Record-breaking dig

The Record Breaking 50 Pond Challenge on 22 & 23 October 2011

50 Pond Challenge Group Photo copyright Neil PhilipsWe did it – setting a world record for the number of wildlife ponds created by hand in 24 hours. The 50 pond challenge team dug a total of 50 new clean water ponds in just 8 hours, which isn’t bad going, considering that it was all by hand, and the ground was solid clay. But we had a great team, bringing together lots of the conservation organisations with amphibians and reptiles right at the top of their agenda – Pond Conservation (Million Ponds Project), ARGUK, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, London ARG, Essex ARG and the students of Writtle College. A big thankyou to everyone that helped.

50 Pond Challenge dragonfly pond copyright Neil PhilipsThese new ponds created on an existing wildlife reserve in Nevendon, Essex, will create additional vital habitat for amphibians and fresh water invertebrates in this area. One of the local rarities that we are hoping to attract is the nationally scarce, Great Silver Water Beetle (Hydrophilus piceus). Despite its impressive size – it vies with the Stag beetle as the UK’s largest beetle – measuring almost 5 cm in length, it is threatened by loss of its habitat. It prefers to live in the unpolluted waters of ditches and ponds on ancient coastal grazing marshes, an extremely vulnerable habitat threatened by pollution from farms and towns on the landward side, and squeezed into an ever narrowing strip of the coast by rising sea levels. Now Great Silver Water Beetles are all but confined to the Somerset Levels and the coastal marshes of Sussex, Kent, Essex and Norfolk.

Great Silver Water Beetle copyright Neil PhillipsThe other rarity that we are hoping to attract is the Scarce Emerald Damselfly (Lestes dryas), which lives almost exclusively in the eastern part of Britain, with strongholds in the coastal marshes of Kent, Essex (around the Thames Estuary), Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

We are also providing homes for some of our more familiar aquatic residents including amphibians such as the Common Frog and Common Newt. Although ‘common’ these species are also finding it tougher to survive in Britain’s countryside today, and it is only by creating new habitat that we can ensure that healthy populations will survive into the future.

Newt Tadpole copyright Neil PhillipsThe ponds created reflect our key ‘Million Ponds Project’ principles:

  • Creating a mosaic of ponds – some large, some as small as 1m2,, providing homes for a range of creatures and creating a series of ‘stepping stones’ to allow populations to spread over a larger areas;
  • Clean, unpolluted water;
  • Not too deep – with shallow gently-shelving margins, which will be rapidly colonised by aquatic plants, so providing lots of habitat for invertebrates and amphibians; and
  • The aquatic environment will be supported by terrestrial habitat to encourage amphibians.
    50 Pond Challenge MPP team copyright Neil PhilipsAs an added bonus we are hoping to get into the Guinness Book of Records, which we hope will spur other groups to break our record, thereby creating even more countryside ponds.

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