Ponds were the subject of several sessions at the Symposium for European Freshwater Sciences (SEFS13), held in the UK in June. The conference, which is one of the biggest events in the freshwater calendar, included a programme of pond-related sessions hosted by PONDERFUL partner the European Pond Conservation Network (EPCN).

Several members of the PONDERFUL consortium attended the symposium, presenting their work and sharing results with other freshwater scientists from around the world. The event included special sessions on Soundscape studies in ponds, lakes and rivers and Ponds as integral part of aquatic and terrestrial landscapes, involving PONDERFUL partner UCL.

In addition, representatives from PONDERFUL partners, including The University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland and Freshwater Habitats Trust, shared results from the project.

Organised by the Freshwater Biological Association, SEFS13 took place from 18th to 23rd June in Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England.

The PONDERFUL project was represented at the NatureNetwork Taskforces Cluster meeting, held in Brussels on 7th June. Through interviews, presentations, panel debates, and interactive sessions, this meeting showcased results, tools and products from EU-funded projects, focused on Nature-based Solutions (NBS).

Dr Aurélie Boissezon of PONDERFUL partner University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland joined a panel discussion on how projects like PONDERFUL are helping us develop NBS.

Dr Mireia Bartrons Vilamala of project partner The University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia also attended the meeting, which provided opportunities to share ideas and discuss collaboration with other NBS-focused projects.

The Nature-based Solutions Taskforces include EU Horizon 2020 projects that focus on NBS. This provides opportunities for projects to ‘cluster’ through collaboration and sharing of ideas.

Dr Mireia Bartrons Vilamala said: “The NatureNetwork Taskforces Cluster meeting had a packed schedule and we learned so much about the work happening across Europe to address climate change and other issues facing society. It was so inspiring to find out more about other projects and share ideas for collaboration with PONDERFUL. With more results coming out of PONDERFUL over the coming months, it is vital that we share our findings and outputs with other members of the Nature-based Solutions Taskforces.”


Here I review some recent research and policy events that caught my eye and got me thinking, or suggested some practical actions we could take. In addition, the PONDERFUL consortium is now publishing a growing number of papers with results from the project. Keep an eye on the scientific publications page of our website for updates.

Ponds and other small habitats

There are a variety of activities that lead to increases in pond numbers. In the UK, Jeannie Beadle, Joseph Holden and Lee Brown report on one of these which is probably creating a lot of new ponds: re-wetting peatland. The authors suggest that “hundreds of thousands to millions of new peatland ponds” are being created in the UK as a side effect of this process.

For a sense of scale, in the UK it’s estimated that there about 0.5 million ponds in the countryside, with perhaps 2 million in gardens, so peatland restoration could be having a very big impact on pond numbers in the UK. This year, the state conservation regulator in England, Natural England, is starting a new national count of ponds, based on a national stratified random 1 km square survey. So, we should get a better idea of the effect of peatland restoration on total pond numbers fairly soon.

The Beadle et al. paper is mainly concerned with the biodiversity value of new peatland ponds and also reports interesting observations on this subject. They conclude that new ponds quite quickly (over 15 years) came to resemble naturally created peatland ponds. This ability of new ponds to take on the qualities of much older ponds, and of the quality of species rich regional freshwater biotas generally, is an important part of the argument about the value of ponds for protecting biodiversity. This new evidence from rewetted peatlands is, therefore, a useful addition to our understanding of the role of ponds in helping to protect freshwater biodiversity.

