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Sunday 28th March 2021
The New Forest, with its rivers, streams, marshlands and ponds is home to some of the purest and most ecologically valuable freshwater ecosystems in the UK. Here at the Countryside Education Trust we are lucky enough to be the custodians of several ponds along with Hartford Stream, a tributary of the Beaulieu River, which is home to a multitude of species including the Demoiselle Damselfly, Water Stick Insect and European Eel.
Four years ago, we joined the Living Waters Project with the aim of safeguarding and improving the freshwater habitats across our sites. Set up by the Freshwater Habitats Trust the Living Waters Project aims to improve water quality across the Beaulieu Estate by managing and creating freshwater habitats along with addressing small sources of diffuse pollution from agriculture and horse pastures.
In conjunction with the project we undertook a four year monitoring programme into Phosphate and Nitrate levels in the water systems across our two sites. In every case we found that levels for both were low which is an excellent indicator of a healthy water system. Further surveys across the Estate revealed that 80% of the water bodies had clean water which is outstanding compared to surveys in other UK catchments.
Following our survey results we were able to undertake a series of funded building projects across both of our sites which have been of enormous benefit in conserving and improving our freshwater habitats. These included the relocation of the farms muck heap along with the construction of a covered muck barn to prevent the leaching of nitrates and phosphates into the nearby stream.
The project also funded the purchase of several water collection tanks which were installed with the help of our wonderful volunteers. The tanks collect rainwater from the roofs of various building across the farm and are used to supply drinking troughs, irrigate our garden and supply water to two ponds. Thanks to the tanks we now have a reservoir of 40,000 litres of rainwater which we can use in place of mains water.
The project also funded a pump and modified slurry spreader which is small enough to be operated by our compact tractor. We have used this new equipment to spread the runoff from our pig farrowing pens on to our fields which has reduced overflow from the slurry tank and allowed us to use the waste productively as a fertilizer.
Finally the project enabled us to replace the old weir which regulated the water level at one of the largest ponds on Hartford Stream. In the process of installing the new weir we also installed an eel pass to aid the migration of European Eels, which reside in the pond, to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea over 3,000 miles from the Beaulieu River.
The European Eel is critically endangered with some estimating a population decline of 98% since 1970. Since the installation of the new weir we have encountered eels while pond dipping with some of our school groups.
To mark the completion of the project an interpretation board was commissioned for both our farm and woodland sites detailing all of the work undertaken.
We would like to extend our thanks to those at the Living Waters Project and Freshwater Habitats Trust who have helped us to conserve and protect the freshwater habitats we manage and who have made all of the work carried out over the past four years possible. In particular we would like to give thanks to the following people all of whom have been invaluable in helping us achieve our conservation goals:
- Dr Pascal Nicolet – Technical Director of the Freshwater Habitats Trust.
- Jane Nordstrom – Living Waters Project Officer.
- Rachel Pearson – Resident Agent to the Beaulieu Estate.
- Leah Bliss and Camila Martinez from Axis Mason Architecture for their input and design of the project interpretation boards.
- Nicholls Plant Hire for their expert construction of our new weir and muck barn floor.
- All of the wonderful volunteers at the Countryside Education Trust who helped us install our water harvesting tanks.