Coleshill Pond

pond

The Village Pond is situated in the heart of the village adjacent to Village road. It is owned and managed by Parish Council.

Aquatic plants grow around the edge of the pond and fish have lived in the pond for many years. The pond is also home to a large number of ducks as well as wild water birds.

A management plan for the pond has recently been produced and can be viewed here.

 

This Winter I have made several low hazel hurdles which I have knocked into the bed of the pond to make enclosures behind which to build up pond silt thereby creating the mud flats into which we can plant selected indigenous plants. We have built up two sites, one at either end of the pond, so each gets the sun at opposite ends of the day. We plan to buy a few plants and plant them soon.
Graham Thorne

The Pond makes slow but trouble free progress. There were a few frogs, toads and newts observed optimistically spawning. The best development is that two plant species have appeared, probably due to all the stirring up of the silt in certain areas last autumn and the clearer water and the lack of grazing by the carp. They are Floating Sweet Grass and, most encouragingly, three small colonies of a species of Water Crowfoot. In one of the old photos that we have of the pond we can see that a large mat of this pretty plant was growing in the pond.

The water was beautifully clear for a while after the winter and you could see that it was teeming with small life but has since become a bit cloudy. I have asked our ecologist why this has happened. He enigmatically suggested that I have look at a sample under a microscope and I would see why. I’ve tried but my microscope skills have let me down so far. However it is another way of understanding the pond.
Graham Thorne

 

Graham Thorne

To conclude the Walrus and the Carpenter (from the Autumn newsletter): we’ve had the Seven Maids with Seven Mops (though most of them were male!) but only for a morning and indeed it would take more than half a year to get it clear. But, as our encouraging ecologist replied to my report: “The pond has taken many years to get into the condition it is - and you taking a few to get it back to something more ecologically sound should not be viewed as a problem.”

“Ecologically sound”, I like that. So, still no bitter tears.

017

To recap: we had a small team from the Chiltern Rangers nature conservation enterprise who joined in with seven (oh, there were seven!) villagers who paddled, waded and raked doggedly for three hours, only interrupted by a fine elevenses at Audrey and Hugh McDaid’s house.

The job didn’t go as well as I had hoped. With a cautious wisdom it was described as ‘experimental’ by our team leader. Our methods weren’t very efficient. If money went through my hands at the rate silt went through our rakes’ tines I’d be ….poor. The retaining revetment wasn’t built but we can weave some low hurdles made from split hazel which I am advised to reinforce with logs (we have plenty on the Common) and any brash we generate. Then maybe the exciting bit – to plant it with suitable plants to consolidate the silt.

It has provided opportunities to develop some creative methods of shifting silt to where we want it. If at first you don’t succeed - adapt.
Graham Thorne

Many thanks to Chris, Audrey, Derek, Dave, Jeremy and Derek2 and Graham

The pond began to dry out and the water level drew down leaving behind the margin of muddy silt – not yet the margin of water plants that we aim to encourage. I was glad that it made the fish barriers unnecessary and plants began to germinate.

The water took on the appearance of unfiltered olive oil when the sun was on it due to all the algae blooming in the water. The algae reduces the available oxygen overnight. Finally in August we became concerned about the ability of fish to survive. Allowing fish to die off would not be acceptable so I contacted the Environment Agency for advice on the proper procedure. They sent a member of the local fisheries team who, appraising the conditions, advised us that re-homing the fish would be best for them. By this time maybe eight large hybrid carp had died.

An EA approved contractor came on Thursday 20th August and with two sweeps of a seine net and two passes of electro-fishing removed a large number of fish:

Species caught: No: Size:
    (figures in brackets are estimates)
Carp (Cyrinus carpio) 37 (0.2-1.5kg)
Goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus) 32 (150mm)
Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus) 90 (60-150mm)
Perch (Perca fluviatilis) 3 (125mm)

The carp, rudd and perch went to a sailing club in Abingdon, who paid us for them. They want the carp to graze the weeds, which is why we don’t want them. The brown goldfish can hybridise with populations of indigenous carp so are harder to re-home (see www.crucians.org).

So the fish are gone for now and maybe the heron will look a bit down at the beak for a while and have to go off to Shardeloes. We can now attend to the next problem in our plan to revive the pond for wildlife: reduction in the amount of silt.

As usual we have been acquiring advice and the consensus is to proceed in modest increments. We have met the Chiltern Rangers local conservation team and will plan with them a half-day project with volunteers, probably sometime in October, to rake back silt in two areas of the pond and contain it behind low revetments, low enough to remain submersible at high water times, so using the silt on site to build up low boggy areas suitable for marginal plant vegetation.

When we achieve our objective of developing the pond to a condition suitable for a wider variety of species once more, we will contact the Crucian Carp Conservation Project (see www.anglingtrust.net: Freshwater Campaigns: Crucian Carp Project, for the background). Talking with a couple of villagers who fished the pond when in their teens (the 1990’s then), they told me that they caught crucian carp, gudgeon, rudd, tench and dace. A very different pond then? And no big carp.

