Freshwater Habitats Trust has been granted £1,344,500 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to conduct the UK’s largest and most ambitious freshwater monitoring and protection project to date: the ‘People, Ponds and Water Project’. Covering all of England and Wales, and led by freshwater experts, this three-year project is unique in that it will train thousands of volunteers across the country as ‘citizen scientists’, who collectively will be able to help tackle the current shocking condition of the UK’s freshwater environment.
The drastic decline in the Earth’s wildlife populations, and freshwater species in particular, was highlighted in WWF’s recently released report, which revealed that the Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years. Freshwater plants and animals have experienced the worst decline of all species groups, having suffered a 75% loss since 1970.
Freshwater Habitats Trust, led by director, Dr Jeremy Biggs, has been addressing the causes of freshwater decline for the past 25 years. Its new ‘People, Ponds and Water Project’ will provide a massive impetus to the charity’s research, public engagement and practical conservation work, enabling its wildlife protection strategies to be implemented on a national scale.
Central to the People, Ponds and Water Project approach is the idea that anyone – from school children, families and retired people to houseboat owners, water sports enthusiasts, and ramblers – can participate in monitoring and protecting the freshwaters in the areas in which they live. By helping to build up a national picture of where the best and most degraded freshwater areas are located, these citizen scientists will be able to inform strategies to protect the best areas and help clean up the worst.
The charity’s previous research has shown that ponds – both garden and countryside ponds –become increasingly important as a refuge for freshwater species as landscapes become more intensively farmed. Benefiting from small and often less polluted, catchment areas, ponds now support populations of two-thirds of the UK’s freshwater species, including our most endangered Biodiversity Action Plan species such as Mud Snail, Tassel Stonewort and Natterjack Toad.
The first important strand of the HLF funded project, will be to establish a new national volunteer surveillance programme called ‘PondNet’, that will ensure these endangered species do not decline further. A second element will focus on the most important sites: the ‘flagship ponds’, which will be protected by specialist volunteers trained in identification, management and conservation techniques.
The project’s third strand, ‘Clean Water for Wildlife Survey’, will involve thousands of people – including many schools and community groups – in surveying two important pollutants, nitrate and phosphate, in different water bodies using simple strip tests. By analysing these pollutant levels, citizen scientists and freshwater experts will assess the state of all freshwaters – not just the large rivers monitored by the Environment Agency – providing information to help restore them as functioning ecosystems.
Dr Jeremy Biggs says, “Some of our most beloved habitats will be helped by this new project – from pristine chalk streams in Hampshire and Dorset, habitat for brown trout and Atlantic salmon, to heathland pools in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire, which support some of the rarest plants in the country. And by participating in this project, people will be able to experience the joy of these watery landscapes – their own natural heritage – for themselves.”
HLF also today announced initial support for a £1.7million project led by Newcastle University that will train over 3,000 volunteers to gather information about the abundance and distribution of marine life around the entire UK coastline.
Commenting on both awards HLF Trustee and former Chief Scientist at Natural England Dr Tom Tew said: “Many people’s earliest and fondest memories are of peering at a crab in a rock pool on the beach or fishing for tadpoles in a murky pond. Countless species rely on these valuable habitats yet we lack critical information about how abundant and valuable they are and, in many cases, why they are at risk.
“It’s easy to feel a bit helpless when we hear how nature is declining so we loved the way these projects will harness people’s desire to help. Helping people across the country to reconnect with nature – through recording the wildlife associated with our coasts and ponds – will make a really positive long-term difference both to people’s enjoyment of the countryside and to the state of nature.”
Notes to Editors
1. About the Freshwater Habitats Trust
The Freshwater Habitats Trust’s aim is to protect freshwater life for everyone to enjoy, through conservation, community, research and policy work. The FHT vision is that the UKs threatened freshwater plants and animals recover and develop sustainable populations, that the UK has a functioning network of freshwater habitats, and that people are able to value and enjoy freshwater habitats and their wildlife. www.freshwaterhabitats.org.uk
2. About the Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. HLF has supported 36,000 projects with £6bn across the UK. www.hlf.org.uk @heritagelottery
3. For further information and comment contact Dr Jeremy Biggs via email@example.com or 01865 595505 / 07590 030610.