By Keith Edwards
The pond on Woodlands Hill, in the parish of Holford and owned by the National Trust, is believed to be a mediaeval stock pond. In the last 30 years it has become increasingly dry in the summer to the point that frogs have only bred successfully about once every 5/6 years.
I saw the announcement of the Greater Quantock Landscape Development Fund as a potential opportunity to bring back one of the few ponds on the northern common. When I floated the idea with the local National Trust Rangers, they were very happy with it and have since provided considerable help and advice. We were successful in getting funding, greatly helped by a very welcome grant from Friends of Quantock. The plan was coming together! The belief was that the pond had silted up and less water was coming down the hill due to the increased tree cover taking the water up from the ground. So, the plan was to dig the silt out of the pond and remove a 0.2 hectare area of trees from the slope above the pond. (We particularly hope that this open area will encourage the Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly which has been seen in the area). One of the banks also needed to be repaired and built up. The major problems were – the woodland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so we had to find somewhere acceptable to deposit the silt material; the damaged bank was a bridleway so the bank had to be built to a specific size and quality. Finally,the archaeologists were concerned that we might damage sedimentary silt layers that could hold interesting information, so we had to do an exploratory dig.
The work could not start properly until the end of the bird nesting season, so the contractor finished the silt removal in early October. As soon as the actual pond work was completed we built a hibernaculum near the pond. A hibernaculum is a refuge where a range of wildlife,from beetles to amphibians, can survive the rigours of winter. Our hibernaculum is a pit, about 30cm deep and two metres long, which was then filled with local stone.Logs were then put across the top, the soil and grass replaced and several entrances constructed. The tree contractor started at the beginning of November 2015 and finished the clearance in January 2016 with only some tidying to be done. The pond finally filled by 29 November 2015 and excess water is flowing out through the new pipe (rather than over the bank!). The new bank appears to be watertight, but only time will tell. All that remains is to have a detailed clean-up of the site, including the removal of as many of the holly seedlings as possible.
Fifteen Quantock Countryside Volunteers spent a day in early December pulling up Holly seedlings from the newly cleared area and generally tidying the site. Another day is planned for early February. The clay sediment in the pond finally cleared right at the end of 2015 so that the bottom of the pond is now visible. Then we wait to see if the pond still has water in July. However shallow!