Farm ponds and waterbodies

Farm ponds and waterbodies

All wet features on farmland are important for wildlife, provided that they are free of fertiliser and pesticide pollution.

What

A waterbody doesn’t just have to be a pond; it could be a lake, wetland or natural ditch, all of which provide different opportunities for wildlife. Both terrestrial and aquatic species will benefit from the right management.

Common blue damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum, settled on grass in heathland, The Lodge RSPB reserve, Sandy, Bedfordshire. July.

Why

The shallow water and exposed mud at the edge of ponds is particularly important for wildlife. For aquatic insects, it provides safe habitat in which to live, but also has benefits for terrestrial species which will take advantage of wet muddy margins or banks to breed - including many pollinators.

Flowers at water margins such as angelica, water-mint and purple loosestrife are valuable for pollinators. Healthy waterbodies can support a huge number of marginal and aquatic plants, including once common plants like marsh marigold and water crowfoot.

A network of healthy ponds and wet habitats are essential for amphibians to reproduce and also survive within the landscape to feed. Birds and mammals will also make use of many wet habitats to drink.

One of the key points to managing waterbodies is appropriate buffering to protect them from run-off and pollutants, as many species rely on clean water to survive.

Farm pond 2 Chris Tomson

How

Clean water is a vital part of a healthy waterbody with many species unable to survive in very nutrient rich or polluted water. Buffering waterbodies in arable areas is therefore essential. A 12m buffer around an arable pond is recommended. If the ponds on your farm have historically been used for cleaning water through silt collection it is worth considering creating a new pond complex for wildlife and keeping any settling ponds for that purpose.

Although there isn’t much management needed to maintain a pond there are a few things to keep an eye on. There isn’t a ‘good’ time to do pond management, however late autumn or early winter is probably preferable.

  • Invasive aquatic plants can sometimes appear in new ponds, so keep an eye out for the worst offenders like New Zealand pigmy weed and parrots feather. Pull these out as soon as possible as both are capable of taking over a pond in a short space of time.
  • If scrub starts to develop around the pond, it’s worth managing it so it doesn’t over-shade the pond. Some dappled shade is good, but keeping the pond open and sunny is very important.
  • Reedmace and common reed can often colonise ponds, and they can be very invasive, swiftly out competing other plants. It may be necessary to remove both to encourage a diverse pond community.

If you decide to enhance your existing ponds by establishing new ones, you can maximise their value by following the guidance in the section on Wet Features.

Common frog Rana temporaria, controlled conditions, Birmingham, spring, 2016

More information

For detailed advice on how to create and manage ponds, visit the Freshwater Habitats site

For more information on the species you might be helping to conserve, visit the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust

In practice

Here are some useful case studies and articles about how farmers are putting Farm Wildlife into practice on their farms

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