task that has only recently started to be tackled by local volunteers and the Freshwater Habitats Trust. Free water quality testing kits are available via the Clean water for wildlife project. If you would like to get involved in surveying your local ponds then contact PondNet.
Ponds were first acknowledged in UK conservation policy in 2007, when high quality ponds (Priority Ponds) were added to the list of UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Habitats. (EA: 2009). The National Pond Monitoring Network (NPMN - led by the Environment Agency and Freshwater Habitats Trust) provides the main mechanism for monitoring priority ponds. Currently around 500 Flagship pond sites are listed in the UK inventory of ponds. Priority ponds contain:-
1. Habitats of international importance
2. Species of high conservation importance
3. Exceptional assemblages of key biotic groups
4. Ponds of high ecological quality
5. Other important ponds
So far only around 60 Priority ponds have been identified in Sussex, but it is likely that more Sussex ponds will gain priority status once they have been surveyed. Priority ponds are notable mainly for their populations of great crested newt, fairy shrimp, water vole, small red damselfly, three lobed crowfoot, black darter, toad, eel and grass snake.
There are also 70 Flagship ponds which have been identified across the UK.
Important Areas for Ponds (IAP’s)
The Important Areas for Ponds (IAP) concept was proposed and developed to raise awareness of areas that support networks of ponds of national or international wildlife importance. Six of the twelve IAP areas identified for the South East occur entirely in Sussex in :
1. The Western Rother Valley
2. Sussex Heaths
A seventh, larger, IAP covering the central Wealden area was identified for its high concentrations of Great Crested Newts. This GCN IAP spans parts of four counties: Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, and Surrey. An eighth IAP – Thorney Island, spans the Hampshire border and the Chichester Harbour.
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