|The largest scrape being dug at Grochall nr Kynance|
In common with many conservation organisations nationally, we’ve been doing our bit to try to reverse the long-term decline in the number of ponds in the wider countryside.
Thanks to funding through Higher Level Stewardship schemes and the Millennium Million Ponds Project administered by Pond Conservation (now renamed the Freshwater Habitats Trust), we’ve dug over 15 new ponds and scrapes on National Trust land on The Lizard in the last 4 years.
At Grochall, 10 new ponds were dug in 2011 in rush pastures close to the heathland of Lizard Downs, with the aim of giving a quiet refuge for wildlife. Some of the ponds hold water all year and have proven popular with dragonflies, and others are shallow seasonal scrapes, great for water beetles and other rapid colonisers.
|new scrape on Predannack Airfield (photo JC)|
Spurred on by the success of these first ponds, we went on in 2012 to undertake a more ambitious project on Predannack Airfield, the southern half of which is owned by the National Trust. The Airfield was built, as many were, as part of the WW2 war effort, and it remains a military airfield today, being a satellite site to RNAS Culdrose. With the MoD’s support, we were able to reinstate long lost scrapes and trackways shown on an 1880 map, but redundant and overgrown since the 1940s.
We’ve had some fantastic exciting news in recent weeks, with the discovery of two plants of conservation concern in the large new scrape on the airfield, on a June 2014 visit with our Cornwall Botanical Recorders. Pillwort is a rare and unusual grass like creeping fern that thrives in seasonal acid pools. It is named after its distinctive round sporocarps (reproductive bodies) found at the base of the fronds. Pillwort is a Biodiversity Action Plan Species, and is classed as near threatened nationally, so it was great to see it in abundance, forming light green mats in the shallows.
|the rare grass like fern, pillwort (CWT)|
It was also fantastic to find the delicate little flowers of yellow centaury on the newly scraped bare mud, a nationally scarce plant of the gentian family. Both pillwort and yellow centaury are esteemed members of the ‘puddle gang’. These are rare plants for which the Lizard is famous, growing in selected trackways and heathland scrapes which are seasonally damp.
|Yellow centaury (CWT)|
|new pond in an arable field at Tregullas, Lizard village|
Our 3 newest ponds were completed at Tregullas, The Lizard in October 2013, and unlike those at Grochall and Predannack which were on or near heathland, these ponds are very much about giving farmland wildlife a helping hand. The ponds are in the corners of arable fields south of Lizard village, between the village and Bass Point, and should be deep enough to hold water year round, drought years excepted. So far so good! This area historically had several ponds associated with brick clay extraction, but all had been infilled by the 1970s. We therefore wanted to put wetlands back in the landscape, and give farmland wildlife a boost. Within a few weeks a snipe was spotted probing the edges of the ponds, and swallows swoop low over the surface as they take insects on the wing. And a handy bi-product of these new ponds has been a steady supply of lovely modelling clay for our kids events!
Looking to the future, we would love to be able to get in place some more detailed monitoring of our new wetlands (do shout if you are a dab hand with water beetles), and we have plans for further HLS funded scrapes to the north of Predannack Airfield, on farmland that was once heathland at Teneriffe.
Taken in the context of all the other great work done to reinstate ponds and trackways by our conservation partners locally, for example CWT/CBWPS at Windmill Farm, and NE/St Keverne Parish Council, then it feels that we really have taken great strides forward for wetland wildlife on the Lizard in the last few years, proving how a little water and mud here and there can add up to an awful lot of new and improved habitat!