The small waterbodies with the biggest value

We’re working with our partners to map priority ponds – small waterbodies which have a high conservation value.

Freshwater Habitats Trust played an instrumental role in security priority habitat status for ponds in 2007. Now we’re working with Natural England to identify and record more of the country’s best ponds. Identifying priority ponds (now a habitat of principal concern) helps agencies, organisations and individuals to protect and enhance ponds and the critical freshwater wildlife they support.

What are priority ponds?

The concept of priority habitats was developed as part of the UK government’s commitment as a signatory to the international Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993. Ponds were first identified as priority habitats in 2007 (BRIG 2007). The Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 provides the legal basis for their conservation. The term ‘Habitat of Principal Importance’ is now more correctly used for priority ponds.

Priority ponds are waterbodies that have a particularly high conservation value: usually because they support important freshwater species or rare community types. These ponds can be permanent or seasonal waterbodies and can span a wide size range: from 1m2 to 2ha in area.

The criteria used to identify priority ponds were originally listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, Priority Habitat Descriptions: Ponds BRIG (2008).

Priority Ponds is being delivered by Freshwater Habitats Trust in partnership with Natural England. The project is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as part of the Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) programme.

View priority ponds map Identify a priority pond Record a priority pond

- This pond on Strensall Common is a priority pond, which is home to many special pond plants and animals.

Get involved

Help us map the country’s priority ponds to provide more protection for these important wildlife habitats.

View priority ponds map Identify a priority pond Record a priority pond

How many priority ponds are there?

It was originally estimated that around 20% of the UK’s 500,000 or so ponds (excluding garden ponds) would meet one or more of the priority pond criteria. A large proportion of these ponds will be designated because they support one of the two priority amphibian species: Great Crested Newts or Common Toad.

Following publication of the England Red List for plants (Stroh et al 2007), the number of priority ponds in England is likely to have increased because the Red List includes plant species such as Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula) which, although they have rapidly declined, are still relatively common in ponds in the north and west of England.

PondNet training event

Why do priority ponds matter?

Ponds are a critical habitat for protecting freshwater biodiversity in the landscape. Priority ponds are the most important ponds of all because they support uncommon and declining species under increasing threat. In many cases these ponds provide:

  • a last refuge for freshwater plants and animals that are now lost from surrounding areas
  • stepping-stones for freshwater species that increasingly need to move across the landscape as their habitats are disrupted by climate change
  • a hot-spot which allows declining species to spread when landscape improvements are made.

- Tadpole Shrimp (Triops cancriformis) - one of Britain's most endangered animals. Copyright Neil Phillips

Why do we need to identify priority ponds?

Identifying priority ponds is important for two reasons.

1. Minimising destruction and loss

Statutory and other agencies (eg planning authorities, the Environment Agency, Natural England) need to consider priority habitats in their decision-making for planning applications and flood defence permits to help them meet their ‘biodiversity duty’.

Recognition that a pond has priority status can also protect it from inadvertent damage, including inappropriate management that would accidently degrade its current wildlife interest.

Tassel stonewort

2. Biodiversity gains

Priority Pond locations and maps are used to plan a wide range of site and landscape restoration measures that protect and increase freshwater biodiversity. For example, by:

  • Local authorities: to inform their nature recovery planning.
  • Conservation organisations: to support habitat and species protection. For instance, Freshwater Habitats Trust uses priority habitat maps to understand where landscape restoration will be most effective and fundraises for strategic local and regional projects that can protect and build out from these sites.
  • National authorities (eg Natural England, Defra) to understand the number and distribution of priority habitats and commission research that investigates factors affecting them.
  • Individuals and organisation seeking funding to protect freshwater habitats and wildlife: many funding bodies stipulate that their funds should focus on threatened habitats including priority habitats. So if a pond has priority status it is easier to attract funding to protect and improve it.
Find out more
Toad's eyes peeping out from above the water.

Priority ponds partners and funders

Freshwater Habitats Trust is mapping England’s priority ponds with our partners and funders.

More information about priority ponds

Help us map priority ponds

Help us identify and record priority ponds and learn more about these important waterbodies.

Young woman standing in a pond wearing boots and examining a plant.
Identify a priority pond

Use our seven criteria to identify a waterbody as a priority pond.

Identify a priority pond
Man standing in a pond, inspecting contents of a net.
Record a priority pond

Add a new record to our map of priority ponds.

Record a priority pond
Join the Urban Pond Count

Help us estimate the number of ponds in England, so we can help protect them and the species they support.

Urban Pond Count