Visitors to Carbeth this winter could have been forgiven for feeling a mixture of confusion and horror if they happened to witness a yellow digger creating what looked like a pointless, muddy mess. The scene before them would certainly have been messy, but it was not pointless. In December 2021 and early January 2022, work was carried out to create first a woodland pond and then a field scrape (temporary pond). These are both rare wildlife habitats, that can support a wide variety of wetland plants and animals, many of which are under threat.
The Northwoods Rewilding Network is a Scotland-wide chain of landholdings committed to nature recovery. Its partners share a vision for an ecologically-restored landscape, where habitats are better connected and species can recover, expand and disperse.
The woodland ponds
Woodland ponds are important for many species including dragonflies, amphibians and bats, some of which require the specific combination of water and shade that a woodland pond can provide. A surprisingly large number of wetland plants are also happy growing in wet woodland and around tree-lined ponds, particularly in dappled or light shade.
The newly dug pond is beside another small but deep pond, which was created to take advantage of ground damage made by heavy forestry machinery operations three years ago. The still damaged ground is an obvious site to create a larger more extensive wetland area.
Forestry manager, Peter Mitchell, has provided us with valuable advice on the ongoing management of scrapes and digs, and how vital it is to leave the original digs undisturbed but move to fresh ground nearby when renovating.
The value of temporary ponds (scrapes)
Before the widespread installation of field drainage in the Victorian era, it would have been normal for patches of grassland throughout the United Kingdom, and particularly in the wet west of Scotland, to be under water for months at a time, forming temporary shallow ponds. These were bad news for agricultural productivity, but essential for a whole host of species who depend on wetlands for their habitats, food sources and breeding grounds.
A huge variety of wildlife uses temporary ponds and they often support rare and scarce species which thrive in the unique combination of periodic flooding and drying. Many scarce plants and insects are associated with the damp muddy margins exposed as temporary ponds dry out.
The regular drying out of temporary ponds prevents fish from establishing. Free from predators, tadpoles and aquatic insects (such as water beetles) can often thrive. In fact many species of aquatic insect, and some amphibians such as great crested newts, are seldom found in ponds where fish are present.
So to restore some of this precious habitat at Carbeth, we have created a shallow “scrape” in an already poorly drained area of one of our wettest fields. It is not only the presence of water that is important in the location of the scrape, but also the absence of trees and hedges. Wading birds and their young are vulnerable to predation by raptors, who perch in trees, and ground dwelling predators, who can easily use hedges to conceal themselves until they are close enough to strike.