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Seven Ponds in Seven Days

Norfolk Pond Project plans breakthrough

Seven Ponds in Seven Days

Kicking off on 20 September, a conservation project in Norfolk is highlighting the vital role of ponds in the English countryside as part of a “seven ponds in seven days” restoration challenge.

Researchers from UCL Geography, with support from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and other conservation partners, are leading a volunteer team of local farmers, gamekeepers and students to restore seven farmland ponds, to the benefit of wildlife including amphibians and dragonflies. Funding comes from UCL as part of the recently launched Norfolk Ponds Project.

This ambitious week-long project will see the team restore seven ponds on farmland in the villages of Heydon and Brisley. Scrub will be removed from the south and west sides of the ponds to let light in, and mud will be removed to reduce the build-up of dead leaves, whose breakdown reduces oxygen in the water.

“It's a simple recipe for success,” says Dr Carl Sayer. “By bringing light and oxygen back to ponds, we have seen major increases in pond species and often very rare flora and fauna have returned to ponds in less than six months – they literally spring back into life! We are trying to bring more open sunny ponds into a landscape so entirely dominated by overgrown ponds and we need to try and re-connect people with ponds again. Years ago people used to fish in the ponds and children used to search for amphibians and would marvel at the mysterious pond wildlife. We are trying to help ponds by getting people to love them again.”

PhD students Helen Greaves and Emily Alderton have started to shed light on how pond restoration works. Helen has monitored ponds before and after restoration, showing remarkable increases in invertebrates and plant species, which colonise very quickly. “Dragonflies visit the ponds almost as soon as there is a break in the canopy” said Helen, “it’s so quick, often while we are still working!”

Water plants have been shown to return to restored ponds through the exposure of old, but very long-lived seeds once surface mud is removed. “Pond mud is like a time capsule” says Emily. “In the greenhouse, we have shown that seeds deposited centuries ago will grow readily when they come to the surface – they may well be viable for millennia”.

The Norfolk Ponds Project started in 2014 and is partnership project between UCL, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Norfolk Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), Norfolk Rivers Trust, Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership, Natural England, Norfolk Non-native Species Initiative, Norfolk County Council Historic Environment Scheme, Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service (NBIS) and the Norfolk Freshwater Study Group.

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Helen and Emily (Carl Sayer)

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Carl Sayer
Helen Greaves