Small Water Bodies

Small waters bodies are vital for freshwater biodiversity but remain largely overlooked and widely excluded from policies that might protect them.

Pingo pond at Stow Bedon Common, Norfolk, UK – one of the country’s most biodiverse freshwater habitats

Small waters bodies include headwater streamsspringsditches, flushes, small lakes and ponds.  These can be found in all landscapes and  by their very nature are highly varied in all aspects – from water chemistry to the species they support.

These habitats are vital for freshwater biodiversity but remain largely overlooked and widely excluded from government policies like the Water Framework Directive and River Basin Management Plans which describe how we should be protecting freshwaters.

Small standing waters (ponds and small lakes) are particularly important compared to other freshwaters. In all landscapes so far investigated – including different parts of Europe and multiple UK landscapes – ponds surprisingly support a larger proportion of freshwater biodiversity than lakes or rivers – and are especially important for uncommon freshwater species.

Therefore collectively, at the landscape scale, small standing waters are critical to maintaining freshwater biodiversity. The targeted protection, management and creation of small standing waters to restore freshwater landscapes is particularly important for populations of threatened species – including some specialist habitats and species listed in Annex I and Annex II of the Habitats Directive, which depend on networks of high quality small water bodies for their survival.

We need to recognise the value of small standing waters, and that protecting them is relatively cheap and easy because of their small catchments.

Policy work on small waters

The concerns in this area were the impetus for a special session on ‘Small Water Bodies – knowledge base, importance, threats, and future research priorities’ at the 9th Symposium for European Fresh Water Sciences (SEFS) in Geneva, July 2015. The session aimed to refocus research attention on these resources by drawing together expertise on small water bodies within Europe to review the scientific knowledge base, in particular their contribution to overall ecological integrity of aquatic systems, to highlight threats to their physical, chemical and ecological status and to identify research priorities.

A special issue of Hydrobiologia included thirteen of the papers presented at SEFS including one written by Freshwater Habitats Trust in partnership with colleagues in Ireland and Switzerland: The importance of small waterbodies for biodiversity and ecosystem services: implications for policy makers is available through Springer online here. Watch a short video highlighting the main points of the paper below.

In November 2013, the Freshwater Habitats Trust, in partnership with the European Environmental Bureau, and the backing of the European Commission and the government of Lithuania, ran a workshop to bring together water and nature managers from 18 EU states.  The purpose of the workshop was to discuss how better to protect the continents small waters, a first step in informing the development of future policies.

You can read the full Report of the Workshop on the Protection and Management of Small Water Bodies


Other work on small waters

The Water Friendly Farming Project is continuing to research and test methods to maintain and enhance freshwater biodiversity and the services provided by the water environment – within landscapes that are predominantly used for commercial farming.

Our Important Freshwater Areas work is  bringing together information on the location of all areas important for the protection of freshwater biodiversity.

We’ve re-surveyed some of Britain’s highest quality ponds after 25 years to see how they have changed.