The Importance of Freshwater Ecosystems

13 Dec 2022

The new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy offers a significant opportunity to restore Scotland’s ecosystems and reverse species declines. Our natural environment is in crisis, and we urgently need an ambitious new strategy with clear targets. Freshwater ecosystems are essential for biodiversity, providing habitat for a wide array of aquatic species while also helping to reduce the impacts of major threats including climate change, flooding, chemical pollution, and noise pollution. Unfortunately, the number of good quality freshwater habitats in the UK are dwindling, with many ponds being filled in to make room for development, being polluted by chemical run-off, or simply being lost due to poor management.

National wildlife charity Froglife has been tackling this issue through an innovative project, Fife Living Waters, funded by the Scottish Power Foundation. This one-year project has been focused on restoring freshwater ecosystems in Cowdenbeath (Fife, Scotland) through creating and restoring many ponds and engaging with local communities. Fife Living Waters has been working across two key sites, Cowdenbeath Wetland and Swans Pond, delivering ambitious targets for freshwater habitat creation. We have also involved the local community through a variety of engaging and educational activities including volunteer sessions to create new ponds and other habitats, delivering educational school sessions, running pop-up events and much more. The project has engaged with a total of 2,548 people from the local community who will benefit from the fantastic new habitats created in the area, and who now have the knowledge and skills to continue improving their local green spaces.

Cowdenbeath Wetland, despite its name, was no longer functioning as a wetland due to late succession. The few remaining ponds on site were heavily vegetated and unable to hold water. To restore this site to wetland status, we created 83 new ponds, and restored 10 existing ponds at the site. One of the existing ponds was home to Common Frogs, Common Toads and Palmate Newts, with evidence of Common Toads using the pond to breed. Unfortunately, the site was heavily vegetated and there was little open water, making it very limited in its capacity to accommodate breeding amphibians and other wildlife. We removed the excess vegetation, creating open water for amphibians to breed successfully. This is particularly important for newts, as the males require open water to perform courtship displays to attract a mate in the breeding season.

Our second site, Swans Pond, consisted of one very large open body of water which lacked biodiversity. The pond was also well-used by a variety of waterfowl, which typically degrades the water quality, making it unsuitable for amphibians. We have created 32 new ponds on this site to provide more suitable breeding habitat for existing amphibian populations, and to support increased biodiversity at the site, and we intend to make a few more ponds here before the project ends in January. Several of these ponds were hand dug by our wonderful, dedicated volunteers from the local community who will be able to enjoy the benefits of these ponds in the future.

Many species depend on freshwater habitats, but there is a serious lack of high-quality ponds and wetlands in the UK. Restoring these habitats is straightforward, we need to create lots of new, high-quality ponds. All new ponds are valuable, from small garden ponds up to large-scale wetlands. We need to be creating a variety of freshwater habitats of varying shapes and sizes to deliver the best outcome for biodiversity. While restoring existing ponds is also useful, it is always better to create a new pond instead if this is possible, as this will achieve the greatest impact. Froglife has made this easy to do by providing a free guide, Just Add Water, which takes you through the steps of how to create your own pond! Just follow this link: Just-Add-Water-7th-Edition.pdf (froglife.org)

Freshwater ecosystems greatly enhance and support biodiversity and play a key role in tackling climate change. The Fife Living Waters Project has been restoring freshwater habitats through the creation of 115 new ponds and restoring 10 existing ponds across two sites in Cowdenbeath, Fife. To fully protect these essential ecosystems, and the biodiversity that depend on them, we must continue to deliver more freshwater habitat restoration projects like this one. The new Scottish Biodiversity must acknowledge the value of these ecosystems, putting in place ambitious targets for creating new freshwater habitats on a large scale and implementing long-term management of these habitats.

 

Sheila Gundry, Operations Manager at Froglife

 

This blog is part of the LINK Thinks COP15 series. Click here to read the series of blogs by LINK staff, members and Honorary Fellows who will be highlighting the importance of targeted action in protecting and restoring our precious nature over the course of the conference.

 

Image: Cowdenbeath Wetlands

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