Prehistoric ‘ghost pond’ restored at The Sturts nature reserve

Prehistoric ‘ghost pond’ restored at The Sturts nature reserve

The Ice Age Ponds Project has just completed its first ‘ghost pond’ restoration at Herefordshire Wildlife Trusts Sturts Reserve.

The Sturts nature reserve, near Letton, lies within the floodplain of the River Wye and today is a beautiful expanse of damp grassland filled with wildflowers and grasses and buzzing with dragonflies through the summer. However, the undulating, uneven fields and scattered ponds are clues to its prehistoric origins: this is a landscape formed by the movement of glaciers around 2,000 years ago.

The ponds on the reserve were actually created during the last Ice Age at the bed of a large glacial lake. As well as being fascinating relics of our prehistoric past, the ponds are also hotspots for biodiversity and their longevity often means they are home to many rare species of pond life including water beetles and aquatic plants. Unfortunately, many of these ponds have been modified or filled in over the centuries and may only be identified now as slight indents in the land or wet areas within the pasture. These are the ice age ‘ghost ponds’. Not much to look at, perhaps, but their origins and close proximity to one another means they are well worth restoring and preserving for wildlife today. So, staff and volunteers from Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, the Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team and the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust are taking action!

This project at Sturts was targeted at a location where experts have predicted an ancient pond once occurred. The team have carefully excavated soil overlying the ancient pond sediments and restored what they believe is the original profile of the pond which includes grey clays laid down when this area was a glacial lake. Beneath these clays the project geologist Beth Andrews has found a layer of peat which is preserved organic matter which may have been formed many thousands of years ago. These deposits may still contain viable seed from species which could be ‘resurrected’ as a result of the restoration work.

Once the pond fills up with autumn and winter rainfall it will provide much needed freshwater habitat alongside the more mature ponds in the area attracting a host of freshwater plants and animals including frogs, newts, beetles, dragonflies and damselflies and rare plants such as tubular water dropwort and bladderwort.

The pond is roughly 35m x 20m and the profile created has very shallow edges grading into a steeper, deeper section at it’s centre. The extracted soil has been spread on species poor grassland nearby an will colonise with native wildflowers and grasses.