Nettlebed and District Commons



Nettlebed Common Ponds





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The long history of clay extraction for the brick and tile-making industry at Nettlebed has made the common we have today unique among Chiltern commons for its complex of about 100 ponds.  A few of the ponds were originally a source of water for residents of nearby properties, but most have developed in holes created by quarrying.  


What’s special about the ponds?

Several factors combine to make the ponds on Nettlebed Common unique.  Firstly, the sheer number of ponds is extremely unusual.  Water is a scarce resource at the top of the Chilterns and it is the presence of clay around our village which helps retain water in the former quarry pits creating the ponds we see today.  


Geologically, most of Oxfordshire is dominated by neutral or calcareous substrate.  The acidic nature of the clay means that the water in the ponds on Nettlebed Common is naturally fairly nutrient poor.  This means the ponds support some species which are otherwise rare or uncommon elsewhere in the county.  


Another distinctive feature is the nature of the ponds.  We all know that the ponds vary in size and depth, and some of them dry out when there’s no rain.  This means there is a diversity of pond habitats across the entire complex of ponds making Nettlebed Common a good site for wildlife.


All in all, these factors combine to make us very lucky.


What makes a pond good for wildlife?

All ponds can be good for wildlife, no matter how small or large, permanent or temporary, shallow or deep, shady or sunny they are.  Even the traditional village duck pond can support wildlife, but it is non-standard ponds (including newly created ponds, or ponds which are full of silt and leaves) that are more likely to support the rare, unusual or specialist species.  


Ponds vary considerably but there are four main factors that make ponds good for wildlife.  These are


Ecological research has shown that features in ponds which would in the past have been condemned such as fallen trees or trees in ponds are good for wildlife, as are areas that dry out.  These different habitats can support different or specialist species increasing the overall diversity of wildlife in a pond.


Taking care of the ponds

The best time of year for pond management work is the autumn/winter when species are dormant or hibernating and before the spring when frogs, toads and newts (ie amphibians) migrate to ponds to breed.  


Over the next few years the Nettlebed & District Commons Conservators will be working with the Chilterns Conservation Board’s new Commons Project to restore some of the ponds on Nettlebed Common.  Work will be carried out as sensitively as possible to minimise the disturbance to ponds and their surroundings.  

The Conservators will give updates on planned work nearer the time.


The spring before any work starts, the pond concerned will be surveyed to record the species in and around the pond.  This will inform recommendations for work which will improve the pond for wildlife.  This took place earlier this year at Stradwell Pond (at the end of Chapel Lane) and this will be the first pond to benefit from restoration work.  


The type of work undertaken at each pond will vary but include the following options:-


Restoring water quality

Most of the ponds on Nettlebed Common are filled with direct rainwater and local surface run off from the surrounding area.  It is therefore important that this water is not polluted.  The most usual form of pollution comes from piles of garden rubbish or compost heaps which are high in nutrients.  Where present, these will be removed.  


Where appropriate, silt may be removed from some ponds to improve the quality of the water.  


Reducing shade

Some of the ponds are surrounded by trees which cast a dense shade.  Some trees will be felled to let more light into the pond.  These will often be trees on the southern bank of ponds to fit in with the movement of the sun.  A mix of sunlight and shade benefits pond invertebrates and cold-blooded amphibians.


Creating open water

To increase the amount of permanent open water, some trees which have fallen into ponds will be removed. Some sprawling willows (which are very thirsty trees) will also be removed where this is appropriate.  


Animals and plants

The work will allow seeds of some plants to germinate and others will colonise in time.  There will be no new planting and the Conservators ask the help of local residents to ensure that plants not present elsewhere on the common (such as non-native species like water lilies or the invasive New Zealand Pigmyweed) are not introduced.  


Similarly, animals will colonise naturally.  While fish are a natural part of large ponds, they can damage small ponds as they eat insect larvae as well as the eggs and tadpoles amphibians, stir up the silt and excrete nutrients.  Did you know that the movement of any fish needs to be licensed and approved by the Environment Agency?


Monitoring

It will be important to monitor the effect of all restoration work to gauge its success.  Repeat surveys of the plants, insects and amphibians will be carried out.  If you would like to get involved with this important work, please contact the Clerk to the Conservators.


If you have any questions about the restoration of ponds on Nettlebed Common, please contact the Clerk to the Conservators.


Local pond expert, Rod d’Ayala, knows the ponds on Nettlebed Common extremely well and is providing the Conservators with advice.


More information about ponds can be found on Pond Conservation’s website -www.pondconservation.org.uk




Stradwell Pond, Nettlebed
Picture - clive ormonde