COUNTY YARNS – A dew pond by any other name

A dew pond by any other name
A dew pond by any other name

There aren’t so many now but a century ago there were thousands of them along the South Downs. Dew ponds. Shallow, circular depressions with an impervious bottom of clay, chalk or concrete.

They are for collecting water so that sheep and cattle might drink on hillsides where water would not naturally accumulate. The thing is though that there really is no such thing as a dew pond. It seems to be a term coined relatively recently.

Farmers and shepherds always used to call them ‘sheep ponds’ or ‘mist ponds’ or even ‘cloud ponds’. This was because dew had very little to do with keeping these artificial ponds topped up. The main supply of water came from rainfall. If constructed properly the water catchment area of a sheep pond should be much larger than the dish itself and a heavy shower or two could greatly replenish the supply.

Though there isn’t the same numbers of livestock up on the hills as there used to be, sheep ponds have other uses and deserve to make a comeback.

Conservationists know that water where there really should not be any water will attract wildlife. Amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts lay their eggs in water but can live on land. In the winter the adults can hibernate in the mud at the bottom of the pond. In summer colourful dragonflies find them irresistible.

A couple of years ago a sheep pond at Telscombe was refurbished thanks to action by the Friends of Telscombe Tye and given a new liner. Once it was filled with water, newts, water beetles and pond skaters moved in. Swallows and housemartins were observed swooping low enough to grab a drink whilst remaining on the wing. Proof that positive action can preserve a piece of our Downland heritage plus give a helping hand to our precious wildlife.