European Pond Conservation Network -- new brochure on values of ponds

11/12/2008

The Pond Manifesto

Wetland ecosystems come in all shapes and sizes – and all have a role to play. The larger ones, perhaps inevitably, have enjoyed the most attention – it is easy to overlook the many small waterbodies scattered across the landscape. Fortunately, over the last decade, our knowledge and attitude towards small wetlands has begun to change. We know now that they are crucial for biodiversity and can also provide a whole range of ecosystem services. These ‘local waterbodies’ can also help us encourage the link between people and wildlife. With these words, Ramsar’s Secretary General Anada Tiéga, introduces The Pond Manifesto published by the European Pond Conservation Network, with support from the MAVA Foundation.

A one-page summary in English, French, German and Spanish, as well as the illustrated, full 20-page version in English can be downloaded from www.europeanponds.org .

The Manifesto contains the knowledge and experience of researchers and practitioners working on all aspects of pond conservation. It provides extensive arguments why ponds should be protected. While individually, ponds are relatively small and can seem unimportant and dwarfed by larger waterbodies, globally they represent an exceptional freshwater resource. Collectively, the millions of small wetlands of less than 10 hectares on the earth’s surface represent 30 percent of the global surface area of the standing freshwater resource. This suggests that we should more explicitly consider small waterbodies in analyses of global processes, such as those linked to climate change. At the landscape level, ponds are remarkably important for freshwater biodiversity, often contributing as much to the regional species pool as do rivers and lakes. Their role in increasing connectivity between freshwater habitats by providing stepping-stones is also recognized. Single ponds can act as refuges for terrestrial and aquatic organisms, particularly in intensively farmed landscapes. Networks of ponds are critical to support the meta-populations of many species and are important in the conservation of amphibians, as fish spawning and nursery areas, and for wetland mammals and birds which range over large areas but require ponds as part of the complex mosaic of wetlands they exploit.

Many ponds are important historic features in their own right. At a grand scale this includes illustrious ponds such as those found in the garden of the Palace of Versailles in France. Equally important to our history and culture are the many thousands of village ponds used to provide fish and water for people and livestock for thousands of years. Some of these ponds have sediment records built up over millennia, and provide a unique section through time, to tell us about the way of life of our ancestors. Historically, ponds were made for many agricultural and industrial purposes. Ponds had multiple uses, for example water and food supply, providing cooling facilities for forge, furnace, distilleries and other industries, providing water for flax retting, wagon wheel soaking, mill operations, laundry, livestock watering, watercress beds, ice production, irrigation, fish, decoy and duck, waterbodies for swimming, sauna, ornamental garden and other uses.

In some areas of Europe, financial benefits from agri-environment schemes have encouraged pond creation and restoration in the context of agri-tourism, nature trails, birdwatching and low intensity fishing. Sports like waterfowl shooting and angling have long been popular and still promote widespread creation and management of ponds. It is often assumed that ponds were useful in the past but have little value in today’s world. In fact, ponds continue to play a vital economic role in delivering ecosystem services. They offer sustainable solutions to some of the key issues of climate change and water management. Collectively, because of their huge number coupled with their high productivity, farm ponds may sequester as much carbon as the oceans. Networks of ponds, strategically located, can also be used to alleviate flooding and help reduce diffuse pollution from urban run offs and intensive agriculture. The key asset of small waterbodies is that they are easy and cheap to create. They provide a practical small-scale solution that works at a local scale, but can also build together to give a network providing significant national benefits.

But ponds are threatened too. They and their wildlife receive little legislative protection. For most countries there is little national awareness or concern about the value of these waterbodies. Whilst initiatives do exist, they are often very small scale and tend to be uncoordinated and unsustainable due to the lack of long-term financial and technical support. We are running out of time to protect the ponds. Given the huge losses in number and quality, we need urgent action of we are to protect the unique value of ponds for biodiversity, cultural heritage and providing ecosystem services. The Manifesto therefore presents and outline for a European strategy to help to protect the pond resource for future generations. It focuses on four key issues: policy and legislation, research and monitoring, communication and raising awareness, and protection and enhancement of the resource. There are enormous opportunities. The small size of ponds, which makes them so easy to ignore, neglect and destroy is also a major asset. Ponds are easy to manage and protect. Thex connect directly with people, and are exceptionally cheap and easy to make. The ambition of the authors of the Manifesto is to provide a wake-up call to the importance of ponds and the outline of a strategy to help us use, maintain and enjoy ponds in the decades ahead. Probably a programme also valid for regions outside of Europe?

-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

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