Ali’s Pond — Local Nature Reserve
Small Scale Practical Conservation
Fantastic news! We've just won the Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) award for small scale practical nature conservation at the annual national awards ceremony at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
These flagship project-based awards recognise high standards of professionalism and ecological and environmental management practice by CIEEM members. Small-scale projects are defined as costing less than £25,000, and the entrants were judged on their contribution to the conservation of wildlife, the provision of multiple benefit to society and the promotion of sustainable development principles.
Not only was Ali’s Pond LNR a winner in the small projects category, but according to the Chairman of the CIEEM Judging Panel, David Tyldesley, it “came within a whisker” of winning the overall award out of all 5 categories - the Tony Bradshaw Award - given for exceptional projects that achieve an overall impressively high standard.
Professor Alastair Driver, said “We are all absolutely delighted with this award – it is recognises hundreds of man-hours of hard graft by local residents over the last 20 years to make this site the special place it is for people and wildlife. To have been recognised in this way by CIEEM is hugely significant, because it is they that set the standards for the profession of nature conservation in this country and if they think it is the best example of its kind then we should all feel mighty proud of what we’ve achieved“.
Ali’s Pond Local Nature Reserve was established by Sonning Parish Council in March 1997, following an ecological survey of Sonning parish [Welsh 1995], which confirmed that, apart from the River Thames, the village had very few areas of high conservation value with easy public access. Since then, various activities have been implemented to enhance the area and increase community involvement in its management and use, including pond creation, hedgerow and tree planting, wildflower planting, bird and bat box installation and erection of information boards. These works have been funded by a variety of sources, including Sonning Parish Council (who own the land), Sonning Fire Brigade Trust and the Sonning Village Scarecrow fund.
Following the discovery of breeding Great Crested Newts during the Millenium Festival pond-dipping sessions in the summer of 2000, the Parish Council, with Wokingham District Council support, authorised village resident, Alastair Driver, to apply to English Nature for Local Nature Reserve status for the site. The first site management plan was produced in September 2000 and the site was officially declared Ali’s Pond LNR in April 2001, making Sonning Parish Council only the third parish council in the country to declare an LNR.
The project was conceived, designed and managed by Alastair Driver, working in collaboration with the Parish Council and other interested parishioners. The nature area has been created and managed for the use and enjoyment of all sections of the local community, as well as for visitors to the village. If properly managed it will be a valuable resource for many generations to come. Key England Biodiversity Strategy priority species which have colonized the site so far include Great-crested Newt, Stag Beetle, Song Thrush and Pipistrelle Bat. In total, 18 species of dragonfly, 250 species of larger moth and over 40 species of aquatic/wetland plants have been recorded at the site since its establishment in 1997.
The field immediately to the south and west of Ali’s Pond LNR was purchased by Reading Blue Coat School in 2006. Then, in 2007, as a condition of the planning application to change the land use designation of that field from agriculture to sport, another nature area was created within it to provide additional habitat for Great Crested Newts. This area is known as Sonning Field and contains another amphibian breeding pond, log and brushwood piles and new hedgerows with a wide variety of native trees and shrubs. A permissive path enables easy access through from Ali’s Pond and across Sonning Field to a kissing gate on Sonning Lane.
Together these sites provide a unique amenity with easy public access within the heart of the village. Located in an area surrounded by large private gardens and the “wildlife deserts” of recreation fields, this wildlife oasis has proved incredibly popular with young and old alike. People walk their dogs there on a regular basis, the elderly can stroll around the site comfortably using the regularly strimmed paths, and youngsters from the local primary school, Reading Blue Coat School and the Baden-Powell groups use it as an outdoor classroom for minibeast hunting, pond dipping etc.
In addition to the wholly informal use of the site, a Friends of Ali’s Pond (FAP) Group has been set up which now has over 60 members, most of whom live within a couple of miles of the site. Members of this group participate in volunteer management activities such as tree planting, pond clearance and hay-making and attend moth and amphibian surveys led by Alastair Driver, who acts as a voluntary warden. These activities have not been confined solely to the reserve — conservation work has also been carried out in other nearby locations to provide complementary habitat and amenity to that found in the reserve. Anyone can join this group, of which membership is free, by e-mailing Alastair Driver: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our thanks to Ali Driver for permission to use his photographs.