However, when considering the volume of silt, I do recite to myself from the Walrus and the Carpenter:

If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose” the Walrus said
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it” said the Carpenter And shed a bitter tear.

No bitter tears please.
Graham Thorne

Fish Rescue Photos by Penny Ware

It is nearly springtime and Chris Wege and I have just had a meeting with the ecologist, Rod, and the eco-hydrologist, Curt, hoping to find a route through the tangle of problems and solutions towards a plan to improve the pond for wildlife whilst also making it much more attractive to the village.

We have had a series of potential plans, each modified on closer inspection. In the last article it was considered that solving the water quality problem had become too difficult and contentious. The vision was now cleared for a new objective; the establishment of suitable vegetation and its protection until it is established enough to sustain itself against the twin devourers, the ducks and the fish. We knew it would have to be the fish of course, but how?

So we had the meeting with the ecologists and after much experienced observation of the pond - a typical village pond indicating all the deficiencies for wildlife that their recent histories have often made them suffer from - we closed in on the way forward. The best way is to remove all the fish, ideally by draining the pond.

Silence.

Or, we could control them by creating fish free areas in which the plants could thrive. The pond is suitable since much of it shelves gently and we could design areas of the pond in which we would build natural barriers of woven hazel and shingle within which to plant and nurture suitable plant species and exclude the fish. These areas would need further protection from the ducks with a covering of hemp netting until large enough to sustain themselves. One good thing is the costs of the project seem to come down each time.

This is a summary of a very convoluted discussion much of which went on between Rod and Curt whilst Chris and I stood by trying to follow it. But this solution pleases me in two ways:

Firstly, I have never liked the idea of the pond without fish. Fish and ponds go together. Surely, fish can’t be all bad. As I mentioned to them both, we have memories of a time when villagers fished a pond which included a bit of everything: vegetation of all sorts, fish, ducks, amphibians (in particular the now rare and protected Crested Newts) and the rare plant the Starfruit*.

Secondly, it offers further opportunities to restore vegetation by buying us time to wait for suitable conditions which would enable us to remove the fish and attend to the thing that we have bypassed as too difficult, the water quality. If the water level dropped significantly one summer we could manually remove some of the silt within which is fixed the over-burden of nutrients. It would be terrific added to your garden soil.

Next we will be searching for advice about creating the barriers, then deciding where to build some test barriers, then researching suitable species to plant.
Graham Thorne

starfruit* The charity Plantlife says the Starfruit (Damasonium alisma) is: “A distinctive waterloving plant with simple, white flowers on short stems and large, spiky, star-like fruits after flowering. Formerly found sporadically in southern-central counties of England, it was restricted to 3 native sites by 1990, 2 in Bucks (one was us!) and one in Surrey. Where overgrown or neglected ponds have been cleared, the plant has reappeared in some of its old haunts, although it has not managed to appear continuously from year to year. Classified as Critically Endangered”.

During this Autumn I have been considering the collected information and advice to decide how best we can progress in restoring some wildlife-supporting pond habitat. I found myself caught between two factions: local nature conservation ecologists and professional lake and pond management services. After the talk by Mr Wesley we had become interested in some of his advised treatments such as liming. The local ecologists advised against this as they say it is not appropriate for small natural ponds. The processes listed in the Autumn newsletter have been revised.

So I began to think, what is the basic requirement which would promote wildlife? Of course, vegetation! Vegetation always has to come first. It provides so many fundamentally vital functions without which nothing else can thrive and of course it also adds interest and attractiveness. We have good photographs and memories of a well vegetated pond a generation ago when there were crested newts and the annual migration of frogs and toads. So, though the poor water quality has been the most consistent focus for concern it may be that since its treatment is so contentious we could bypass it.

So, what affects the establishment and colonization of vegetation on the pond? There are two culprits: fish and ducks, which do many of the same things destructively affecting the habitat of a small pond. Both eat vegetation, defecate in the water (thus adding nutrients) and stir up the silt into a murk which also recycles the nutrients but prevents light from penetrating the water and promoting growth of plants. However, ducks are like a wild pet for parents to begin to introduce their children to our fellow creatures. So, it is the fish which we plan to deal with, although there are logistical problems.

Rod D'Ayala, who wrote the scoping report for our pond prior to the dredging, is the main ecologist I have been in discussion with and he firmly states that we have to remove all the fish as they will prevent the re-establishment of vegetation. What I am sure people will ask - as I do myself – is, surely the pond always had fish (and ducks!) so why would we try to remove all the fish? I can only say that we need to reset the habitat of the pond and establish vegetation once more and of course fish will find their way back one day - one way or another!

Rod will be coming to pay us a visit to help develop our plans and the shortened list is now as follows: remove the fish, decide on a suite of local plant species which may thrive in the pond and plan a planting scheme which may include some protective measures to keep the ducks away from them until they get established.
Graham Thorne
722540

dabchick

Restoring a Natural habitat to Clenemer

or

A Good Home for a Dabchick

 

For many years there seems to have been something wrong with Clenemer the village pond. It served what most people think is the most important function, to have a population of ducks for the children to feed, but for some who have an appreciation of wildlife it was not functioning anywhere nearly as well as it should. We have always been of the opinion that if the pond were good for wildlife once more that would also make it attractive to the villagers.

