Volunteers double the number of priority ponds in Nidderdale AONB

19th May 2023

Volunteers have helped to show how important Nidderdale AONB is for freshwater wildlife by increasing records for ‘priority ponds’ by more than 50%. Sixty-eight local people took part in water quality testing and amphibian surveys to identify high quality habitats and biodiversity hotspots.

The volunteers got involved through the Saving Nidderdale’s Priority Ponds project, which was led by national wildlife conservation charity Freshwater Habitats Trust and Nidderdale AONB and funded by Yorkshire Water.

Situated in the Yorkshire Dales and stretching from the eastern flanks of the Yorkshire Pennines to the high moorland of Great Whernside and the edge of the Vale of York, the 233-square mile AONB provides a diverse mix of habitats for wildlife, including an estimated 1,400 ponds.

The project has increased the number of ponds in Nidderdale AONB that are classified as ‘priority ponds’ from 38 to 80. Priority ponds are waterbodies that are recognised nationally as priority habitats, and are given a level of protection, because of their high conservation value. While around 20% of England’s ponds are priority ponds, these findings suggest that two-thirds of ponds in Nidderdale AONB could be priority ponds.

Boy looking at large pond with trees behind.

Volunteers tested 124 countryside ponds for pollution levels and found that 84% had clean water. This means water with a chemistry and biology, which would be normal for the area without any human disturbance. Tests carried out by volunteers in Nidderdale AONB’s garden ponds showed that 81% had clean water.

The volunteers also carried out amphibian surveys in more than 100 ponds, doubling the number of known sites for the ‘at risk’ Common Toad in Nidderdale AONB.

Freshwater Habitats Trust has identified Nidderdale AONB as being part of an Important Freshwater Landscape because of its clean, unpolluted water and high numbers of freshwater species. The AONB and surrounding areas are a focus for the Freshwater Network, a national network of high quality habitats developed by Freshwater Habitats Trust and partners.

Woman crouching by pond, taking a water sample.

Kate Wright, Freshwater Habitats Trust and Nidderdale AONB Project Officer for Saving Nidderdale’s Priority Ponds, said: “Thank you to everyone who has supported our Saving Nidderdale’s Priority Ponds project. We had a phenomenal response from the local community, who have helped us to understand more than ever before about Nidderdale AONB’s freshwater habitats. Ultimately, we’ve learned that the AONB is even more important to freshwater wildlife than we’d previously thought.

“Our volunteers have helped us to more than double the number of priority ponds in Nidderdale AONB and have shown how important these small waterbodies are to wildlife, including amphibians like the Common Toad.

“As we build the Freshwater Network, we’ll be focusing on protecting Important Freshwater Landscapes, which are Britain’s hotspots for freshwater biodiversity. We can continue to work with our partners to protect Nidderdale AONB and enhance it for wildlife.”

Ben Aston, technical specialist for Yorkshire Water, said: “We’re really pleased to be able to fund this project and enable Freshwater Habitats Trust and Nidderdale AONB to carry out such important work. The quality and protection of freshwater habitats is crucial for enhancing biodiversity and this project will ensure local wildlife is able to thrive.”

Freshwater Habitats Trust and Nidderdale AONB will now work together to create new ponds in areas where they can expand local toad populations. This will help to build a resilient network within the AONB for this declining amphibian and other freshwater species.