New ponds are crucial in battle to save freshwater wildlife
16th November 2014
How can we mitigate the increasing problems of pollution and lost biodiversity in our rivers, streams and ponds caused by pesticides, phosphorous, diffuse pollution from agriculture and even the seeping of nutrients from septic tanks and small sewage treatment works?
The Water Friendly Farming Report 2014, by the Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, highlights the results of the four-year Water Friendly Farming Project, which for the first time identifies the specific habitat creation needed to prevent the loss of freshwater biodiversity at the landscape scale.
Results of the research show that the creation of new wildlife ponds is vital in helping to reverse a decline of aquatic plants. The researchers identified that 80% of all freshwater plants are found in ponds and therefore make a very large contribution to protecting freshwater biodiversity. However, there has been a marked decline in both the number of ponds and their quality across England and Wales between 1998 and 2007. But despite being established for under a year, the newly created ponds in the project played a crucial role in offsetting the apparent decline of aquatic plants in the wider landscape within a very short time-scale.
Grass buffer strips along streams and ditches and implemented under Environment Stewardship Schemes also proved highly effective in protecting freshwater from pollution by halving the movement of sediment from land to water. Combining computer modelling and field monitoring data, the project discovered that without the protection of grass buffer strips alongside rivers and streams at least 890 tonnes of sediment from the land ended up in the freshwater. Computer modelling indicated that the buffer strips had reduced this to under 400 tonnes.
Professor Chris Stoate, from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project at Loddington in Leicestershire, explains, “Given that many grass buffer strips are likely to be lost as Stewardship agreements expire over the next few years, the implications for water quality in the future could be worrying.”
The aim of the Water Friendly Farming Project is to test the effectiveness of landscape-wide measures like constructed wetlands, stream fencing, flood storage ponds and the creation of new freshwater habitats, designed to reduce the unintended effects of agriculture on the freshwater environment. Crucially, by creating habitats in mainly unproductive parts of farms, the project has minimised any impact on food production or farm profitability.
Dr Jeremy Biggs of the Freshwater Habitats Trust said, “Currently many millions of pounds are spent on measures aimed at protecting our freshwaters from the impacts of land-use. However, there is remarkably little evidence available to assess whether they are actually protecting freshwater biodiversity or reducing pollution.
“This is important, because globally there are concerns that freshwater biodiversity is declining seriously, and in the UK many freshwater species that have been lost from a large part of the landscape and are still declining.”
As well as making new ponds to help protect aquatic wildlife, the project is investigating whether mitigation measures can reduce the loss of nutrients, sediments and pesticides from the land to reduce water pollution and decrease the rate of run-off to help reduce flooding further downstream.
The project is also investigating the effect of village sewage treatment works, septic tanks and run-off from roads. Tributaries with sewage treatment works in them have consistently higher phosphorus concentrations than those in purely agricultural catchments, and peaks in phosphorus concentration at the base of each study catchment are reached in later summer before runoff from agricultural land occurs.
Professor Stoate, said, “This project is extremely significant because it is providing some of the first evidence that in a commercially viable farming system it is possible to protect life in freshwater. Farming has many competing demands to fulfil and with the need to produce more crops, it is essential that we can do this and still protect the natural environment.”
The full results of the Water Friendly Farming project can be downloaded from the Freshwater Habitats Trust website at www.freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/projects/water-friendly-farming or from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s website at www.gwct.org.uk/wff.
Notes to editors:
The Water Friendly Farming Project. The project has three research demonstration catchments, covering a total of nearly 3,000 hectares and involving more than twenty farms, located in the East Midlands in an environment carefully selected to typify the lowland farming landscape. mitigation measures are installed in two of these catchments,, with the third providing a control to understand background changes which are occurring in the farmed environment. As well as examining the benefits for freshwater biodiversity, the project is also undertaking detailed studies assessing the effect of mitigation measures in reducing pollution in streams, ponds and ditches, and reducing runoff downstream. The interim results of the project provide a range of information and practical outcomes that can help to increase awareness about the protection of the freshwater environment and the services it provides.
The Water Friendly Farming project is a joint initiative of the Freshwater Habitats Trust and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project, and is supported by the Environment Agency , Chemicals Regulaton Directorate and Syngenta, with additional research input from University of York, University of Sheffield, Oxford Brookes University, the Welland Valley Partnership and Anglian Water.
The Freshwater Habitats Trust is a UK charity which works to protect freshwater biodiversity. The organisation has a strong evidence ethos and undertakes applied research, policy and practical projects to protect freshwater wildlife. The organisation is jointly running the Water Friendly Farming project with Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and other partners. For further information, please contact: Dr Jeremy Biggs Freshwater Habitats Trust (Director). Tel : 01865 595506 or visit the website: www.freshwaterhabitats.org.uk
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats and we lobby for agricultural and conservation policies based on science. We employ 14 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse. For Information, contact: Morag Walker – Head of Media, Telephone – 01425-652381 (direct 01425-651000) Mobile – 07736-124097 www.gwct.org.uk
GWCT’s Allerton Project farm, Loddington, Leicestershire – Farmland ecology research in the 1970s and 1980s carried out by the Trust has resulted in the majority of wildlife enhancing measures that we now see in today’s agri-environment schemes. The Trust’s 333 ha Allerton Project at Loddington is a mixed arable and livestock farm that is unique within the UK in having developed a wide range of practical ways of restoring wildlife and integrating this approach into the farm business. The result of these wildlife-friendly farming techniques is the dramatic increases in wild game, farmland birds and other wildlife. As well as research, the Trust runs a range of courses which aim to bring together the wider aspects of biodiversity and wildlife conservation to encapsulate all the important aspects of environmental management.