Yet again, recent new work by Lenore Fahrig and her colleagues (in this case, Federico Riva) has important implications for pond lovers, provide interesting ideas from terrestrial ecology that are relevant to pond conservation. In the paper Obstruction of biodiversity conservation by minimum patch size criteria they reflect on the conservation principle that a single large (SL) patch of habitat has higher biodiversity than several small (SS) patches of the same total area (SL>SS). Research has shown that this idea often turns out to be incorrect so that biodiversity conservation requires much more emphasis on the protection of large numbers of small patches (SS>SL). This is an almost exact statement of the paradox we see with freshwater, with more species collectively in the smaller area of habitat provided by ponds compared to other freshwaters. Riva and Fahrig used a global database reporting the abundances of species across hundreds of terrestrial patches to assess the SL>SS principle in systems where small patches are much smaller than the typical minimum patch size criteria applied for biodiversity conservation (i.e., ∼85% of patches were less than 100 ha in area). Consistent with previous syntheses, they found that species richness accumulated more rapidly when adding several small patches (45.2% SS>SL vs. 19.9% SL>SS) to reach the same cumulative area, even for the very small patches in their data set. They concluded that, when a given total area of habitat is to be protected, overall biodiversity conservation will be most effective if that habitat is composed of as many small patches as possible, plus a few large ones. This advice, which is about terrestrial habitats, could have been designed specifically for ponds, and perhaps for freshwater more generally.

We often say that ponds can be found on all continents and probably most of us don’t know much about how this happens in the Antarctic. The paper The need for increased protection of Antarctica’s inland waters is a useful introduction to the occurrence and ecology of ponds in Antarctica where they are a prominent part of the freshwater environment.

Recent studies on the condition of rivers in various parts of the world (UK: taxon richness, UK: taxon abundance, Switzerland, Ireland etc) have reported both ups and downs in river invertebrates, the most widely monitored group of freshwater organisms. To almost everyone reading this review it will be no surprise that much less is known about what’s happening to ponds or to freshwater biodiversity at whole landscape scale – to which ponds make such a big contribution. Although PONDERFUL demo sites are giving us some clues, and national studies, at least in the UK, provide some evidence of on-going decline generally, we have little idea of the condition of ponds across Europe. If only we had as much information to play with as we do for rivers! Surveys being undertaken in the UK by Natural England for the England Ecosystem Survey will hopefully help update understanding in one European state at least.

Finally, you may already have seen news of underwater sounds in ponds which was covered by the BBC. This is a quickly growing and interesting area of research which seems to have some promise for assessing pond condition. Jack Greenhalgh, Martin Genner and Gareth Jones collected 840 hr of underwater sound recordings from five large ponds – which varied in size from 0.2 ha to 1.9 ha – in the southwest of the UK and compared this with macroinvertebrate survey data. They found sounds peaked between 02:00 and 04:00 in the morning and around the solar noon. Surveys were undertaken in late spring and early summer, so the early morning peak was not long before dawn. Aquatic bugs, particularly corixids, and photsynthesising water plants seemed to dominate the soundscape, and Greenhalgh and his colleagues concluded that to get a good indication of the soundscape it was necessary to deploy microphones throughout the 24 hr light-dark cycle.

Other interesting papers

Many people reading this newsletter will probably already be aware of a recent important paper by PONDERFUL colleagues Tom Davidson and Carl Sayer, and their co-authors, on the subject of alternative stable state in shallow lakes, and patterns of chlorophyll a concentrations and nutrients. Their work adds further doubt to one of freshwater’s most enduring and influential theories and, at risk of summarising this interesting paper too pithily, it looks like the alternative stable states theory may now have had its day as simpler explanations can account for the patterns seen in the natural world. Although we’ll probably never know whether it also applies to ponds (I suspect not), the alternative stable states concept has had a big impact on the way lakes are managed. What is perhaps as interesting is what the theories demise might mean for observations on critical tipping points, which have had a considerable influence on the debate about safe planetary boundaries. However, even if alternative stable states hypothesis is en route to rejection, one thing hasn’t changed. As Tom and his colleagues note: the “pressing need to reduce nutrient inputs in shallow lakes to help maintain the resilience of their ecological processes and biodiversity in the face of rapid global change” still remains.

