What Ice Age Ponds do for Us

Rose Ellis discusses the importance of ponds in our environment - and for our own wellbeing.

Ice Age Ponds were created in the glacial retreat about 20,000 years ago, when mammoths still roamed the land. By now, most of us know that ponds are extremely good for wildlife, and that’s always something to be celebrated. But by delving a little deeper, you’ll find that ponds are also a big benefit to us, as individuals and on a global scale. Bodies of water are scientifically proven to contribute a multitude of ‘benefits people derive from ecosystems’, known as ecosystem services, that may not be so obvious on the surface.

Before we start thinking about what goodness ponds provide, let’s check we know what a pond is – you might be surprised. A pond is defined by the Freshwater Habitats Trust, as ‘a body of water (normally freshwater, but occasionally brackish), which can vary in size between 1 square meter and 2 hectares (equivalent in size to about 2.5 football pitches), and which holds water for four months of the year or more.

Blog - What Makes a Pond a Pond?

Ponds are found across the world, occurring in habitats from polar regions to tropical rainforests – often creating biodiversity “hotspots” (Céréghino et al., 2007). They are fantastic for wildlife, offering habitat to over two-thirds of all freshwater species in the UK (Freshwater Habitats Trust). Herefordshire’s Ice Age Ponds are home to several incredible species (link to blog on Spotlight Species), including the Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus), Medicinal Leech (Hirudo medicinalis), many nationally rare aquatic beetles and the carnivorous Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris).

Blog - Ice Age Pond Spotlight Species

Two leeches swimming through pond water

Medicinal Leeches (c) Simon Williams

Ponds act as vital steppingstones between existing aquatic habitats (Céréghino et al., 2007) and provide valuable services for terrestrial species, providing shelter and breeding grounds (Ancillotto et al., 2019). Urban ponds particularly benefit bats and other synurbic wildlife (Ancillotto et al., 2019). This biodiversity is essential for the health of the planet and in avoiding ecological collapse.

Surface of pond with frogs visible poking above the surface and clusters of frogspawn

People’s health is wonderfully impacted by ponds too. It is scientifically proven that spending time outdoors, particularly around bodies of water, improves our wellbeing. The mental health charity, Mind says nature can help with stress, anxiety, self-esteem, and relaxation. Watching and listening to water is a deeply grounding experience and one that can help with perspective, feeling at peace and higher levels of happiness. This should not be underestimated, with the World Health Organisation ranking depression as one of the world’s largest cause of disability. Ponds provide enjoyment too, they are full of mystery and wonder; there is something about a pond dip that takes us all back to that childhood feeling.

Man stood in large natural pond holding a pond dipping net

To ensure a future for generations to come, it is crucial to keep global temperature increase below the IUCN’s recommended 1.5oC above preindustrial temperatures. Ice Age Ponds commonly have peat at their bases and act as a carbon sink, capturing excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the ground, underwater. However, without proper management, ponds can become anaerobic and start to release greenhouse gases. Ecologists from HART advise keeping trees to a minimum around ponds to reduce shading and limit the number of leaves that will likely struggle to break down. Sian E. Rees (1998) found that ponds better preserve archaeological features that would have been expected to break down in a drier environment.

Ponds also help to reduce pollution and flooding. According to the WWF, ‘water pollution is one of the most serious ecological threats we face today’. Reedbeds are often found on the periphery of ponds and act as an oxygen rich refuge from severe pollution incidents, by converting ammonia into less harmful nitrate (Thames21). Although research done by the Freshwater Habitats Trust has found the amount of water that ponds can hold compared to the amount of water that floods is minimal, combined with the ecological benefits, ponds play their role in this management.

Woman in blue beanie turning to smile at camera, stood in grassy field in front of pond

Ponds are invaluable for both people and the planet. Ice Age Ponds are no exception, and their uniqueness is being championed brilliantly by the Ice Age Pond Project at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and the Pingo project at Norfolk Wildlife Trust. The ecosystem services that ponds provide have been felt since their creation, and now more than ever, they are crucial to safeguard the future of the Earth. However, ponds have seen a steep decline, over half of them have been lost in the last century and of those that have survived, 80% are sadly not in a healthy state (Freshwater Habitats Trust). To create a pond of your own, visit the Wildlife Trust ‘build a pond’ page for all the most useful tips and help harness the power of ponds.

Next time you visit a pond or stumble across one in your thoughts, enjoy the moment and remember all they do for us.

 

References 

Ancillotto, L., Bosso, L., Salinas-Ramos, V.B., Russo, D., (2019) The importance of ponds for the conservation of bats in urban landscapes

Rees S. E. (1998) The historical and cultural importance of ponds and small lakes in Wales, UK

https://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/habitats/pond/

http://herefordhart.org.uk/

https://wwf.panda.org/discover/knowledge_hub/teacher_resources/webfield…

https://www.thames21.org.uk/project-reedbed-2/#:~:text=Reedbeds%20are%2….

http://www.millenniumassessment.org/en/index.html

https://www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/habitat-explorer/ponds-and-pingos

https://www.herefordshirewt.org/iceageponds/visit-ice-age-pond