Where are all the good ponds gone?

The Fowl's Pill last week: one of the few ponds in Oxfordshire in good condition, and also one of the best ponds in the country. If you're wondering where the water is I'll be writing more about that later

One of the most shocking things about the modern landscape is how hard it is to find a good quality pond to visit – protected from pollution and supporting the full range of life you should naturally see in a pond. And what this means is that very few people ever see what should be completely normal and commonplace – a wildlife rich, unpolluted pond. There’s a danger that our collective memory of what such ponds are like will gradually disappear as the turbid green, overfertilised, water of the typical countryside pond comes to seem normal.

From where I’m sitting now, looking at an area 10 miles around, there are only a handful of ponds in good condition. Sadly this is the norm in many parts of the country.

There’s a couple of ponds on a wildlife trust nature reserve about 3 miles away, then there’s the wonderful Pinkhill Meadow ponds about 7 miles away – but public access is restricted here so that birds are not disturbed, and although I can take VIPs to visit when needed, I can’t just wander in whenever I fancy and have a dabble

In Abingdon, even though we’re right by the river and there’s no shortage of water, pollution is pretty rife – and the one pretty nice pond where we used to go to regularly has now been purchased by a private landowner and so is off limits (though even this pond was impacted by low levels of groundwater pollution). Ironically having helped to make the pond we are now we’re effectively banned from visiting.

So last week I took the time to go a bit further afield to another favourite place – the ponds on the military land at Otmoor. And this is one of my favourite places because it’s one of the few parts of this county where you can still see ponds as they are meant to be.

The Fowl's Pill (below) and the New Pill on Otmoor in Oxfordshire. When Google took their picture the ponds were full

So it was I ended up at what are two very special places. Ponds largely protected from what’s going on in the outside world, filled by clean water, and bursting with life. The strangely named Fowl’s Pill – a ponds which is natural in origin and probably has existed for a very long time – and the New Pill that we made next to it over 10 years ago with the Environment Agency.

And what makes these ponds special is that they are more or less isolated from the pollution that predominates in the surrounding landscape. They are set in about a square kilometere of grassland where nothing nasty goes on – they are filled by rainwater that has drained through grassland that has low densities of cows: it is still farmland. It’s a tribute to the management of the area by the military, farmers and wildlife biologists, that these ponds are as good now as they were when I first knew them nearly 25 years ago.

It’s shocking how few places are like them: it’s the reason why we started the Million Ponds Project to try to make clean, wildlife-rich waterbodies a commonplace again.

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