New Forest Pondscape Project – A strategy for pond creation and management within the New Forest National Park.
Project aims and objectives
The aim of this project was to develop a comprehensive strategy which will protect the critical pond species and community types of the New Forest through targeted management and creation of ponds in the National Park.
There are an estimated 800–1,000 ponds in the New Forest, ranging from ephemeral pools on the edges of trackways, to large bodies of permanent water. These waterbodies support outstanding communities of plant and animal species including 38 pond associated BAP species and over 20 Red Data Book vascular plants. One in three ponds supports at least one Red Data Book macroinvertebrate species.
The richness and quality of the New Forest ponds means that hundreds of these waterbodies qualify as Priority Ponds under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, contributing to the recognition of the New Forest as an Important Area for Ponds, an Important Stonewort Area and, overall, as one of the most important areas for freshwater wildlife in Britain.
There are currently major threats to some of the most important pond species and community types in the New Forest, with species declines, vulnerable isolated populations, changes in habitat quality and a lack of understanding about appropriate management prescriptions and the new habitat creation required to protect them.
Discussion with planners, ecologists and land management advisors in the National Park Authority suggests that the best way to address these issues is through the implementation of a consensually agreed strategic plan.
Issues and solutions
1. Locating new ponds to maximise biodiversity benefits. Pond creation in the New Forest has been a dynamic process that has occurred over many thousands of years. However, over time, these ponds have undergone natural succession and few ponds are currently being created to replace the important early successional habitats.
In addition, populations of some of the rarest pond species are at low levels, and remain vulnerable to extinction at their remaining freshwater sites.
Where new ponds have been created they generally provide few biodiversity benefits, being poorly located and rarely designed with the unique freshwater flora and fauna of the New Forest in mind, i.e. they are created for fishing or water sports.
To benefit biodiversity, new ponds should be (i) located strategically and (ii) designed appropriately to provide refuges and stepping stones for species (both rare and widespread), to disperse naturally as conditions change in the Forest.
2. Promoting understanding of the special relationship between grazing and New Forest ponds. The New Forest ponds have been created and managed within the context of the pastoral economy of the New Forest since they not only provide freshwater but also lush summer growth for grazing. Equally, most of the Forest’s rarest species live at the grazed edges of shallow, vegetation-filled pools.
It is critical that the relationship between grazing stock and the biodiversity value of the New Forest ponds is promoted and explained.
3. Pond creation within the National Park boundaries, but outside the Open Forest, will allow endangered species to extend their ranges. Outside of the Open Forest there are large tracks of land which have the potential to support high quality ponds suitable for the special freshwater plants and animals of the New Forest.
Pond creation in land surrounding the Open Forest will provide opportunities for rare species to extend their range and to create links with other landscape priority areas, such as the Avon Valley in the west and Test Valley to the east.
4. Identifying existing ponds which require management. There are a number of issues which can adversely affect the quality of ponds in the New Forest. These include: the invasive non-native plant Crassula helmsii, pollution threats from road run-off and nutrient enrichment from small holdings, loss of individual commoners resulting in reduced grazing levels on key ponds and low rates of new pond creation.
However, there is often a lack of understanding about when it is appropriate to undertake management and what management to undertake. Local communities are often aware of the value of their ponds but are unsure about what they need to do. In some cases, the best course of action may be to allow ponds to develop naturally and create new ponds to replace losses. However, there are circumstances, i.e. where ponds support restricted Biodiversity Action Plan species, where specific management actions are necessary.
Identification of ponds with highest priority and those under significant threat would allow us to develop a warning light scheme which could be implemented to steer management to safeguard vulnerable populations.
To collate species data and information on the historical distribution of ponds and the cultural importance of ponds in the New Forest.
Identify the concerns, barriers and requirements of policy makers and planners to produce a strategy which can be implemented within existing frameworks.
Analyse the biological data to locate Priority Ponds across the New Forest and identify their main biodiversity interest.
We aim to produce a pond creation and management plan based on our understanding of pond ecology and the need for landscape-scale habitat heterogeneity. This will include:
- A checklist for pond management.
- A checklist for pond creation to ensure that proposed schemes will benefit biodiversity and will not damage existing biodiversity, archaeological or grazing value.
- Identifying locations where new pond creation would expand and support the existing pond network for rare species and critical community types, to guide planning decisions and land management advice.
- Developing a toolkit for pond creation to specifically benefit the flora and fauna of New Forest ponds.
- Training workshops for land owners and managers, planning authorities, and local communities covering pond creation, pond management, and ponds and the planning process. The workshops will include case studies, scenarios, field visits and delegate information packs.
- Publicising to a wide audience the importance of the New Forest as one of the best examples of a pond landscape in Britain and the need to conserve and enhance its freshwater wildlife.