Dewponds are a fantastic feature of the South Downs landscape, and were traditionally used by roving shepherds as a water source for their sheep. Their ability to collect water from dew, mist, rain and surface run-off meant they were very useful in areas where water would otherwise soak into the chalk. Over the years, as the landscape became more enclosed and water was piped into some areas, many dewponds became derelict. In extreme cases, all that remains is a slight depression in the ground indiciating where the dewpond used to be.
Over the last few years, many farmers and landowners across the South Downs have restored these historic features. One such recent example is the dewpond at Lychpole Bottom on Lychpole Farm, Sompting. With support from the South Downs National Park Authority’s Sustainable Communities Fund and the South Downs Society, the Sompting Estate and Lychpole Farm have restored a fine example of these historic landscape features.
Dewponds were traditionally lined using layers of puddled clay and straw, sometimes with a layer of flints on top. This all helped to prevent cracking in the sun as the water level dropped. Although this would still work today, the chalk beneath does tend to suck the moisture out of the clay without an impermeable liner, and ponds built like this require regular care and maintenance. Modern materials give us many ways in which to line the ponds and make them water tight. The Lychpole Bottom dewpond was lined with a geotextile fabric underlay with a SealEco EPDM (Greenseal) rubber pond liner on top. A geotextile fabric overlay was then then covered by 300mm of clay, which will ensure that it retains water.
The soft clay substrate under the water will provide a great habitat for a range of aquatic insects and plants. A wildflower seed mixture was planted around the outside and in the margins to provide cover and food for wildlife including a pollen and nectar source for insects. To protect the lining, the pond is fenced to exclude cattle but will still allow sheep to access the water. Sheep fencing can be added when required to exclude sheep during the flowering season.
By bringing water onto the Downs, dewponds provide a great habitat for wildlife. Throughout the year, a wide range of dragonflies, damselflies, amphibians, birds and plants will use them. Within a day or two of getting its first few inches of water, the Lychpole dewpond was being visited by several different diving beetles, and linnets and corn buntings were making the most of the newly available water source.
Have you got a dewpond on your farm? Why not look into the possibilities of restoring it to help create a network of these features across the Downs.
The Lychpole Bottom dewpond during the construction stage c. Mike Tristram
Work complete and already full with water c. Mike Tristram
Wildflowers were planted around the perimeter to provide cover, food, pollen and nectar for wildlife c. Caroline Harriott