Water Works

IMG_20220705_171531©Stephen Lines

Iain Ambler updates on the recently restored Redbridge Lane West allotment pond, which has become a biodiversity hotspot. Photo by Stephen Lines

In the December 2021 edition of the Wanstead Village Directory, I wrote about how a group of 15 plot holders had restored the main pond on our Redbridge Lane West allotment site so it is wet year-round and a great habitat (again) for wildlife. We were sparked into life by the proposal of our neighbour Cadent, the global gas company, to use part of the site as a compound to support their works and to permanently acquire a strip of allotment land along the current boundary.

Having a year-round wet environment is critical for native amphibia (frogs, toads, newts) and insects. There was already a very overgrown and dried-out pond on the site. So, in 2021, we cleared the pond surrounds (including felling two large willow trees that were overgrown), relandscaped the pond and relined it with a butyl liner. Then, we added pond plants so they could establish.

Over the winter, the pond lay dormant, save for the odd visit by passing waterfowl. But then, when spring arrived, slowly wildlife returned to the pond and it’s now a real biodiversity hotspot.

It was not long before we spotted many baby newts, now at an age where they will shortly leave the pond as ‘efts’ to seek out other damp areas in the allotment (several plot holders installed mini ponds on their plots during 2021 which we hope they will find).

Frogspawn and then baby frogs also appeared and some large dragonflies – male and female broad-bodied chasers with stunning, bright blue and yellow abdomens – have become regular visitors, as are common blue, large red and emerald damselflies. Bees of various kinds and hoverflies are regularly seen drinking at the water’s edge, and water boatmen row over the surface.

We also found evidence that larger mammals, possibly foxes, are using the pond as a water source, and Nathusius pipistrelle, a nationally scarce bat species often found near water, has been recently surveyed overflying the site.

The plants we added have all survived and blossomed, including yellow flag irises, water lilies, marsh marigold and purple loosestrife (common yellow loosestrife has also magically reappeared, a result of the scrub clearance by the side of the pond), and these are all attracting pollinators.

What’s next?
New ponds need maintenance to ensure they stay free from blanket weed – this has meant regular weeding by our volunteer group. Eventually, we hope that a combination of oxygenators and shade from plants and trees will self-regulate.

The pond surrounds will continue to require some work – this includes strimming and the clearing of brambles around the pond to ensure they don’t grow back.

We have also created two mini-wild flower meadows alongside the pond, with plants grown from seed over the winter (to varying degrees of success), and plug plants funded by Vision RCL, and we will continue to add to and maintain these. 

We are considering what we might do in partnership with Vision and Cadent to further enhance the site for wildlife, as Cadent will be required to demonstrate a biodiversity net gain from their works. 

For me personally, I’ve enjoyed seeing how such a small area – the size of a small back garden – can do so much for wildlife, even when only metres from the busy A12. It has also been great to see the interest in and enjoyment of wildlife from many plot holders.

We have continued to receive expert advice and support from Vision’s allotments officer Simon Litt and his team, as well as from Tim Harris of the Wren Group, to whom we are very grateful.

For more information on allotments in Redbridge, visit wnstd.com/allotments