Farm ponds and waterbodies
All wet features on farmland are important for wildlife, provided they are free of fertiliser and pesticide pollution.
A waterbody does not 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.
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 breed, and grass snakes are strongly associated with ponds and other wetlands as they feed on amphibians and fish. 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.
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.
The habitat immediately surrounding waterbodies is especially important, and with minimal effort can provide key areas for feeding and shelter for amphibians, such as in the form of rough grassland. Log or stone piles close to the ponds can be valuable features for a wide range of wildlife. Ponds should be connected to other important habitat on the farm and the wider environment. Hedgerows and buffer strips can be important in enabling species to move between habitats, including other ponds, woodland, scrub and tussocky grassland to find areas to feed, migrate, take refuge and hibernate.
The best time of year to undertake pond management is over the winter. This should be typically between 1st November and 31 January (inclusive). Useful management activities needed to maintain a pond include the following:
- Refer to the links below for more information regarding identification and management for individual species.
- Invasive aquatic plants can sometimes appear in ponds, so keep an eye out for the worst offenders like New Zealand pigmy weed and parrots feather.
- If scrub starts to develop around the pond, it is 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. It can often be a balancing act to retain good terrestrial habitat (such as that provided by trees and scrub) and to keep ponds open. A good compromise is to retain trees on the northern side of the pond, but keeping the southern perimeter open.
- 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 but should be undertaken sensitively and not all in one season.
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.
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
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
Author: People’s Trust for Endangered Species Water voles are found throughout the UK. They can thrive in many different wetland habitats in both the lowlands and uplands, such as ditches, ponds and streams. Landowners and farmers are key to helping water voles by creating and maintaining the optimum habitat they need. Why water voles need…
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…
Case Study: Managing Farmland for Grey Long-eared Bats
Author: Craig Dunton, Grey long-eared bat Project Officer, Bat Conservation Trust Species: Grey Long-eared bat: © Craig Dunton/www.bats.org.uk Why is farmland important for this species? With as few as 1000 individuals In the UK, the grey long-eared bat is one of our rarest mammals. Their distribution is restricted to the southern coast (Devon, Dorset,…