Conserving Herefordshire’s Ice Age Ponds

National Lottery funding to restore and explore Herefordshire’s Ice Age kettle hole ponds

Ice Age Ponds help with the National Lottery Heritage Fund

In early 2020, the Ice Age Ponds project was awarded £252,600 through the National Lottery Heritage Fund to protect remaining kettle hole ponds in Herefordshire. These glacial ponds were created at the end of the last Ice Age and amazingly many of these ponds still exist today. The project is being delivered as a partnership of local conservation organisations complementary interests: Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team and Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.

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Earth Heritage Trust’s Project Officer Beth Andrews examining the substrate around a pond.
Earth Heritage Trust’s Project Officer Beth Andrews examining the substrate around a pond.
Lush vegetation at pond at Norton Canon
Lush vegetation at pond at Norton Canon
Formation of Peat Diagrams Herefordshire Ice Age Ponds
Cartoons to illustrate the formation and infill of a kettle hole pond.

What is an Ice Age Pond?

Towards the end of the last Ice Age, around 23-24,000 years ago, a glacier extended from the Welsh mountains into north-west Herefordshire. The expansion probably only lasted a couple of thousand years but it dramatically changed the landscape. Sediment transported and dropped by the glacier has been moulded into mounds (moraines), including large areas of hummocky moraines in which rounded mounds surround closed depressions, often with ponds. There are also flat areas representing lake beds or the floor of glacial streams.

Herefordshire’s Ice Age Ponds are an important but poorly understood feature of the landscape. The most common type are “kettle-holes ponds” They mainly form in the retreat phase when the ice in glaciers stops moving forward and can be buried by gravels, sands and muds reworked by streams and mudflows on the glacier surface. Upstanding areas underlain by clean ice turn into deep depressions as the ice melts, and which can become ponds.

Over a period of perhaps thousands of years, the depressions can fill with sediment including peat, up to 8 m of which has been recorded in one Herefordshire site. Over the long periods of time that these ponds have existed they have built up diverse aquatic habitats and rich assemblages of plants and animals, dependent on their unique history, topography and drainage. The peat deposits can reveal much about changes in climate and vegetation since the ice retreated, making them valuable geological and biological sites.

Sadly, ice age ponds are also vulnerable and are regularly damaged or destroyed. They have received little investigation and are poorly understood by the public and the scientific community.

Project Background and geographical scope

The initial development phase, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, ran for 8 months in 2019 and ecology and geology were both key. Detailed geological mapping using Lidar techniques revealed that there is a larger area of hummocky moraine than previously mapped. Using a Geographic Information System (GIS) different kinds of information can be superimposed. We developed criteria to understand if a particular pond originated in the ice age.  Many volunteers were trained to help with surveying these ponds to help decide how to protect these valuable sites, including planning practical conservation measures at some sites.

Kenchester area. Geological mapping (British Geological Survey Crown Copyright 2019) superimposed on a Lidar image of the landscape with red stars indicating pond sites visited.

The project area is in north western Herefordshire and covers the parts of the county that were previously covered in Ice during the brief glacial advance around 23-24,000 years ago. As Kettle Holes are only found in areas of hummocky moraine, it is here we are starting our investigations.

Western Herefordshire showing extent of ice coverage. The stippled areas contain many ice age ponds.

© Will Watson

Activities in the Delivery Phase

With the help of volunteers we will be finding and surveying more ponds over a larger area.

The Herefordshire Wildlife Trust will work with schools and lead on liaison with landowners and oversight of the practical conservation measures. The Earth Heritage Trust will coordinate volunteers and lead on the work in designing and creating apps and leaflets about the ponds and the glacial landscape. All the partner organizations will support local events to share our findings with local the community groups and visitors.

How to get involved

During the delivery phase of the project we will be very busy surveying more ponds, training volunteers in extra survey skills, creating apps and trails to encourage people to learn more about these wonderful features and visiting schools and community groups across the project area as well as much more.

We cannot manage this without the help of wonderful volunteers. We have lots of different volunteering roles from studying old maps and records to recording specific species, coring for peat to photographing sites and many more.

Contact Beth to Find Out More

© Will Watson

Please visit Herefordshire Wildlife Trust to find out more about the project.

Look out for upcoming training events and talks on our events pages and if you would like to arrange for someone to come and talk to your local group then please contact Dave Hutton the Project Manager.

EMAIL THE PROJECT MANAGER

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