GAME ON!!! After monitoring the Great Twin Pond Dig ponds over the course of 2017, the competition has now begun! Over the past few months all the four pond restorations have taken place in Norfolk and Lancashire and now we can sit back and relax (or more realistically, continue to monitor) whilst ‘Mother Nature’ does her work.
In Norfolk, the restorations were undertaken in September using the tried and tested methods of the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group (PRRG) and the wider Norfolk Ponds Project. The team has now been restoring ponds together each September for seven years and the skills of both the digger driver (the wonderful Dominic) and the chainsaw specialists, (plus a few hard working volunteers!) allows the work to be undertaken in swift, fluid unison.
Four Norfolk ponds have been selected for the Great Twin Pond Dig project in the village of Bodham which is Carl Sayer’s spiritual home. These are Church Farm Ponds 1, 2, 3 and 4 (called CHFA1, CHFA2 etc.). CHFA2 and CHFA3 were selected for restoration because they were highly overgrown and entirely lacked aquatic plants and any obvious aquatic diversity. Ponds CHFA1 and 4 were left as control ponds as, despite being overgrown, they are a little bit more interesting biologically. In particular, although CHFA is entirely enclosed by thorn bushes, it is full of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) due to a rare absence of willow invasion and contains a small breeding population of the stunning Great Crested Newt. We are hoping that our newts will see new opportunities soon!
The four Church Farm ponds have been monitored throughout 2017 by a group of dedicated villagers and this has allowed us to gain a full picture of the biodiversity of each individual pond. We can never over-stress the importance of regular monitoring which is something the PRRG is dedicated to. Full knowledge of a site prevents rare and threatened species being impacted by the restoration process, which as you will see from the following photos is quite full on! The restoration on each pond consisted firstly of scrub removal from a large proportion of the ponds by a chainsaw team. This allowed the digger to gain access to trees within the pond basin and to tackle any larger stumps.
September is a great time to undertake a pond restoration as water levels are typically at their lowest, or as we found for CHFA2, completely absent. A dry pit speeds up the process for volunteers considerably as it means that we can move in and out of the pond basin to collect stumps rather than having to rely on the digger to do this. It also speeds up the process of scraping out the organic matter by the digger, which is the second step of the restoration process. All in all, the process took 1.5 days for CHFA3 which was wet and 1 day for CHFA2 which was dry; somewhat demonstrating the difference that this can make. Following two days of hard labour for the volunteers on both mornings; we had the luxury of sitting back at a safe distance in the afternoons, watching and filming whilst Dominic made easy work of the organic sediment excavation. There was even time for a little treasure-hunting of the old pond sediments with Carl’s legendary metal detector – not that we found anything – but a great way to end the day! At the end of the work all volunteers settled down to a hearty barbecue – our 7th annual pond barbecue and hopefully one of many to come.
The Great Twin Pond Dig and all Norfolk pond restorations could not have been completed so quickly and properly without the amazing enthusiasm and energy from the volunteers who give up their time to come and help. Whether it is a yearly event for them or their first time in the undergrowth at the ponds, we always receive positive feedback. This year, MSc student came along immediately after handing in her UCL Aquatic Science dissertation. Lily, describes her experience below:
“My name is Lily Unger and I have just finished the Aquatic Science MSc at UCL. It is through the MSc that I heard about the Great Twin Pond Dig. From the get go the idea caught my attention – bringing wildlife ponds back to life! It was an amazing idea that hidden in the middle of farmland fields there are these potential oases, all you needed to do is scoop out the mud! Myself and a few other MSc students made the trip to Norfolk to help out with a week of restoration, after being holed up finishing my dissertation it felt great to be out in the field again. Joining a real mixed team of local residents, farmers and other volunteers we set to work. It was amazing to witness the transformation even after one day of hard work! The work was physical but rewarding, dragging away scrub and wood to clear the site (we all slept well afterwards). It can look a bit barren and sad at first, but having seen past transformations using this technique I am confident that it will only be a matter of time before nature takes hold again, with much more biodiversity than before. I also gained practical restoration experience which will be useful for the career path I want to pursue. It was inspiring working with the local volunteers who were doing it solely to improve local habitat. It really proved to me the value of getting local people on board for restoration and conservation works. Overall, a great model for successful restoration, the week filled me with hope for what is possible for the future; returning land to wildlife one pond at a time.”