Practically Perfect Pinkhill

Pinkhill Meadow, Oxfordshire, from space: to the left is the R. Thames, to the right Farmoor Reservoir

During the last week I’ve made a couple of visits to ‘our’ Pinkhill Meadow nature reserve.

I say ‘our’ in inverted commas because actually it’s not ours, but is very much a joint venture between Thames Water, who own it,  the Environment Agency, who paid for most of it, and Pond Conservation. Our role was really to help with the design of the site, and oversee its construction – and it has since become our most important demonstration site.

Pinkhill is a set of ponds sandwiched between the Thames and Farmoor Reservoir, west of Oxford.

The ponds were made nearly 20 years ago now – and the site is important not only because it is a lovely place but because it is one of the most important demonstration sites for the principles of the Million Ponds Project – showing how making new clean water ponds in the landscape helps to protect freshwater wildlife more generally, not just the things that live in ponds.

Pinkhill is particularly important because, with funding from the Environment Agency, we have been able to carefully monitor the ponds as they have developed over the years – and it’s this monitoring which has revealed that 20% of all Britain’s freshwater wetland plants have been seen at this one location – all colonising naturally – and also 20% of the bigger freshwater invertebrates. They too have colonised entirely naturally.

Pinkhill is really the first place in Britain (perhaps the world) where a set of ponds and pools have been designed based on real knowledge of how ponds actually work, as opposed to the many myths that, until a few years ago, dominated approaches to pond creation.

I will return to some of these principles a little later.

For now its enough to know that I saw three Biodiversity Action Plan species that breed on the site: Common Toad, Reed Bunting and Grasshopper Warbler, as well as Cettis Warbler and a pair of Barn Owls. Many of the individual ponds – there are about 30 on the site: from one-third of a hectare down to a few square metres – are ‘priority ponds’ under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan because of their near natural state and the richness of their plant and animal communities.

Part of that natural richness is due to water beetles – and I also saw a nice range of these, which are some of my favourite animals, including this distinctive stripy beast which goes by the name of Hydaticus seminiger – it’s one of those animals that you are most likely to see in better quality ponds. Interestingly, I have had it visiting my garden pond.

Hydaticus seminiger: a distinctive diving beetle, found in better quality ponds. This picture is from Biopix in Denmark - if you need good freshwater invertebrate pictures for use in publications this is a good place to start, and their charges are very reasonable

I also found a few nice big things too –  including this splendid Water Stick Insect (you can see why I recommend Biopix compared to my efforts!).

A water stick insect in the hand is worth......

All of this life is packed into 2.5 hecatares – showing just what wildlife hot spots ponds can be.

But what’s perhaps most startling of all is that there are hardly any other places like this in Oxfordshire – there are a lot of nice ponds on and around Otmoor (especially on the old meadows that fringe the new RSPB reserve), and there are nice ponds at Little Wittenham Nature Reserve and at err, well…actually it’s hard to think of many places. There are the odd ones scattered about, but the truth is, concentrations of good quality ponds, like those at Pinkhill, which ought to be a commonplace, are remarkably rare.


2 Responses to “Practically Perfect Pinkhill”

  1. Ben @ Garden Furniture Centre Says:

    The project looks massive, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it once completed. It is vital we start looking after our natural fauna and flora, as it’s a one way street and we’re already losing honey bees!

    Keep up the good work and let us know how it goes.

  2. Retirement with No Problem » Messin’ about on the River Tra La Says:

    […] an earlier post, Thames Water should put their money to their customer needs at this time, but if this blog post is anything to go by, the Environment Agency are paying for it!  […]

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