New guide will help landowners “bring ponds back to life”

31st October 2023

A new guide will help landowners boost biodiversity by digging new ponds – and resurrecting some of those we’ve lost. Based on the latest scientific evidence and written by experts from Freshwater Habitats Trust and UCL’s Pond Restoration Research Group, the Guide to the Restoration, Creation and Management of Ponds: Bringing Ponds Back to Life demonstrates how to create and restore these small waterbodies to make a big difference to wildlife. 

The guide, which is freely available, is designed to support landowners, farmers and other stewards of the land to create and manage ponds in all landscapes, from nature reserves to the wider countryside. Among other things, it highlights the importance of different pond types, such as seasonal ponds, and shows how to increase the number of clean water ponds in a region to boost freshwater biodiversity. 

The recent State of Nature report identified the UK as one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, while the Living Planet Index found freshwater species to be declining faster than any other group. Around two-thirds of ponds in England and Wales have been lost since the late 19th century. Research by Freshwater Habitats Trust and other organisations has repeatedly shown that, at landscape scale, ponds support more biodiversity than larger waterbodies, such as rivers and lakes.  

The booklet provides guidance on creating and managing ponds for wildlife, based on more than three decades of research from Freshwater Habitats Trust and partners. It also highlights ways to resurrect long-lost and filled in “ghost ponds” – a concept developed by Carl Sayer at UCL – which can be identified through historic maps or by depressions in the landscape.  

Freshwater Habitats Trust Technical Director Penny Williams said: “Ponds are an ancient natural habitat type that was once common throughout the UK. However, their presence and quality has declined dramatically over the last century. Freshwater plants and animals rely on clean water, which is now a scarce resource in the landscape. 

“We have a growing body of evidence to show that ponds can pack a huge punch for wildlife, despite their small size. Through our own pond creation work in sites across the country, we also know that good quality, clean water ponds can quickly increase the freshwater biodiversity of a landscape. Therefore, creating and restoring ponds is vital if we want to reverse the decline in freshwater biodiversity. 

“This guide sets out practical advice to help landowners and managers bring clean water back to the landscape and provide high quality habitats for freshwater wildlife.” 

Co-author Professor Carl Sayer (UCL Geography) said: “We hope that this new guide will become a valuable resource for all who are interested in protecting freshwater in the environment and restoring some of the UK’s lost biodiversity. Having lots of healthy ponds in the landscape is vital to the health of our countryside.” 

Co-author Helen Greaves (UCL Geography and Norfolk Ponds Project Strategic Lead) said: “Freshwater habitats cover only about 2% of the Earth’s surface, but have the highest animal species richness per area. When a healthy pond sits in the farmland landscape, the two land uses can exist side by side and even reinforce each other. By acting as a home for pollinators and as food sources for birds and bats, a symbiotic relationship exists between a healthy pond and the surrounding agricultural land leading to nature recovery that benefits all.” 

The Guide to the Restoration, Creation and Management of Ponds: Bringing Ponds Back to Life was developed jointly by experts from Freshwater Habitats Trust and the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group with support from Ruth Hall of Natural England.