Fighting for freshwater since 1988

Freshwater Habitats Trust is a national evidence-based conservation charity that works to protect life in freshwater. And we’ve been making a difference for freshwater wildlife for 35 years.

1988: founding Pond Action

In the 1980s, the UK had no conservation organisations specifically focussed on freshwater. Then, in 1986, three British freshwater biologists, Anne Powell, Roger Sweeting and Jeremy Biggs, started to think about how they could help to promote freshwater conservation in Britain. Realising that ponds were popular with gardeners, naturalists and children – but were largely ignored in freshwater science and policy making – they initially focused particularly on the ecology of ponds. In 1988, after two years’ preparation, they set up Pond Action – an independent freshwater conservation project, based at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University).

In 1989, supported by WWF, Pond Action became a Company limited by guarantee with five core staff and two senior advisors. Its focus was on translating freshwater research into conservation advice and although it had a special focus on ponds, from the outset the organisation was concerned with all kinds of freshwaters.


- Ponds had been largely ignored by scientists and policymakers in the mid-80s.

The late 1980s and 1990s: gathering data on England's freshwater biodiversity

When Pond Action was established, the ecology of ponds lacked almost any scientific basis, with just a handful of scientific papers in the previous 50 years. In 1988, Pond Action launched its first project, the Oxfordshire Pond Survey. This was followed, in 1989, by the National Pond Survey – the first of its kind in the world – which covered 200 ponds located in areas of extensive semi-natural habitats.

These surveys provided the first extensive datasets on England’s pond biodiversity and paved the way for the organisation playing a key role in championing small waterbodies in the UK and internationally.

At the same time the Pond Action team began investigations of other freshwaters habitats with projects on rivers, lakes and streams often completed in the guise of consultancy work. In the early 1990s we started our next big programme of conservation work investigating the effect of river restoration, then a comparatively novel idea. This led to the creation with partners of the River Restoration Project, which eventually became the River Restoration Centre. Early campaigning with other NGO partners also led to the first national survey of the condition of ponds being undertaken in the Lowland Pond Survey 1996 showing that, despite the potential of ponds to be exceptionally rich habitats, many were in poor condition.


- Castor Hanglands Main Pond near Peterborough was one of the sites for the National Pond Survey

2000: a new Millenium - and a new name

In 2000, Pond Action formed Ponds Conservation Trust and successfully secured funding from the National Lottery. In 2004, the two organisations merged to become Pond Conservation: The Water Habitats Trust. The new name reflected both our special interest in ponds and the fact that we were concerned about all kinds of freshwater habitats. Now a team of about 10 people, the charity was still based at Oxford Brookes University with outposted members in the north of England.

This era saw the beginning of our now distinctive view on freshwaters in the landscape. With a groundbreaking survey of all freshwaters around the National Trust’s Buscot and Coleshill estate near Swindon in southern England, we surveyed a cross section of all the freshwater habitats – ponds, lakes, rivers, streams and ditches – in a typical patch of the English countryside. This was the first time anyone had made observation like this. The results were surprising and revealing and led us to develop many new lines of though and practical ideas. Most important of these was recognising the importance of small freshwater habitats generally. One of the most significant outcomes of this work was to show just how diverse ponds were compared to other freshwaters. This information played a key part in helping to persuade policymakers that high ecological quality ponds should be recognised as priority habitats.

We began to engage further with policy makers and working with colleagues in the NGO sector. This led, in 2007, to the first assessment of the condition of ponds covering the whole of Great Britain, undertaken with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology as part of the government’s Countryside Survey.


- Freshwater Habitats Trust continues to restore and create habitats at the National Trust Coleshill estate today.

2013: Freshwater Habitats Trust is launched

The charity relaunched as Freshwater Habitats Trust in 2013. With a new name to properly reflect our full range of interests, the organisation had a renewed focus: to spearhead the fight against biodiversity loss in Britain’s freshwaters.

Major projects followed, including Water Friendly Farming, People, Ponds and Water and the Million Ponds Project. We became increasingly involved in whole catchment management, bringing our distinctive focus on the whole of the water environment – both small and large waters – to the protection of freshwater biodiversity.

In 2018, Freshwater Habitats Trust also joined forces with another NGO, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, to establish the Newt Conservation Partnership – the delivery partner for the NatureSpace District Licensing Scheme for the Great Crested Newt which is continuing our drive to return clean water ponds to the landscape.

Group of people standing at a function next to a board that reads 'Million Ponds project'

- Members of the Freshwater Habitats Trust team launch the Million Ponds project at the House of Lords in 2012.

Today: the national charity for all freshwaters

Today, Freshwater Habitats Trust is the national charity that creates, restores and protects all freshwaters. With a head office in Oxford we now employ more than 40 people, based in multiple locations.

Our work spans all of the UK, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, and we have strong ties with other European colleagues, having helped to found the European Pond Conservation Network. Our remit spans research, practical conservation, public engagement and policy work across freshwater habitats, including river catchments, wetlands and fens – as well as ponds.

Team photo of Freshwater Habitats Trust staff

- Team photo of Freshwater Habitats Trust staff

Looking to the future

Our organisation has grown significantly since the 1980s – both in numbers and ambition. As we embark on our new strategy of building the Freshwater Network, we remain committed to our roots: we are an evidence-based charity, grounded in science.

We can be proud of our achievements in raising the status of small waterbodies and furthering scientific knowledge of UK freshwaters. However, freshwater wildlife has never faced greater threats. There is more need than ever for Freshwater Habitats Trust: a national charity that is dedicated to reversing the decline in freshwater biodiversity.

Discover the Freshwater Network
Aerial view of a landscape, including a meandering river and newly dug ponds.

- Aerial view of the Coleshill estate