Ice Age Ponds Project
Our Ice Age Ponds Project begins in earnest this year with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Project aims to save the area’s unique glacial ponds. These incredible heritage ponds were created around 20,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, when woolly mammoths were still roaming the area. Remarkably many of these ponds still exist today! This exciting new project is being delivered by a partnership of local conservation organisations that include Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team and the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.
Herefordshire’s Ice Age or ‘Kettle Hole Ponds’ are an important but poorly understood feature of the landscape. Towards the end of the last ice age, around 23–24,000 years ago, a tongue of ice expanded into North West Herefordshire. Although this ice expansion was brief, it abruptly and dramatically changed the landscape.
Kettle holes form when glacial sands and gravels from the melting glaciers pile up around blocks of ice carved from the retreating glacier front. When the ice blocks melt they leave depressions up to 10 metres deep. Remarkably some of these ponds persist today, an incredible legacy that has survived for over 20,000 years and are both ecologically and geologically interesting.
Nationally ice age ponds are scarce; it has been estimated that probably less than 2% of lowland ponds are natural and probably only 1% of these are Ice Age in origin. However, in Herefordshire we are privileged as this rises to approximately 25%, representing a nationally important resource.
Over time, sediment and peat accumulated in these natural ponds and diverse aquatic habitats with rich assemblages of plants and animals developed. Today, they continue to host distinctive ecosystems that depend on their peculiar topography and drainage conditions. Intact kettle hole ponds can be very rich in aquatic life including all five of the county’s amphibian species.
Sadly, ice age ponds are also vulnerable and are regularly damaged or destroyed. They have received little investigation and are poorly understood by the public and the scientific community. The funding that we have secured will enable the project partners to engage with local communities and landowners to protect many of the remaining ponds. We will discover their historic and present wildlife and create trails and interpretation that explores the ponds and their history.
The Conserving Herefordshire's Ice Age Ponds project in Herefordshire has been awarded £252,600 to protect remaining kettle hole ponds in the county which provide a unique and rare habitat for wildlife.
Initial National Lottery funding enabled a development phase to take place last year (2019) when ponds were mapped and surveyed, allowing the project team to see exactly what was needed to go ahead with restoration. The development phase also provided an opportunity to engage with local communities and an army of enthusiastic volunteers were trained in pond survey techniques, supported by visits to local schools and other community events.
Senior Conservation Manager at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Andrew Nixon said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to restore ponds which have been key features of Herefordshire’s landscapes for literally thousands of years. Over this time, the ponds have formed an important network across the countryside which many species of wildlife relied upon. Over recent decades, as ponds have ceased to be needed on farms or in villages, ponds have been filled in, or simply become overgrown, and the wildlife associated with this habit is being lost.”
Dr Angela Julian, Coordinator of Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK said, “As well as preserving our precious local biodiversity, this exciting new project is an important step to prevent us from losing these unique and ancient ponds from our landscape, and by engaging communities in their restoration will ensure that they will persist for future generations to enjoy”.
As the ponds are restored, interpretation will also be created to explain the importance of the ponds. This will include signs and walking and cycling routes but also digital interpretation allowing people a glimpse into the pre-historic past through their smart phones!
A mammoth task?
The project is being delivered by a partnership of local conservation organisations: Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team and the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.