Orton Pits, part of the wider Hampton Reserve, is a legacy of Peterborough’s rich industrial heritage; a former clay extraction site for the once thriving brick manufacturing industry in the City.

Excavations and the subsequent deposition of spoil have left a unique undulating landscape with in excess of 300 ponds formed in linear rows. Clay extraction stopped in the 1990s and the site is now managed as a nature reserve by the conservation charity Froglife in partnership with landowners O&H Hampton and Natural England.

Orton is an exceptionally diverse site recognised both as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), primarily for its internationally significant population of Great Crested Newts Triturus cristatus. An estimated 30,000 adult newts make use of the 145 hectare site. Less well known, but equally important, are the ten stonewort species that colonise the bare substrate of many of the ponds, making Orton one of the richest stonewort sites in the UK. Stoneworts, also known as charophytes, may look superficially like plants but are in fact complex algae. Orton Pits is a national stronghold for charophytes including the critically endangered Bearded Stonewort Chara cansecens which was once thought extinct in England, and currently only found at this site!

Freshwater Habitats Trust has been involved in the site for a long time. Back in 1998, when we were Pond Action, we undertook a survey of a small proportion of the ponds. The findings then showed that Orton Pits had a large number of Priority Ponds, supporting outstanding water beetle assemblages, and one of the highest quality pond sites in East Anglia. Work since then by a local expert entomologist has confirmed the importance of the site for rare aquatic and pond edge beetles. Though initially thought of as wasteland, Orton now comprises many elements of the natural freshwater communities of the ancient fens. The site contradicts the long-held view that waterbodies created by natural processes are inherently better than man-made ones; in fact, making new ponds simulates the ancient natural processes of pond (and lake) creation.

Location: Cambridgeshire

Accessibility: Some Flagship Pond sites are accessible to the public, and some are not. If in doubt, consult maps for rights of way, look online for site information, or contact the site manager, and follow any instructions on site. It is up to you to check whether you require permission to visit and access the ponds on a site.

Site owners/managers: Owned by O&H Hampton and Natural England. Managed by Froglife.