What had gone wrong with it? Well, it might be interesting to speculate upon ) but we weren't going to waste a lot of time doing so unless it revealed a valuable solution. There was anecdotal and factual evidence that it once supported more indigenous wildlife: crested newts, water crowfoot, starfruit, a dabchick, toad and frog migrations. Villagers recalled youngsters catching fish on rod and line. What features and conditions would help us feel that the pond is back to useful life for wildlife? My personal desired conclusion would be when a dabchick (or Little Grebe) is once again seen fishing on the pond.

Five years ago, a decision was made to try to reduce the silt load of Clenemer by dredging and thereby improve the water quality which in turn it was hoped would result in a pond which was a healthier freshwater habitat in which a much wider range of wildlife could thrive.

Recently Chris Wege put a lot of effort into writing a management plan for the pond. During this process Chris and I observed that the dredging had not seemed to make much of an improvement. It seemed like the same old pond with the same old problems. So we thought we would just do a few quiet researches to see what we could find that might more naturally improve the pond.

Mirror Carp Found in the Pond
 Mirror Carp Found in the Pond

The first success was that Chris found information which described the detrimental effect that non-native and hybrid carp have on small ponds. Basically they eat the place out. They are a species which can completely dominate their environment if not controlled by predators.
Mirror Carp found the pond

Secondly, Chris found a human predator, a man who runs a fish farm who could come and deplete by removing many of the carp. He also has a long practical history of pond and lake management and came to talk to us on this speciality of his at our AGM in the village hall. Like many we were impressed by his knowledge and so are prepared to accept his advice. Chris and I have drawn up an intention list of processes which we would like to establish for the pond that could improve the water quality. They are:
Removing the carp

  • Liming the pond
  • Applying barley straw treatments
  • Persuading people to feed the ducks on grain supplied in packets - see the RSPB advice on the village website
  • Planting a reed bed to filter the runoff from the road drain.
  • Planting the pond with indigenous aquatic plants once the conditions seem suitable for their survival.

We hope to begin work on the first three processes this autumn. Patience is required, these natural processes take time to work.
Graham Thorne
722540

More information about these three processes, with technical details, will be available on the website in due course.

The ducks on the Village Pond give us all a lot of pleasure. Before feeding the ducks, please read and follow this advice from the RSPB.

Feeding Bread to Ducks RSPB Advice

Bird-lovers in the Midlands are running the risk of killing ducks, geese and swans – with kindness. By being fed bread the birds can develop a health condition which can prevent them from flying. As a result, victims might be unable to seek out more nutritious natural food, and could eventually starve to death. Bird experts are warning well-meaning families to stop throwing starchy scraps to ducks, geese and swans on park ponds, lakes and rivers in the region. They say that it is much better to give them properly balanced food which is easy and cheap to buy.

Graham Madge, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said: "Feeding ducks on the park pond – or geese and swans on rivers – has become a long-established favourite pastime for many people, especially parents with young children.
"It is an excellent way for the public to have contact with birdlife and for toddlers to learn to appreciate ducks, geese and swans later in life. "But feeding bread – or we've often seen chips – to birds can lead to them developing health problems.

"Food thrown into the water, but not eaten, can also cause difficulties with nutrient build-up in the water, especially in closed water like ponds and lakes.

"We don't want to stop people from feeding ducks, geese and swans but they should consider buying properly balanced food which is available from pet shops or from vets.
"They are even partial to pieces of cut-up green vegetables, which are good for them and which people can take from home."

The major health problem to birds caused by over-feeding with bread is a condition known as Angel Wing – deformed wing growth which stops birds from flying. Too much bread or chips also causes bloating, making the birds lethargic and ill-looking. The imbalance of protein and carbohydrates in the diet is passed on by adult birds to ducklings, goslings and cygnets as they develop in the egg, and causes deformed wings as they grow up. Significantly, the condition is unknown in areas where humans do not feed birds.

Local councils across the Midlands are also concerned about uneaten food floating on park ponds and lakes, and lying on the banks of rivers which, as well as being unsightly, can attract rats. Left-over bread can also become riddled with bacteria and – by attracting large numbers of birds to places where people regularly feed them – there is also a problem with fouling on grassed and paved areas.

A veterinary practice in Bewdley, Worcestershire, has become so worried about the potential health hazard in the town that it has put up warning signs along the promenades beside the River Severn. Riverside Vets, aiming to 'Keep Bewdley's Birds Beautiful', is selling suitable bird food for 50p a bag, with proceeds going to charity.

The delayed work on the village pond started on 5th January.

The contractors arrived at about 9.00am and please do not worry about the fish or ducks. The contractors have experienced people on hand to take care of it all.

Photographs kindly provided by Paul Windsor, John Jefford, Colin Lambert, Richard Valentine and London Rock Company.

Note, this was not the first pond clean up. Here are a couple of pictures from an earlier exercise. Do you recognise the good looking young man in the second picture?