There are over 20 ponds in and around Fineshade Wood and they contribute greatly to the rich biodiversity. In 2019-20, the ponds described below were given some very careful management work.
Left to themselves ponds tend to get choked with vegetation and to fill up with detritus. A very healthy pond will have a range of aquatic vegetation but the more rampant types can begin to crowd out more delicate species. If trees begin to grow near the pond, leaves, twigs and branches will fall into the water and begin to decay, ruining the water quality.
An old farm pond in Smiths Spinney. Large trees have invaded the pond and compromised its ability to hold water
A well-managed pond in Far Markham's Wood
Fineshade's geology consists of a layer of boulder clay over limestone rock. Over centuries, in the parts of the wood that were previously farmed, people have created clay-lined ponds to retain rainwater for crops and stock. Sometimes, where ponds have been left unmanaged, trees have grown and their roots have reached down through the clay, allowing water to seep away through the limestone rock beneath, About half the ponds in Fineshade are like this and now hold very little water except in the wettest of winters.
Created in the 1990s by FC Wildlife Ranger, Richard Eckton, this pond is fed by a natural spring so the water is usually crystal-clear. It has rich aquatic vegetation (photo left) and a very impressive list of invertebrates have been recorded there.
But even the very best ponds like this one require management from time to time. In the 30 years since its creation trees had begun to encroach upon it, shading out the light and causing too many leaves to decay in the water. In February 2020 many of these trees were carefully hand-felled, with the timber and brash stacked to provide good habitat for terrestrial creatures.
The Hide Pond
This pond was also created by Richard Eckton in the 1990s at the same time as the Deer Lawn and Wildlife hide. It holds water well but not as much as was originally intended. However, in recent years reeds filled the pond so that there was very little open water at all. After monitoring for newts and invertebrates in the autumn, about a quarter of the surface area was cleared of reed and vegetation in early 2019
This pond is tucked away in the middle of Fineshade Wood, well away from any paths or rides. It probably dates from the 19th century when Top Lodge was an active farm and there would have been livestock in need of water in the summer months. For at least 25 years trees have been overshadowing the water and then falling into it. A digger was used to drag out all the fallen trees making the pond look much bigger than it did before.
The Shoot Pond
You can find this pond alongside a ride in Buxton Wood in the eastern part of Fineshade. This is another pond created in the 1990s, but this one was made a place to shoot duck (in those days an active shooting syndicate operated in that part of the woods). It is the largest pond in Fineshade and is very rich botanically and for all sorts of animals. The management work here involved mainly clearing reeds, but also plugging a hole in the clay bank, and clearing a gulley to allow water to flow in more easily.
Friends of Fineshade have been drawing attention to the need for pond management for years, so we are delighted that the work on this has begun. We would like to thank the following who have been instrumental in bringing it about:
all the volunteers - in particular Kevin Rowley, Graham Warnes, John Showers, Brian Laney and Ryan Clark - who have given time and effort to monitor the ponds and record the rich flora and fauna;
Forestry Commission ecologists Andy Taylor and Chris Eckton (son of Richard!) who came, advised and carried out some of the work;
most importantly Scott Martin, Beat Forester, who listened, saw the need, and found some money to make it all happen.
We look forward to reporting on more wildlife using these ponds and more pond management in future years,