Practical actions

As everyone in PONDERFUL will know, the Ramsar Convention recently adopted a resolution on enhancing the conservation and management of small wetlands. An international group of freshwater scientists, co-ordinated by the PONDERFUL team, wrote to congratulate the Ramsar secretariat on the adoption of the small wetland resolution. This is an international signal of the importance of small freshwater habitats, including ponds. We are now in the process of drafting suggestions for PONDERFUL members and others to specifically promote the measures recommended by Ramsar in the small wetland resolution. We hope to meet with Ramsar later in the project as we finalise our policy advice. As important was the progress of the EU Nature Restoration Law which has several significant items for small waters, including ponds. The amendment to Article 7 requiring member states to consider small waters, as well as removing barriers in rivers, was unfortunately, rejected in a vote in the EU Parliament. It’s possible that there will be opportunities to recover this article but the chances don’t look good. Despite this, there are still several opportunities in the Nature Restoration Law to help further the protection, creation and management of ponds and other small waters. In brief these are:

  • Article 11. Perhaps the most important part of the Nature Restoration Law will be the National Restoration Plans. Inclusion of ponds in these plans is the key outcome that pond lovers should now aim for. Given the strength of scientific evidence, there seems every chance that plans on small waters and small wetlands could be included if they are lobbied for at national level.
  • Article 4: restoration targets and obligations offer potential to help ponds which support Annex I, II, IV and V habitat types and species. These are:
  1. Member States shall aim to put in place the restoration measures in Natura 2000 sites that are necessary to move towards reaching favourable conservation status of habitat types listed in Annex I which are not in good condition. Such measures shall be put in place on Natura 2000 network area of habitat types listed in Annex I that are not in good condition, as quantified in the national restoration plan referred to in Article 12. [Am. 21]
  2. Member States shall put in place the restoration measures that are necessary to re-establish the habitat types listed in Annex I in areas not covered by those habitat types with the aim to reach their favourable reference area. Such measures shall be in place in areas necessary to ensure fulfilment of the goals laid down in paragraph 1 of this Article. [Am. 99]
  3. Member States shall put in place the restoration measures for the terrestrial, coastal and freshwater habitats of the species listed in Annexes II, IV and V to Directive 92/43/EEC and of the terrestrial, coastal and freshwater habitats of wild birds covered by Directive 2009/147/EC that are, in addition to the restoration measures in accordance with paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article, necessary to improve the quality and quantity of those habitats, including by re-establishing them, and to enhance connectivity, until sufficient quality and quantity of those habitats is achieved.
  • Article 6. There are also opportunities for pond conservation work in relation to Article 6 covering urban areas.
  • Article 7, although rejecting the small water regulation, does require that “Member States shall ensure that natural connectivity of rivers and natural functions of the related floodplains restored in accordance with paragraphs 2 and 3 are maintained.” As floodplains are naturally a hotspot for ponds, this offers good support for measures to restore ponds on the many thousands of square kilometres of floodplain land alongside the streams and rivers of the continent. PONDERFUL demo site Pinkhill Meadow is a classic example of the restoration of floodplains by pond creation.
  • Article 8. There are opportunities to make use of ponds for pollinator restoration, perhaps starting with research on the role of ponds for pollinators. This is a relatively little-known area but has been studied by PONDERFUL partners.
  • Small waters and wetlands, including ponds, are specifically identified in the NRL as: “High-diversity landscape features on agricultural land, including buffer strips, rotational or non-rotational fallow land, hedgerows, individual or groups of trees, tree rows, field margins, patches, ditches, streams, small wetlands, terraces, cairns, stonewalls, small ponds and cultural features, provide space for wild plants and animals…..”.

We will write more about this later in the year.

By Professor Jeremy Biggs, CEO, Freshwater Habitats Trust

I’m a freshwater biologist with a special interest in ponds and the patterns of freshwater biodiversity at landscape scale, in all kinds of freshwater habitats. I especially like freshwater invertebrates and it will make my day to see any of the following: Triops cancriformis, Triturus cristatus, Myxas glutinosa or Damasonium alisma!

