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The sad tale of Ashtead Pond - but with hope on the horizon

Councillor Patricia E.J. Wiltshire

Ashtead Pond is a much-loved, old feature in a very busy part of the village. It was formed originally by excavation of the gravels which also extend under the surface of the Wood Field, and when the pond filled, it was used as watering hole for animals. Eventually it became a pleasant feature alongside Barnett Wood Lane, much frequented by families enjoying the ducks, moor hens and, some time ago, swans. It supported a large fish population, many of which were unfortunate, dumped goldfish which simply grew large.

Some years ago the Council dredged the pond and, to save money, dumped the dredged silty mud alongside the northern edge of the pond (next to Barnett Wood Lane). They held back the discarded material with a wicker revetment, and then planted the surface with a mixture of sedges, reeds, and willows. Their rationale was that a reedbed would protect the pond from road run-off but, over time, the plants grew rampantly in the fertile mud, and the surface of the water was obscured from general view. The poor waterfowl were excluded from the reed bed, and the whole area became overgrown and unsightly.

On several occasions, I asked the Council to cut swathes through the marginal vegetation so that passers-by could at least catch a glimpse of the water. This was done a few times, but the slim tunnels of clear view soon closed-in as the reeds and sedges recovered. Then the dredged sludge started to slump back into the pond as the wicker revetment decayed and collapsed. The former work of dredging was being undone by gravity and natural decay.

As this was happening, the willows, ash trees, and other shrubs and trees, around the pond margin grew huge, and each year not only abstracted vast volumes of water, but also shed enormous amounts of nutrient-rich leaf and twig litter into the basin.

Coupled with the extreme heat of last summer, the dwindling water became shallow and stagnant. It was a deeply upsetting sight to see fish gaping and flapping in the increasingly sticky mud, and I received many distressed calls and e-mails from residents. The Council managed to save some of the fish, at great financial cost, but as they need a free flow of oxygenated water over their gills to survive, many succumbed through lack of oxygen.

As the unrelentingly hot summer bore on, the water disappeared altogether, and toxic Cyanobacterial colonies (blue-green algae) spread in red, green, and brown swathes across the surface of the mud. The high organic content of the sludgy mud started to ferment, and the whole area became foul and smelly. When a contractor tried to assess the extent of the problem and sunk to his armpits in the sludge, and then teenagers were seen trying to get down into the basin, the whole perimeter urgently needed to be fenced-off for safety’ sake. This is why the metal and plastic fencing surrounds the whole pond perimeter today.

I asked for as much of the mud and silt as possible to be dredged out of the pond, and fourteen lorry-loads, amounting to 200 tons haulage, were carried away. That was all the budget would allow. Another large volume was taken to the eastern end of the pond to drain so that its removal would be easier. This is still in place, and it is intended to remove it as soon as possible, along with the large amount of mud and silt that has built up towards the south-eastern edge. It is intended to dredge the rest of the pond next summer so that the whole basin can be deepened to be able to accommodate and retain a greater volume of water.

The surrounding, neglected, brambles and other weedy and unsightly vegetation is being removed, and work is well underway to pollard the big trees to reduce their canopies, while many of the smaller ones will be coppiced. This will reduce the size of the tree canopies and limit the ability of the woody species to abstract such large amounts of water in the summer. It will also make the whole area safer as the trees will be checked as they are being cut.

It will take some time before we get the pond we want – one that will once more be a pleasant feature in such a prominent part of Ashtead. But we seem to be getting there at last and within a year to eighteen months, the area should be transformed and once more be a pleasant place to visit. The pond declined into a miserable, overgrown, smelly, shady feature through lack of proper maintenance. We must make sure that this does not happen again.


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