We’re lucky enough in our parish to have a number of Ice Age ponds – ponds that were created when wooley mammoths roamed the countryside 22,000 years ago. We’re lucky because they contain rare and nationally scarce wildlife such as certain species of diving beetles, insects and plants not found elsewhere in Herefordshire.
It’s amazing to think that some of the species that colonise these ponds today have been there for tens of thousands of years.
Kenchester has a cluster of 5 of these ponds, known as kettle hole ponds; some dry out in the summer while others are there all year round. They are home to many different species including small red eyed damselfly and rare water diving beetles. They also support the county’s largest great crested newt colony.
Mervyn Davies in Bishopstone has been surveying these ponds for the British Trust for Ornithology these past 5 years and in an average year sees over 80 different species of birds. These include rare waders such as Oystercatchers, a black and white bird with orange/red bill and reddish pink legs, and Curlews with their distinctive call.
Kettle hole ponds were created during the last Ice Age when large chunks of ice were left behind as the ice sheet retreated to central Wales (see map showing the reach of the ice sheet close to the current A49). As these chunks of ice melted, saucer-shaped depressions in the glacial material remained. It’s the warm, sunny, shallow areas that have gradually been colonised by plants and other life forms.
Nearby, other ice age ponds of note include Lawn Pool at Moccas Park (home of the UK’s largest blood-sucking leech), The Sturts at Kinnersley and Mere Pool near Blakemere. Last year, researchers surveyed Lawn Pool and counted 53 species of aquatic invertebrates in a single session (an average pond would yield about 20). This survey identified an incredible 32 species of water beetle.
Ecologist Will Watson surveyed some of Herefordshire’s kettle hole ponds in 2003 and realised something extraordinary: out of 260 ponds, nearly half were home to the rare great crested newt. This is probably the highest occurrence rate for the species anywhere in Britain.
Across the UK, just 2% of ponds are of natural origin, rather than manmade. Here in north-west Herefordshire, 25% of ponds are natural. It’s estimated there are 1500 of these Ice Age ponds in our county, many have disappeared as they become silted up or filled in to expand agricultural land.
With money from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Ice Age Pond project will survey as many Ice Age ponds as it can with the help of volunteers and hopes to raise awareness of the importance and biodiversity of these ponds to more people in Herefordshire.
On a few selected ponds the project will cut away the vegetation cover that shades them to allow wildlife to regenerate.
“If you leave a pond it will naturally, in most cases, silt up and turn into a bog or a woodland,” says Dave Hutton, ice age ponds project officer at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. “Without those natural processes, like aurochs and large mammals traipsing around and keeping them open, ponds and their wildlife tend to disappear. We’re acting like beavers and other large herbivores and keeping them open.”
The project is being run by three organisations – Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team and Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.
The Spring training sessions for Conserving Herefordshire’s Ice Age Pond Project will take place live on Zoom starting on Friday March 5th. The sessions will enable volunteers to carry out practical pond surveys during Spring and Summer. If you are interested email Dave Hutton – firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the project, go to https://www.herefordshirewt.org/iceageponds