Small waterbodies that make a big difference to biodiversity

Despite their size, our research shows that – at landscape scale – ponds support more biodiversity than larger waterbodies, including rivers and lakes. That’s why we’ve been fighting for their protection for more than 30 years.

What is a pond?

Ponds are bodies of water (usually fresh water, but occasionally brackish), which can vary in size between 1 square meter and 2 hectares (this is equivalent in size to about 2.5 football pitches), and which holds water for four months of the year or more.

Many ponds have been created by people but there are plenty of examples of ponds made by nature. This includes those made by meandering rivers or eroding glaciers, or by a tree falling over, leaving the root pit exposed, or even by the action of animals, such as wild boar. Ponds come in all shapes and sizes, with different water depths – from small dips in the ground with a few centimetres of water to deep pools. They can be short-lived, being created and filled-in over a cycle of tens or hundreds of years. But some ponds, such as bog ponds, are very stable and don’t change much over thousands of years.

Small pond in a field.

- Pond at the Waddesdon estate. Photo: Jill Mead.


Of freshwater species can be found in ponds


Of UK ponds lost in the 20th century


Of remaining UK ponds in a poor state


Of freshwater species can be found in ponds


Of UK ponds lost in the 20th century


Of remaining UK ponds in a poor state

Where are ponds found?

Ponds are found in countryside on farmland, floodplains and heathlands; in woods, on grasslands and on moors. They are also often in gardens, towns and villages,

However, human activity has lead to the loss of ponds. About 2,000-3,000 years ago, before our ancestors started to drain the land, at least a quarter of Britain would have been wetlands, including ponds. Now, most of our land has been drained and is used for farmland so there are only a few areas of semi-natural land. Ponds will have once been common in areas where there is lots of water, such as river valleys, fens, bogs and wet woodland. If you walk through the New Forest in Hampshire, England or the ancient Scottish Caledonian forests, and see areas of wet land, you will see clues as to what the landscape used to look like.

Young woman standing in a pond wearing boots and examining a plant.

- High quality new pond (created 1995) in Oxfordshire, southern England. Photo: Freshwater Habitats Trust.

What can you find living in a pond?

Geological evidence shows that ponds have existed for millions of years. During this time many plants and animals have become adapted to life in ponds and rely on this type of habitat to survive.

Today, two-thirds of all freshwater species can be found in ponds including the Common Frog, Common Toad, Teal, Common Great Diving Beetle, Pond Olive mayfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Broad-leaved Pondweed, Great Crested Newt, Pillwort, and Medicinal Leech to name just a few.

Species directory
common toad

- Common Toad. Copyright Matt Lodge

Why are ponds important?

Ponds can help us tackle many of the big environmental issues that affect us all: climate change, flooding and pollution. All this, as well as being fantastic for biodiversity.

Ponds support an extraordinary two thirds of all freshwater species, and creating clean new ponds is one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect freshwater wildlife.

Our policy work
Man standing in a pond inspecting the contents of a net.

- Freshwater Habitats Trust CEO Professor Jeremy Biggs at the Waddesdon estate. Photo: Jill Mead.

Temporary ponds

A pond doesn’t have to have water in the whole year round; some ponds dry out some of the time and this is usually good for freshwater wildlife. After hundreds to thousands of years, ponds ultimately turn into – not dry land as you might expect – but temporary or seasonal ponds. These ponds are an important and highly threatened habitat type, many of which persist for millions of years.

It is important that these ponds are kept as they are, and not made into more permanent ponds. That’s because they have a range of specialised and rare plants and animals. Temporary ponds can be very rich in plant and animal life, particularly amphibians and invertebrates such as water beetles. One in four seasonal ponds in places such as woodland, old meadows and heathland, has a rare Red Data Book species. Temporary ponds are also important for wildlife because the occasional drought gets rid of fish (which are a major predator of insects and amphibians) allowing other species to thrive.

- Tadpole Shrimp (Triops cancriformis) - one of Britain's most endangered animals. Copyright Neil Phillips

How Freshwater Habitats Trust is helping ponds

We are commited to ensuring that the benefits of small waterbodies are recognised in policy, both in the UK and worldwide. That’s why we work with our partners to highlight the importance of small waterbodies in the water agenda. We are now using these small habitats to make a big difference. That includes creating networks of new ponds as part of the Million Ponds Project – with the ultimate aim of getting back to the million clean water ponds that once enriched the British landscape 100 years ago.

Ponds are also a crucial element of our strategy to create the Freshwater Network.

The Freshwater Network
Aerial view of fields with trees and ponds.

- New ponds created by Freshwater Habitats Trust at Manor Farm, Buckinghamshire in 2022.

Find out more about our work on ponds

Pond with vegetation and trees behind.
Priority Ponds

We’re working with our partners to map England’s priority ponds.

Priority ponds
Garden pond with plants in the foreground and sheds behind.
Pond advice centre

Use our free advice and resources to create your own wildlife pond.

Advice and Resources
Little-Whittenham-pond Blue skies, pond and green vegetation
Flagship Ponds

We’re supporting the long-term sustainability of 70 of the very best ponds across England and Wales.

Find out more
Cover of The Pond Book - Freshwater Habitats Trust
The Pond Book

Get the most comprehensive guide available for the creation and management of wildlife ponds.

Order your copy