I’ve had a long interest in practical monitoring programmes, the application of research results to freshwater policy, the role of small waters more generally and the practical conservation of freshwater biodiversity. I’ve dabbled in the development of eDNA testing and also helped to found the UK’s River Restoration Centre.

After completing both my degrees in Royal Holloway, University of London, I went to work in a small consultancy. Whilst at the consultancy I was one of three people who, in 1988, began planning and then set up a charity called Pond Conservation. This later became Freshwater Habitats Trust and we’re now a national wildlife conservation charity with an interest in all freshwater habitats but a particular focus on small waterbodies, especially ponds.

Because I’ve been involved with the development of Freshwater Habitats Trust since its very beginning, I’ve seen ideas we developed from the earliest days of our research turn into wider practical approaches to the management and understanding of freshwaters. I’ve also had partnership and advisory roles with many different kinds of institutions, which has given me a pretty wide experience of the water and conservation industries.

My main role in PONDERFUL is to guide Freshwater Habitats Trust’s work on the project, with a special emphasis on the promotion and dissemination of our results as lead for work package 5. I’m particularly interested in the policy applications of PONDERFUL results and in ensuring that our work brings the maximum practical benefits for ponds. Just at the moment, I’ve been paying particular attention to the Ramsar resolution on the conservation of small wetlands, and in supporting proposals to include small waters in the Nature Restoration Law.

PONDERFUL gives us a great opportunity to work closely with colleagues across the continent who we’ve known for many years, particularly through the European Pond Conservation Network (EPCN). It’s the first time we’ve been able to successfully get together a larger pan-European pond research programme. For us in the UK, it’s also great to be working closely with colleagues in the rest of Europe following the enforced isolation caused by Brexit, which has made cross border collaboration harder.

As we enter the later stages of the project, I’m looking forward to seeing all the results together from the big survey – especially the invertebrates. This will be an opportunity to share information to enhance our understanding of the factors influencing pond biodiversity across the continent. I’m especially interested in any patterns we see between eDNA biodiversity data, environmental data and traditional biological surveys.

In May, the PONDERFUL consortium met in Uppsala, Sweden, to share the most recent results of the project. The event was also an opportunity to share our knowledge of how ponds will help us adapt and mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity, and deliver ecosystem services.

PONDERFUL partner the University of Uppsala organised the second in-person and online meeting, which included 53 members from the consortium from 11 countries. The consortium was also joined by Peter Kristensen for the Scientific Advisory Board, and Piret Noukas of the European Research Executive Agency. Over three days, participants shared the most important results from the previous two years of the project. New ideas were also discussed to build on what the consortium has achieved so far and fulfil the project objectives.

Some partners demonstrated how ponds can work as nature-based-solutions to adapt to climate change, deliver ecosystem services and protect biodiversity, based on the most recent results from our demo-sites across Europe and Uruguay. The consortium also discussed how we can continue to involve stakeholders and policy makers into the project, and the best strategies to disseminate our main results globally.

Now, 18 months from the project end, PONDERFUL partners will focus on developing both scientific instruments and tools directed to stakeholders to implement and manage ponds as nature-based solutions.


PONDERFUL unites world’s freshwater experts to welcome support for small wetlands and waterbodies

The PONDERFUL consortium has brought together more than 50 of the world’s leading freshwater specialists to officially welcome a new resolution to promote and protect small wetlands.

Pond in the Albera pondscape, Catalonia. Photo: Lluis Benejam Vidal, University of Vic, Spain.

Members of the consortium, along with scientists and conservationists from across the globe, have signed a letter to Dr Musonda Mumba, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Coordinated by the consortium for EU Horizon 2020 project PONDERFUL, the letter congratulates Dr Mumba on the resolution on ‘Conservation and Management of Small Wetlands’, which is an important step towards the better protection of small waterbodies. The adoption of the new resolution is an important signal to national and international institutions of the importance of small wetlands and waterbodies for the protection of freshwater biodiversity.

Natural pond on the flood plane of the River Biebza, Poland. Photo: Freshwater Habitats Trust.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, it came into force in 1975 and now has 172 member countries, known as ‘contracting parties’. There are now 2,493 Wetlands of International Importance across the world.

Professor Jeremy Biggs of PONDERFUL partner Freshwater Habitats Trust recently spoke at a side event of the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. In his presentation, he highlighted the importance of small waterbodies to freshwater biodiversity and urged countries to designate small wetlands that meet the criteria as Wetlands of International Importance. He also encouraged countries to develop national plans to promote the conservation and restoration of these habitats, which are vital for freshwater life.

High quality new pond (created 1995) in Oxfordshire, southern England. Photo: Freshwater Habitats Trust.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has now officially adopted Resolution XIV.15: Enhancing the conservation and management of small wetlands.

Professor Jeremy Biggs, CEO of UK charity Freshwater Habitats Trust and lead signatory on the letter said: “We warmly welcome this development, which raises the profile of small waterbodies and their importance for wildlife. Because of their size, small waterbodies have long been overlooked by scientists and policymakers but in fact we now know that they support more biodiversity than larger bodies of water, such as lakes or rivers. We are also starting to understand their potential to capture carbon and the important role they could play in the fight against climate change.

Natural pond in the Scottish Highlands. Photo: Freshwater Habitats Trust.

“There is a systematic bias against small waters, despite the fact that 90 percent of global standing waters are ponds of less than one hectare and a very large proportion of running waters are small, often seasonal, streams. Through PONDERFUL, we are tackling this bias head on by studying and raising awareness of the role of ponds for biodiversity and climate change adaptation. This new resolution from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is hugely encouraging and reflects the shift in mindset around small waterbodies.”


During the second half of 2023, PONDERFUL will run a series of technical webinars about the value and management of ponds. In particular, the events will focus on their importance for aquatic species conservation, invasive species, carbon balance and pond construction and management. The webinars of one hour duration will take place on Zoom and are open to all free of charge, but registration is compulsory.

We will start our PONDERFUL webinars cycle talking about the role of ponds for aquatic plants conservation, a Portuguese case-study, with Dr. Jael Palhas from the University of Évora, Portugal. This first webinar will take place of June 28 at 4 pm (CET) via Zoom.

Registration link for the webinar here.

The dates are indicative and might change, but we will announce all the webinars and provide the registration link closer to each date.

June 28, 2023. 4pm (CET): The role of ponds for aquatic plants conservation in Portugal, by Dr. Jael Palhas – University of Évora, Portugal.

August 29, 2023. 4pm (CET): The world we created and the Planet we want from a freshwater perspective, by Dr. Roger Paulo Mormul – State University of Maringá, Brazil.

September 18, 2023. 4pm (CET): Limnology underdogs: The local and global importance of pond ecosystems, by Dr. Meredith Holgerson – Cornell University, United States.

October 25, 2023. 4 pm (CET): Pond management and construction for freshwater conservation, by Dr. Pascale Nicolet. Freshwater Habitats Trust, England.

Why are ponds important? What threats do they face? And how can PONDERFUL help? These are some of the questions addressed in this animation video.

Ponds have been largely overlooked but they are vital for biodiversity – and could even help us adapt to climate change. Discover more about these rich and fascinating habitats, how can they help to protect wildlife and their importance to humans as a nature-based solution.

The PONDERFUL project is investigating the role of ponds in mitigating and adapting to climate change, delivering ecosystem services and reversing the decline in biodiversity.
This video was created by the PONDERFUL project and received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 869296.

This video will soon be available in other languages. Stay connected!

The PONDERFUL consortium has joined the EU Mission Charter “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030”. The Mission promotes opportunities to share solutions to restoring the health of freshwater and marine habitats.

With a 2030 target, the EU Mission Charter “Restore our Ocean and Waters” aims to protect and restore the health of our ocean and waters through research and innovation, citizen engagement and blue investments. This new, systemic approach will address the ocean and waters as one and play a key role in achieving climate neutrality and restoring nature.

The Charter was launched on 30 June 2022 at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon. The European Commission called on governments and public authorities, businesses, civil society, financiers, and donors, as well as scientists and researchers from Europe and around the world to join the Mission. This included contributing with concrete actions to mobilise resources and enhance cooperation to deliver on the Mission’s objectives.

PONDERFUL coordinator ICREA Professor Sandra Brucet of The University of Vic- Central University of Catalonia (UVic) said: “The Mission Charter’s objectives of restoring marine and freshwater habitats, fighting pollution and creating a sustainable blue economy are highly relevant to PONDERFUL.

“Through PONDERFUL, we are investigating the importance of ponds and pondscapes to biodiversity and the role they could play as we adapt to climate change. Joining the Mission Charter “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” will help us ensure small waterbodies are included as we find solutions to the problems facing all freshwater and marine habitats.”

PONDERFUL plays a central role in delivering against and contributing to the Mission Ocean and Waters objectives. These include:

  1. Protect and restore marine and freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity, in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030;
  2. Prevent and eliminate pollution of our ocean, seas and waters, in line with the EU Action Plan Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil;
  3. Make the sustainable blue economy carbon-neutral and circular, in line with the proposed European Climate Law and the holistic vision enshrined in the Sustainable Blue Economy Strategy.

We are also committed to:

  1. Supporting to the EU Ocean knowledge system and respect of FAIR principle in relation to knowledge and data;
  2. Involving citizens in the decision-making process;
  3. Stimulating investments from public and private sources;
  4. Sharing knowledge and experience and collaborate with other Mission actors;
  5. Taking stock of the collective progress of achieving the Mission objectives and contributing to adjusting its course and steer its actions.

PONDERFUL partner Jeremy Biggs, of Freshwater Habitats Trust in the UK, gave a presentation on the importance of ponds in a session entitled Unlocking the Potential of Wetlands for Addressing Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss.

Professor Biggs gave international delegates an overview of the PONDERFUL project and shared some early results, particularly on the role of pods and nature-based solutions for protecting freshwater biodiversity. He also highlighted the systematic bias against small waterbodies in policy, despite the fact that 90 percent of global standing waters are ponds of less than one hectare and most running waters are small or seasonal streams.

Established in 1971, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of  wetlands. There are now more than 2,400 Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites) in 172 countries.

Professor Biggs’ presentation coincided with a draft resolution on enhancing the conservation and management of small wetlands, on which contracting parties are now due to vote. If passed, this new resolution will mean that small waterbodies are better represented within the Ramsar Convention, paving the way for future protection.

The draft resolution includes a number of measures, such as:

  • Urging countries to designate small wetlands that meet the criteria as Wetlands of International Importance.
  • Encouraging countries to develop national plans to promote the conservation and restoration of small wetlands and to effectively manage them to maintain threatened species.
  • New guidance on conducting inventories and monitoring of small wetlands and their ‘multiple values for biodiversity conservation.’

Jeremy Biggs said: “Presenting at the Ramsar COP14 was an important oppportunity for PONDERFUL to reach an international audience. Along with other members of the consortium, I warmly welcome the proposed resolution, which is a very important signal of the value of ponds and other small water bodies for freshwater biodiversity.

“When we talk about freshwater and wetland habitats we naturally think of big rivers and lakes, and huge expanses of wetland. But in fact, the majority of wetlands are small. Most running waters are small headwater streams and 90% of standing waters are ponds. Evidence – which has been building over the last 20 years – now shows that these habitats are absolutely critical for supporting freshwater biodiversity. Unfortunately, this knowledge of the importance of small waters, has come rather late so they are not properly reflected in most policy.”

This talk was part of the side event to COP14, taking place from 5 to 13 November 2022 in Wuhan (China) and Geneva (Switzerland). The event, which focused on the role of wetlands in mitigating and adapting to climate change, protecting biodiversity and delivering ecosystem services was co-organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Geneva Environkment Network, with the support of Network Nature and the EU Commission.