The Hamsterley Village Pond

The Duck PondThe Parish Council has received a number of complaints over recent months regarding the condition of the Village Pond.  In the most aggressive of these, the Councillors are challenged to explain what they are doing to care for the pond.  Other complainants have offered a variety of ‘expert’ opinions on pond management, most of these conflicting with one another.

The Parish Council shares the concern of villagers about the state of the pond and would dearly like to see it in a better condition, but the remedy is not necessarily straightforward.  Our pond is by no means the only one in this state.  Several newspaper and media features have lately drawn attention to other ponds in County Durham in similar difficulty.

The local situation is as follows:

  • Most healthy ponds are fed by a continuous water source, such as a spring or a stream.
  • Ours is not.
  • The Hamsterley pond is entirely dependent on rainwater.
  • Water should be fed into the pond by a number of drains, which carry water from the surrounding Village Green, from the roadsides, and from the gutters of adjacent homes.
  • Photographs from as early as the 1920s show very clearly that the pond has always been prone to drying out in low rainfall conditions.

One thing that helps is maintenance of the under-road drains:

  • Several of these drains are blocked and have been blocked for some time.
  • The under-road drains are in this condition because of neglect by the County Council.
  • The Parish Council does not have either the entitlement or the capability to clear these under-road drains itself, and has therefore repeatedly asked the County Council to clear them.
  • The first request to this effect dates from 5 March 2010.
  • On Friday 5 July this year, 2013, a DCC team of two people finally came to do some work on one under-road drain.
  • They were intending to clear the single drain until one of the Councillors explained that there are others, so they did make some effort to clear those as well.
  • As we are experiencing an unusually dry period, it is not possible to establish yet whether this work has been successful.
  • The DCC team made no attempt to deal with the other issue that the Parish Council has repeatedly notified, namely the blocked drains and poorly connected soakaways along the street, some of which should also be feeding the pond.
  • These blockages caused regular flooding to a number of properties last year.
  • A letter about this continuing neglect of the village drains has now been sent to the Chief Executive of Durham County Council, George Garlick.

Next, the field drains:

  • The field drains underneath the village green itself should also function as a feed-source for the pond but some of them are blocked because such activity as cars driving over the Village Green have caused them to collapse.
  • An event like the display of vintage vehicles at the Hoppings may contribute to this problem but the Councillors have been reluctant to ban the event for this reason.
  • The Parish Councillors have therefore arranged instead for these field drains to be renewed, hence the large bags of gravel to the rear of the Village Hall.
  • This work has been awaiting suitable conditions, and will shortly be carried out.

The clearance of the Pond itself:

  • The Parish Council has taken professional advice regarding the clearance of the Pond, and how it should be handled.
  • One regular allegation by parishioners is that clumsy clearance in the past has allowed the pond lining to be damaged.
  • In fact, however, a recent study confirmed that the Hamsterley pond is not ‘lined’ and never has been.
  • Instead it has a partial bed of natural boulder clay at a certain depth, as do most soils in the area, and this remains intact.  It is not sufficiently non-porous, however, to hold water over a long period.

The wildlife issues:

  • The Parish Councillors have always sought only to authorise clearance of the Pond at times when the process will not be damaging to the local wildlife.
  • Advice from the Durham Wildlife Trust last year was that the safest method was to clear no more than a third of the Pond at one time, either before or after the major breeding period.
  • The advice was also to leave the cleared material beside the pond for a time, so as to allow any disturbed creatures to make their way back into the water.
  • Having followed this advice earlier this year, the weather then became extremely wet.
  • By the time the weather dried up (which was only recently) there was already a moorhen nesting in the Pond margins and frogspawn in the water, occasioning a further delay.
  • Total removal of the vegetation round the pond margins would no doubt produce a ‘tidy’ result but would be damaging to wildlife by creating a much less hospitable habitat.

The future:

  • Last year the Parish Council invited residents to help clear the pond.
  • The willingness to criticise the state of the pond is not matched, however, by a willingness to help address the problem – so, on the day, only two people turned up to help the Parish Councillors.
  • The Parish Council is therefore now approaching the Conservation Volunteers for assistance to do further, professional clearance work on the Village Pond this season.
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