Temporary ponds and scrapes
Despite their tendency to change between wet and dry, temporary ponds support a vast array of wildlife.
Drying out prevents fish from establishing, providing a predator-free environment for tadpoles and many aquatic invertebrates to thrive.
Temporary pools and scrapes hold water for periods of the year, but dry out in most years. Prior to extensive land drainage, it is likely that temporary ponds were a much more common part of the landscape, particularly in semi-natural habitats such as grassland.
Temporary ponds are often overlooked within the farmed landscape, but are an important and highly threatened habitat type. They have declined significantly in the landscape due to drainage activities; temporary ponds persist in semi-natural habitats such as grassland and heathland, but the feature can also be extremely valuable for wildlife in arable fields too.
A huge variety of wildlife uses temporary ponds and they often support rare and scarce species which thrive in the unique combination of periodic flooding and drying. Many scarce plants and insects are associated with the damp muddy margins exposed as temporary ponds dry out.
The regular drying out of temporary ponds prevents fish from establishing. Free from predators, tadpoles and aquatic insects (such as water beetles) can often thrive. In fact many species of aquatic insect, and some amphibians such as great crested newts, are seldom found in ponds where fish are present.
When holding water, temporary ponds will support many kinds of wildlife in the same way that a permanent pond would. Many generalist aquatic insects will use the pond and beneficial insects such as bees will drink from ponds. Many hoverflies, one of our key wild pollinators, need water to complete their lifecycle. Amphibians rely on ponds for breeding, and grass snakes are strongly associated with ponds as their diet mainly consists of amphibians. Birds and mammals in arable areas often rely on ponds for their drinking water.
The natterjack toad is a rare amphibian, found on about 60 localities in England (with important populations in Cumbria and along the Merseyside coast), north Wales, southwest Scotland and southwest Ireland. Key natterjack toad habitat includes sand dunes, upper saltmarsh, heathland, where they will use farmland close to these sites for foraging and dispersal. These toads require shallow, temporary ponds, which are predator free to breed. Terrestrially they need habitat consisting of very short vegetation and bare ground, with suitable ground in which to burrow.
Clean water is a vital part of a healthy pond – many of the species that rely on ponds cannot survive in very nutrient-rich or polluted water. Often, temporary ponds only have a small volume of water, making them extremely vulnerable to pollution and to changes in drainage.
Temporary ponds in existing semi-natural habitats such as grassland and heathland should always be protected from any land management practices. It is essential that temporary ponds are not deepened to hold water all year round. This removes many of the key features that support specialist wildlife.
Many temporary ponds are often overlooked or viewed as simply waterlogged areas or muddy hollows, particularly when dried out and grass dominated, but it is important that these seasonal pools are not drained or filled.
Although many temporary ponds can have great longevity, some will naturally fill in overtime as sediment is deposited with inflowing water. However, temporary ponds are often best left unmanaged, even when they begin to become silted up or over-vegetated. In this instance, it may be better to prepare for the future by creating a new temporary pond nearby, allowing the existing temporary ponds to dry out naturally. Establishing a mix of existing and newly created ponds, will produce a range of conditions suitable for a wider range of wildlife.
To create a new temporary pond or scrape, try excavating a shallow depression in nearby areas with a similar underlying soil type. Ensure that the margins have a shallow gradient to maximise the bare muddy margins exposed as water levels recede, and resist the temptation to dig a deeper pond which would hold water for much of the year. Where there is room, consider creating a network of different scrapes around the farm to different depths. There will be no need to plant up the scrape, which will be naturally colonised by both terrestrial and aquatic species as it settles.
Buffering temporary ponds in arable areas can help to reduce the impact of farm inputs and pollution. Ideally, the buffer around an arable temporary pond should be at least 12m.
The best place to site ponds is in permanent pasture, however a wide buffer strip planted up with a mixture of robust grasses will mimic this habitat, providing the grassy margins that benefit amphibians. Link ponds to other key habitats by appropriate terrestrial habitat, such as buffer strips, rough grassland and hedgerows, allowing animals to move between different water bodies, forage and migrate to hibernation areas.
For more detailed information on providing habitat for natterjack toads, visit the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust
The Freshwater Habitats pages provide more advice on creating and managing wet features for wildlife.
Environmental stewardship for natterjack toads
Here are some useful case studies and articles about how farmers are putting Farm Wildlife into practice on their farms
Helping water voles on your land
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Dairy farm creating a buzz
Authors: Gethin Davies (RSPB), Anna Hobbs (BBCT), Stuart Taylor (farmer, Argoed) Dairying can be a challenging sector for farmers and wildlife. Small margins have driven increasing scale, efficiency and specialisation, which has tended to squeeze out people and space for nature. The number of dairy farmers in the UK has declined by two thirds since…Read More
Case Study: Wet grassland and rush management for breeding waders
Author: Gavin Thomas Farm: Chipping Moss, Leagram Estate, Forest of Bowland, Lancashire Aims: The primary aim was to restore upland in-bye wet grassland for breeding lapwings, redshanks, oystercatchers, snipe and curlews. By managing rush cover and water levels it was also hoped that the quality of pasture available to grazing livestock would also be greatly improved.…Read More