The role of ponds in Wirral’s landscape
The Society asked Hilary Ash from Wirral Wildlife Trust, for an update on how Ponds in Wirral were faring in 2018, here is her report:
Under the Local Wildlife Site criteria there is one for ponds, which sets the levels of species for a pond or set of ponds to qualify for Status. The criteria, the same now over all of “old” Cheshire, were adopted by Wirral Borough Council (finally) last summer, and we are now gradually transferring the old Sites of Biological Importance into LWS, as we do the survey work – expected to take us the next 5 years. If pond(s) are declared SBI/LWS than the relevant policy in the old UDP applies (NC5) until the Local Plan is approved, when there is new policy in that (CS33). Ponds which do not qualify have no protection, though if someone wants to fill one in with imported fill, planning permission is needed. I can recall only one planning application to do so!
Generally, our ponds were created as marl or brick pits, and are ageing (200 years old or so), and most are silting up and becoming willow carr. A few are still used for watering cattle and other stock, which keeps them open, though too much trampling is bad. Many ponds in agricultural land suffer from eutrophication. The few in public parks are variably maintained – from formal to informal, and from nothing done to good care. The ones at Dee Cliffs Thurstaston , within the SSSI and the country park, have just had a major clear-out under Natural England guidance (we did the pre-clearance surveys), which looks drastic but was badly needed after a decade and more of neglect. We do find on our surveys of SBI ponds that they can change very quickly if something goes wrong e.g. a nice pair of ponds on Bromborough Golf Course got some fertiliser run-off from a neighbouring green (no idea what they changed or did wrong) and has lost its most interesting water plants and gained some blanket weed. They are trying to put it right – but once excess nutrients get in, it takes several years’ work to get them out again. So we try to survey the SBI ponds every 3-4 years, as against every 10 years for something like an ancient wood, which is much more stable. There are large numbers of (mostly) small ponds in gardens, which occasionally have interesting wildlife, and together do make a notable contribution to the habitat for commoner specifies. I was told today of a garden pond in Eastham with Great Crested Newts and Toads breeding!
Various fishing clubs manage their own ponds, but ponds that are artificially stocked and/or heavily fished rarely have much good wildlife. Water plants get removed, often too much bait is used and eutrophication sets in, and fish are not compatible with amphibians except Toads (even the tadpoles of Toads taste nasty!).
The Pond Life programme run out of Liverpool JMU (Andrew Hull) some years ago tried to catalogue all of Cheshire’s ponds and get some management and/or new ones created, but found it hard going. When we had some money from BAP funds around 2000, we tried to dig 3 new ones in Wirral – and found getting the land to do so very difficult. In the end, two were restored from almost-dry old ponds rather than being really new. Opinions vary, but much advice says it is better to leave an old dried-up pond alone and create a new one alongside. Unfortunately that is rarely possible, so where there is pond management done, it is normally clearing out existing ponds, as at Dee Cliffs.
Ponds are one of nature’s temporary habitats – most would naturally last only a few decades/hundreds of years. So pond wildlife is on the whole quite good at moving to new sites and coming back when a site is cleared. When we cleared the brickpit at New Ferry Butterfly Park, plants promptly appeared which were lying dormant in the soil, which according to locals had not been a permanent pond for around 70 years.
So generally, our ponds are ageing, losing interest, struggling with excess nutrients from farming and rainfall, and few are well-managed! Creating new ones seems to be difficult. There is a general presumption against ponds on POS, because of perceived safety problems, so new POS in housing and other developments do not include them. The increasing move to Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) may change that to some extent, if it gets applied seriously in Wirral. As usual, some money and a lot of will-power could change this situation, but both are in short supply and there are many competing demands.