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A New Approach to Protecting Britain's Freshwater .... by Kathryn Walker, Freshwater Habitats Trust

Posted by: Gareth Dinnage | Jan 13, 2014

 From Pond Conservation to Freshwater Habitats Trust

Thursday 12 September 2013 saw the launch of Oxford based charity Freshwater Habitats Trust to spearhead the fight against biodiversity loss in Britain’s freshwaters.

The Freshwater Habitats Trust will build on 25 years work as Pond Conservation, to bring a new approach to protecting our streams, ponds, ditches, rivers and lakes. The new Trust will place particular emphasis on creating areas of clean water, something that has now almost vanished from large parts of the landscape and which is vital for our wildlife.

The extent of damage to freshwaters – especially from pollution - is quite astonishing, and hasn’t been helped by misleading official statements that ‘rivers are at their cleanest for over a century’. Freshwater Habitats Trust’s research shows that in typical English countryside – with a mixture of farms, villages and small towns – 95% of streams, ponds, rivers and lakes have pollution levels which damage their biology.

In fact:

•    There are barely a handful of undamaged rivers left in England; even in remote parts of Scotland fewer than 1 in 10 rivers is undamaged

•    Lakes: just one lake in England and Wales is classed as undamaged

•    87% of headwater streams east of the line from the Humber to the Dorset coast are biologically degraded

•    Ponds: 92% are biologically degraded

•    95% of canals have impacted water quality.

Pollution is so pervasive that many people have never seen a clean and healthy pond or stream.  They don’t realize the richness and beauty of these habitats.  Freshwaters have become muddy polluted places to avoid, rather than habitats where you want to take your shoes off and paddle and where children can safely splash and play.

Freshwater life is suffering too and many iconic species are now at all-time low: salmon, native crayfish, eels, water voles and 100s of other less well-known plants and animals: the amazing ancient Tadpole Shrimp, the delicate pillwort fern whose minute fronds uncurl to create lush green underwater lawns, the Southern Damselfly, the Pearl Mussel: all are found in so few places that a chance pollution event, and unexpected flood or simply a year or two of bad weather could lead to their complete extinction in this country.

To counter these threats the Freshwater Habitats Trust will take a new approach, focusing particularly on smaller waters, usually the most important for biodiversity. The Trust will use novel methods – for example, using clean water pond creation in its Million Ponds Project to increase the area of unpolluted freshwater, and working from the top of stream catchments downstream to clean them up – something which, surprisingly, existing projects don’t automatically do.

And they vow not to waste money on solutions which aren’t proven: like putting back bends in large rivers which have been straightened for land drainage.

They’ll also be starting monitoring programmes that cover all waters, big and small.  At present, official monitoring programmes are highly selective – focusing almost entirely on big and obvious waters.  This means that the smaller waters where most wildlife lives go largely unmonitored and, as a result, barely, if at all, protected.

Jeremy Biggs – who directs the new organization – said: ‘People have long assumed that most life is found in the biggest waters.  But research over the last 20 years has shown that surprisingly a wider variety of plants and animals live in the smallest waters – ponds, headwaters, streams, even man-made ditches where these are unpolluted – than in bigger lakes and rivers.

Chairman of the Freshwater Habitats Trust, Martin Layer said: Freshwater is just about the most threatened part of the natural world – our experience has shown that we can make a difference by combining outstanding technical knowledge with real practical action.  Now we want to extend that approach to all freshwater.

The new charity builds on 25 years as Pond Conservation (their previous name).
To find out more or to support the Trust’s work, visit: