On the 11th June, many local people enjoyed the wonderful ponds on Nick Anema’s farm as part of LEAF’s Open Farm Sunday 2017. But his ponds weren’t always like this… as you can read below in Nicks’s own account of being personally involved in his own farmland pond restoration project.
Nick Anema is a farmer in Dereham, Norfolk. He has 7 ponds on his 420 acres of land. In 2013, he took part in the UCL Ghost Pond project, as part of PhD student Emily Alderton’s research, which involved restoring one overgrown pond and excavating one in-filled pond. Since then, Nick’s farmland ponds have gone from strength to strength.
Why did you decide to get involved in the Ghost Pond research project?
“I read an advert on the Farm Conservation Network. I was interested because I’d always suspected that there had been a pond on one area of my farm; I’d even looked at historic Tithe maps of the area on line. When I read about Emily’s project I thought this was the perfect way to explore this further.”
Were you aware that you had a ghost pond on your farm before the start of the project?
“I had looked into restoring ponds on my land through the countryside stewardship scheme before I heard about the Ghost Pond project but I was put off by the cost and advice to leave the pond alone and just coppice trees along the bank to let light in.”
What were your ponds like before restoration?
“I had previously coppiced some of the trees on the banksides of some of my ponds, but I had not done anything more than this. I could tell that one had been used to dump rubbish in the 1950s onwards as I found a washing up bottle with a price of two shillings printed on it. There were other items in there too like wire rope, steel, tyres and wheels. The pond that we restored had some Watercress in it but most of the pond was heavily shaded and so there was not a lot there. It was really silted up and it didn’t hold water all year around. There was so much silt that it was difficult to tell what had silted up naturally and what had been dumped.”
What happened in the restoration process?
“The ghost pond was excavated in October 2013 and one of my overgrown ponds was restored at the same time. The restored pond ended up being 15ft deep! I was really surprised because the ghost pond had plants growing in it before Christmas! The pond plants grew quicker in the ghost pond, possibly because it was shallower. Within twelve months there were pond plants throughout both the ghost pond and the restored pond. They were completely different though: the ghost pond was virtually covered in Broad-leaved Pondweed but the restored pond doesn’t have any Broad-leaved pond weed.
In comparison, year two was a bit of a disappointment. Mainly because the first year has seen such dramatic changes – I was expecting the same again! Things started to stabilise. Ducks caused more of a problem in the second year and it was also a colder start to the year. But’s that how it is with ponds; it works in cycles – each year is different. And that’s what makes it interesting!”
Are there different plant and animal species in your ponds now than previously?
“Well of course there was nothing in the ghost pond before-hand! It was just grass margin so it’s completely different now!!! Now there must be at least 10 species of aquatic plant and there are amphibians too. I’ve seen frogs and toads breeding and I’ve seen newts in there but I’ve never seen the efts (immature newts).” Take a look at Nick’s underwater GoPro Footage for evidence!
Is there anything of particular interest to you?
“Yes – I think the restored pond may have Great Crested newts in it.”
How do you feel about Great Crested Newts?
“Well, people worry about them because they think it will restrict what they can do on the farm but it’s more of a problem for housing development. However – I’ve no plans like that for this part of the farm so it’s actually great!
As kids we used to collect Smooth Newts from the ponds around the farm and put them in the pond near the house, but we never saw Great Crested Newts. So for me this project has been so much more rewarding than just being paid to grow a conventional crop. It is better than just planting a monoculture – just planting a crop for money – it’s not that exciting. But knowing that you might leave a farm in a better condition than you started, well that’s a fantastic thing to achieve.”
What has the project taught you?
“It takes more than coppicing overgrown hedges and trees around a pond to improve it for wildlife. The project has taught me that you can increase biodiversity in ponds by removing some of the silt.”
How did the research project impact on your farming?
“The project didn’t change the way we farmed. The other ponds on the farm were already buffered so it was just a matter of adjusting the buffer for the new ghost pond. This is a bit of a pain because now it juts into the field a bit but its manageable. I have another ghost pond in another field but it is right in the middle. If we had excavated this one instead it would be more of a ‘pain in the backside’ as it would affect spraying and the combine and plough. As the ghost pond we restored was already making a dip and taking up most of the 6m margin it made much more sense to do this one, plus the wildlife was already there on the edge of the field and it always lay wet.”
Why had you not restored your pond before the project?
“When we went into the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in 2001, we did originally put pond restoration in, but we were advised not to do anything but coppice the trees by the FRCA. It seemed like an overly cautious approach.”
Will you continue to manage your ponds in the future? And if so – why?
“Yes I will – and I have done already. In 2014, I restored two other ponds on my farm. One 300m from the ghost pond and one of two in another part of the farm. In 2015, I did the second of the two – which I think is better than doing them at the same time. There is one pond I will not restore on my farm and so I will have a combination of all stages of pond. Will I continue? Yes, because I’ve seen so many benefits. Not just to the aquatic plants but the invertebrates and birds, and also an increase in amphibians.”
Has being involved in the project changed your opinion of your ponds?
“Yes – it has made them much more interesting! Before, I didn’t visit them regularly, now not a week goes past before I wander over to see what is happening. I’ve even bought a dipping net and a GoPro camera – that’s how I found out the newt efts were in there!”
You are now part of the Norfolk Ponds Project – why did you decide to keep involved in this conservation work?
“Because you never really stop learning! You see this in farming quite a lot. In other sectors, people do their degrees and once they’ve done that they think there isn’t that much more to learn. In farming, you are continuously learning new things and new skills. Techniques that were once used in the past are now coming back into play. Like the way were using clover and legumes again. It has been fascinating being involved in this pond conservation and I love being involved to learn if there is more we can do!”
If you would like to visit Nick’s ponds he will be opening his farm to visitors again on June 10th as part of Open Farm Sunday 2018. Emily’s ‘Ghost Pond’ research was recently published in Biological Conservation. More information and a link can be found here.