Save Fleet Pond

Known as the voice of the countryside, CPRE Hampshire are here to fight for our green space. This month, Janet Martin, Chairman of CPRE's North-East Hampshire group talks about a hidden beauty in the North of the county

Here in North East Hampshire we often feel overlooked when the natural assets of our county are being considered, not having the impact of the New Forest, the South Downs or the Test Valley. Many people think only of the urban sprawl of Aldershot and Farnborough, the impact of Basingstoke, the M3 and the ever encroaching development of the South East in general.

However we do have much to offer environmentally and can claim many sites where acronyms abound: AONB – Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, SINC –Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation, SPA – Special Protection Areas, and SSSI – Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Of the latter designation, Fleet Pond Nature Reserve is a very important example. The pond itself is, at 52 acres (21 ha), the county’s largest freshwater lake; the nature reserve covers 141 acres (57ha) of which 118 acres (48ha) is SSSI. The reserve is home to 180 species of bird, and a migration stop over for many more, 26 species of butterfly, 21 species of dragonfly and damselfly and 400 varieties of wildflowers, some of which are rare or of national or even international importance.

Currently the pond is subject to a major restoration programme aimed at enhancing the habitat value and restoring some of the lost aquatic value; the pond has lost virtually all aquatic vegetation due to blanketing by silt. Urgent measures were needed to recover the biodiversity of this very important site to ensure that its notification as SSSI was not lost. Some people might think that the launch of a major dredging project to remove accumulated silt from a pond was an appeal to volunteers to don waders and to come along with nets, shovels and rakes. Well think again! This is a multi-million pound task, requiring huge dredging machines and JCB operators. Good fortune smiled when Natural England and the Environment Agency took a keen interest and bid successfully, with the support of owners Hart Council, for half a million pounds to set the project in motion. A good start but more will be needed.

The Defence Estates had come to the rescue with the installation of filtration measures and silt traps which have significantly reduced the amount of eroded soils reaching the pond. This has made it possible to consider tackling what was already in the pond, but surveys had identified more than 120,000 cubic metres of silt covering the bed of the lake; a major problem.

One of the most enthusiastic and hardworking champions of Fleet Pond, and chairman of Fleet Pond Society, is committed CPRE member, Colin Gray. He is very keen to ensure that the work is a means, not only of continuing to support the environmental integrity of the site, but that it continues to promote the opportunities it provides for all the community.

The technical and major engineering work is being grant funded and the project management and heavy machinery for habitat restoration and dredging activity is operated by experts. Other aspects of the restoration programme are being addressed by voluntary organisations, principally Fleet Pond Society. In the longer term, aspects of community benefit will include more seats, better fishing jetties, upgraded footpaths, resurfacing of the main access road, information boards and new guide leaflets. The educational potential of the reserve for all ages will be enhanced and a dedicated pond dipping platform for the younger visitors is planned.

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In these times of ever increasing development and pressure for housing in the South East, this large and currently protected site is of great benefit to the wider community. It offers a quiet, environment for walking, cycling, fishing, jogging and space for the appreciation of fresh air in "natural" surroundings.

Colin Gray has the last word about this valuable amenity, "Fleet Pond is a remarkable nature reserve with a variety of different habitats within a comparably small area and offers a range of wildlife experiences for the keen observer. But you do not need to know every plant, bird and invertebrate to enjoy the reserve. Most of our visitors just come for the peace and tranquillity it offers in an otherwise densely developed and busy area. It has been described as a green lung, an oasis of tranquillity, a wonderful place for children to enjoy nature in a safe environment. It is all of these and more. Fleet Pond Society has set up the Clearwater Campaign to fund some of the community benefit elements of the restoration programme. The first year target was set at �20,000 towards which sponsors and donors have so far contributed �15,000; proof, if it were needed, that Fleet Pond has a special place in the hearts of our community.

Further details about the Clearwater Campaign fund can be obtained from colin.gray@fleetpondsociety or contact Becky French at CPRE Hampshire or 01962 779185 who will pass on your enquiry.

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