Ponds were once a common feature on Irish farms.

In addition to storing water for farmers, these natural reservoirs served as drinking spots for birds and mammals, and feeding or breeding grounds for a wide range of freshwater species, including insects, amphibians, bats and fish. Brightly coloured native plants such as flag iris and water mint also thrived in these wet environments.

However, tucked away in a wet corner of a field or amongst a tangle of trees, the value of these ponds was often overlooked.

Generations of grading, smoothing and draining the land has served farmers in many ways. But it has also eradicated many of these natural water features from our farms.

This has made things increasingly difficult for the many species that rely on freshwater habitats to survive.

Exacerbating this issue, many of the natural pond and small lake habitats that remain are under pressure, to a greater or lesser degree, from sources of water pollution.

Farmers taking action

Farmers are increasingly recognising that clean water ponds can create valuable biodiversity hotspots on their farms. On the Footprint Farms, each of the eight farmers have taken a slightly different approach to maximizing the benefits of ponds and wetlands.

Martin Crowe, for example, has been learning more about the biodiversity supported by his existing pond on his dairy farm in Co Limerick.

Martin Crowe, Feidhlim Harty and Barry Powell discuss the benefits of wildlife ponds beside Martin's pond in Co Limerick. \ Odhran Ducie

Martin is also enthusiastic about educating the next generation about the significance of ponds and wetlands for our local wildlife. He plans to collaborate with nearby schools, and provide school groups with the opportunity to observe and record the wildlife in and around his pond.

In Co Wexford, Ciara Kinsella’s new pond filled up following the heavy rainfall over the past weeks. She’s waiting to see what interesting wildlife will turn up to colonise this habitat over the coming months and years.

Meanwhile, Barry Powell has been seeking guidance from wetlands expert Feidhlim Harty to pinpoint the ideal spot for a wildlife pond on his dairy farm in Co Tipperary. He’s made his choice, and, as soon as the land dries up, he’s all set to start digging.

Clean water is key

Water quality is the most critical factor influencing the success of all these ponds in attracting a rich diversity of life. Healthy freshwater ecosystems rely on clean water sources that are free from nutrients, and from chemical inputs like pesticides or herbicides.

The primary cause of water pollution in freshwater habitats is nutrient overload, also known as eutrophication.

This occurs when water entering these habitats carries with it substances like slurry, nitrogen, phosphorus, or human sewage.

The presence of these nutrients leads to ‘blooms’ of algae and the growth of freshwater plants, which reduce the level of oxygen in the water.

This makes the pond, lake or wetland less hospitable to aquatic life and, in severe cases, can lead to fish kills or ‘dead zones’, where very few organisms can survive.

While preserving existing ponds or building new ones is a wonderful way to attract more wildlife to your farm, ensuring that they are fed by clean water is crucial to preserving both their beauty and their biodiversity.