Natural Living - Ripples Of Time

Natural Living – Ripples Of Time

by Ruth Lawrence

Escaping the rush of modern life, Ruth Lawrence found a moment of peace, along with some surprising history at Friston Pond

Searching for a quiet spot to recharge after being immersed in crowds of tourists at Birling Gap, I pulled over at Friston Pond, which soon revealed a surprising history and a story of determined restoration.

The pond predates Domesday. Villagers watered their livestock from its shallow depths a thousand years ago and it would have been a gathering place for village gossip and worshippers spilling from the adjacent church on Sundays.

In continued use for centuries, a photo of the pond from a 1960s edition of an environmental magazine shows it in a still healthy state, ringed by reeds, a light breeze rippling its weed-clear surface. Fast forward four decades to find the pond in a sorrier state; like village ponds across the country, it was contaminated with intrusive weeds, in this case, Australian Stone Crop, which out-competes native species and reduces light levels in the water. After an extensive assessment, the pond was awarded a grant from the Sustainable Communities Fund of the South Downs National Park Authority and work began on its rejuvenation. During the last three weeks of 2012, the pond was pumped out, de-silted and fitted with new gullies. Aquatic samples were reinstated and wildlife that had been temporarily housed in holding tanks was returned home.

It is the first pond in the country to be made an historic monument; a title which speaks of its relationship with people over the centuries. Although villagers may no longer need to water horses or wash sheep within its confines, the pond now has a different role to play with its human visitors. With interpretation boards and a dipping platform, the pond is a restful haven for walkers and those simply wanting to escape the car for half an hour to sit under the towering willow by the bank. Knowing the age and history of the pond lent another dimension to our visit; although traffic zipped past, it was easy to imagine the generations of villagers who would have lingered in exactly the same spot, horses tethered nearby or sheep drinking from the still waters. Now, dragonflies colour the air and luxuriant marsh plants attract insects, in turn encouraging birds and bats to visit.

The pond has turned full circle since its creation a millennia ago, from centrepiece of a community to dereliction and now regenerated as a thriving ecosystem, it attracts life once again. These small, rich habitats are increasingly necessary for the wellbeing of living creatures, ourselves included. Friston Pond’s designation as an historic monument was a timely reminder of its continued importance in a changing world.