Skip to content

Farmland Ponds – wildlife havens in the landscape

On the 12th January 2021, NPP committee members Helen Greaves and Carl Sayer from UCL, joined forces with the Suffolk Ponds Group to provide a webinar to look at the lowland farm pond and its value for wildlife. The webinar can be watched here.

Hosted by the Suffolk Ponds Group, with support from Natural England Catchment Sensitive Farming and the Norfolk Ponds Project, this webinar was aimed at farmers, landowners, environmental professionals & interested members of the public.

The evening brought together a panel of expert speakers, all directly involved in pond management, restoration and research, to explore both the ‘how to’ as well as the ‘why’ of pond management for wildlife in farmland.

Suffolk and Norfolk combined have some 50,000 ponds, most on farmland, and very many are in a neglected state. Carl Sayer of University College London outlined some of the latest research in pond restoration from Norfolk. Helen Greaves from UCL and the Norfolk Ponds Project talked about the importance of collaboration between conservationists, farmers, and researchers. Juliet Hawkins, a pond adviser, outlined top points to consider when planning restorations, and Richard Symes, Suffolk farmer spoke about the importance of ponds and wildlife and showed some highlights from his farm.

The Suffolk and Norfolk Pond Webinar team celebrating a successful event


Juliet Hawkins: Pond conservation expert with some 30+ years of experience, Juliet has worked independently and for conservation organisations such as the Suffolk Wildlife Trust in her pond conservation career and has several high wildlife value ponds on her own farm.

Helen Greaves: Secretary of the European Pond Conservation Network, PhD researcher at University College London and Secretary of the Norfolk Ponds Project

Professor Carl Sayer: freshwater ecologist and lecturer in freshwater science at University College London.

Richard Symes: Earlsway Farm Bramfield, farmer of some 160ha with 17 ponds, custodian of wildlife and rare stoneworts.

Sam Hanks: Suffolk Wildlife Trust farmland wildlife adviser and host of the webinar.

Pond soundscapes

We understand that pond restoration has a dramatic effect on the species richness and biodiversity of farmland ponds and that our research has shown this to be true for aquatic plants, amphibians, fish and insects.

However, perhaps it may be possible to measure these changes in diversity by simply listening to the sounds of a pond?

PhD student, Jack Greenhalgh, is exploring just that.

Underwater sounds from a Norfolk farmland pond during the BIG50

Bioacoustics (the study of sounds produced by animals) has been used in ecosystems such as woodlands, coral reefs and tropical rainforests to observe the acoustic diversity emitted by the fauna present. However, freshwater ecosystems have been largely overlooked in spite of their of accessibility.

Visual representation of an insect sound from a pond

Jack’s research is therefore exploring the unknown underwater soundscapes of ponds before and after restoration. His initial research indicates that restored ponds are a cacophony of underwater life, full of biological information waiting to be deciphered.

Jack Greenhalgh explaining underwater bioacoustics

You can find out more about Jack’s research at the University of Bristol on his webpage.

Dr Polly is peddling to support the BIG 50!

Whilst the UCL Pond Restoration Research Group and NPP volunteers are working on Pond 10 of the #BIG50 project today, we will be being supported by one intrepid adventurer who is raising money for our project and raising awareness of the huge number of ponds in the Norfolk countryside.

Below, Dr Polly Ashford, explains why she is taking on this feat of cycling over 100 miles and visiting over 50 ponds in one day…

What’s a farm pond and why should I care?

Norfolk’s ponds were originally dug as clay or marl (lime) pits, and there are thousands of them. Unfortunately many have become overgrown or filled in. Healthy farm ponds are fantastic for biodiversity, supporting a range of species from aquatic plants and invertebrates to pollinators and farmland birds.

Polly is already on her first pond today! Please support her at Just Giving!

What you are raising cash for?

Each pond takes about a day to restore (removing vegetation, sediment etc, and surveying). Much of this work is carried out by volunteers and students. I’d encourage people to support the project in any way possible, but specifically for this year’s #Big50 restoration, I’d like to raise a bit of cash to pay for special chainsaw fuel, which contains less harmful hydrocarbons than regular petrol. The exhaust fumes are much cleaner so the health risks are dramatically reduced, and it is more environmentally friendly. I’ve also got a vested interest here, as my partner Andy will be doing a lot of chainsawing!

Polly’s partner Andy has been working tirelessly as a chainsaw volunteer all week!

How much is Polly going to suffer for my cash?

I will be cycling a route around Norfolk that takes in a minimum of 50 ponds in one day, which will mean approximately 100 miles. I’ll stop at each pond to photograph it as proof (@DrPollyAshford on Twitter), and to show the different sizes/shapes/states of Norfolk’s ponds. I will be very surprised if I’m on the bike for less than 12 hours, and I’ve never cycled this far in one go before, so yes, suffering is guaranteed!

Please encourage Polly not to regret this madness by pledging a bit of money on her Just Giving page.