To bring farmland birds back, restore a farmland pond says WWT

Less than 70 years ago, ponds were a common feature of the farmland landscape and were routinely managed just like hedgerows.

Since the 1950s, many ponds have been filled in to reclaim more land for farming, however, the large number have been left unmanaged, meaning they have become overgrown with trees and bushes, making them dark and inhabitable to many species.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) has been working with the Natural History Museum and University College London on research that shows reinstating traditional pond management methods, of tree and mud removal, can benefit not only pond species, but also farmland birds.

Ponds restored by the Norfolk Ponds Project were compared to neighbouring unmanaged and overgrown ponds; restored ponds contained twice as many bird species and almost three times as many birds as the overgrown ponds.

Bird species at the restored ponds included skylark, linnet, yellowhammer and starling, all species that are Red Listed in the UK because they have declined drastically in recent years.

As well as attracting threatened species, researchers found that the restored ponds attracted twice as many bird species - 36 compared to 18 at the unrestored ponds.

The total number of birds visiting was also greater at restored ponds with almost three times as many birds attracted to the restored ponds.

Lead researcher, Jonathan Lewis-Phillips of UCL’s pond restoration research group said: “Restored ponds are teeming with insects, and because different ponds have insect peaks on different days, birds can move from pond to pond, and get the food that they need. A network of high-quality ponds is therefore brilliant for birds in the breeding season.”

The research comes at a time when farmland birds are under huge threat, having declined by 55 per cent in the last 50 years, according to the recent State of Nature 2019 report.

As well as providing beneficial habitat for woodland birds, farmland ponds also provide important landscape feature and act as stepping-stones for other wildlife including frogs and dragonflies.

Hannah Robson, wetland science manager at WWT said: “Even following long periods of dormancy, overgrown farmland ponds can quickly come back to life, with plants, amphibians and insects starting to colonise them in a matter of months".

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