The Freshwater Habitats Trust is the new name for Pond Conservation. I went to their very jolly rebranding presentation on the Thames last week. The Thames is a good illustration of why we need the Trust; it's terribly polluted. For a start, there's London's Victorian sewage system, which is regularly overwhelmed and discharges raw sewage directly into the river when it is.*
Like nearly all of our freshwaters, the Thames has also suffered from a relentless rise in nitrates over 140 years, when records were started. Nitrates run into the river from the agrochemicals used on surrounding land. Around half them wash into the river as surface run off and the other half arrive through ground aquifers, which takes time. This means there's worse to come. And it's not just nitrates; there's ammonia, chlorine, magnesium, calcium... What happens when you have freshwater with high chemical levels? Just fill a pond up with tap water and you'll soon find out! Any aggressive quick growing flora around (sometimes non-native) takes over and you end up with a monotony which is at best unattractive and at worst fetid.
The Thames isn't unusual. The water quality in our ponds, streams and ditches is as bad as it is in our rivers. An estimated 95% of canal lengths have impacted water quality. There is only one lake in England and Wales classifed as "undamaged" (Source: Millenium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). Does this matter? Around 10% of ALL Biodiversity Action Plan species are found in ponds. It matters.
The Freshwater Habitats Trust is trying to put this right. There's a lot to do, especially for such a small organization and in the face of so much official indifference. The Trust is focussing on smaller waterbodies, which have been particularly over-looked. They're not only potentially rich in biodiversity themselves but also have a critical role to play in the broader landscape.
They also offer a chance to engage people, which Pond Conservation did through its Million Ponds project and the Freshwater Habitats Trust
hopes to do with its People, Ponds and Water project from 2015. I think of all the things in our garden it's our pond which has given me the greatest pleasure.
*This is when it rains heavily; we need more Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) as well as major infrastructure improvement to the sewage system.