Importance of Reedbeds

Reedbeds are priority habitats for nature conservation. They provide ecosystems for the life cycle of various birds, mammals, insects, invertebrates and along the edges, fish. Worryingly, over 40% of UK reedbeds have been lost since 1945 and this decline continues. For this reason, Fleet Pond Society (FPS) and its volunteers are paying special attention to the reedbeds on the Reserve.

As well as being a haven for wildlife, a healthy reedbed will clean water, filtering and purifying wastewater and providing a buffer against pollutants.  On the Reserve, high flows of water from the Gelvert Stream are diverted through some of the reedbeds filtering out sand and other particles before the water enters the Pond. As part of a wetland ecosystem reedbeds are also a way to trap greenhouse gases.

Reedbeds are dynamic ecosystems, vital for the life cycle of various forms of wildlife including dragonflies and damselflies. They require management to keep them healthy, including regular reed cutting and most importantly, keeping the encroachment of scrub in check. Without this management, a litter layer can build up enabling woodland and scrub to take over eventually causing the reedbed to dry out. A managed reedbed provides ideal conditions for wildlife through the creation of structure, including open wet habitat, pools, glades and reedy edges.

Climate change is taking its toll on the reedbeds. We now experience much less rainfall in the summer and consequentially water levels become lower in the Pond, exposing the reedbeds to the risk of drying out.

At Fleet Pond Nature Reserve there are several reedbeds; one of the largest is the Brookly Reedbed covering an area of approximately 8500m2. Common reed Phragmites australis is the dominant species, but reedmace Typha latifolia is also present.

For many years, as an important part of the management cycle, FPS volunteers have helped the rangers with the cutting and removal of reeds on all the reedbeds.   On the Brookly Reedbed the woodland barrier between the public footpath and the reedbed had spread until young trees and scrub completely covered the site. Contractors began work removing the large trees towards the path line, opening the area up. This work was mitigation for the loss of land at the edge of the Pond as a result the installation of the new widened footpath along the northern side.

FPS volunteers have, over the past few months, continued this work by removing around 1000 of the smaller trees and scrub from the Brookly Reedbed, carefully treating the stumps so that they will not regrow. This has resulted in a large area of the reedbed being opened up with structure and pools of water being re-established. Work will continue in the autumn to remove further scrub and another 1000 saplings, re-establishing a healthy balance on the site. It’s a huge task with some logistical challenges, namely the uneven nature of the site underfoot and the fact that it can only be accessed by boat.  The new battery for our boat engine has proved very efficient in powering the boat bringing our volunteers to and from the site.

Hart District Council’s Countryside Service secured over £100,000 from the Rural Payments Agency, in partnership with Natural England, to support significant improvements for wildlife at Fleet Pond.  These enhancements included contractors working on hard-to-reach scrubland areas and the creation of marshland scrapes.

The removal of scrub build-up will increase water retention within the marshes, allowing some of the site’s reedbeds to reconnect, and means more light will be able to reach the water.  As part of the Stewardship Grant, clearance of scrub has been carried out on the reedbeds at Wellington and Lions’ View. The new opening from Lions’ View to the North East Marsh is particularly impressive and it is hoped that by summer the area will be one long connected reedbed, a valuable habitat for so many species.

Open pools of water will be created on all these cleared reedbeds, benefiting a wide range of species such as the little egret, emperor dragonfly, common toad and marsh pennywort. Scrapes, such as the new one on the North East Marsh, will also create important areas of bare ground, helping nesting birds.

As you walk around the Reserve, stop near the reedbeds and listen out for the many birds which shelter there, among them the Cetti’s warbler, reed warbler and reed bunting. If you are lucky, you may spot the shy water rail. The view point over the Wellington Reedbed is a great place to sit and listen, as well as try and spot some of its residents.

Looking after the Reserve reedbeds is a high priority for Fleet Pond Society and we hope that this article will help you understand why.  If you would like to know more about the Society and our work at Fleet Pond Nature Reserve visit: