The restoration of Fleet Pond is a labour of love
PUBLISHED: 11:06 03 October 2013 | UPDATED: 11:06 03 October 2013
After years of campaigning the restoration of Fleet Pond has begun. Of course there's the public's generosity to thank as well as local businesses, but there are some special people who deserve particular mention. Claire Pitcher speaks to a few of the members of Fleet Pond Society
“I’ve been a member for 28 years. I used to live in Subury and we decided to move this way as they were building the M3 right past our door. I was working for BA then and my friend in the office said that he lived in Fleet and we could car share. But what he didn’t tell me is that he was a member of the Pond Society and the condition of sharing the car was to join. I used to run the conservation work funds and they made me chairman of the management sub committee. In 1999 the then chairman resigned and I was left holding the baby. Among so many other things I enjoy about being chairman what I’ve found rewarding is after campaigning about the silt for nearly 40 years, before even I came on the scene, it’s now actually being sorted out. I honestly thought it would never get done while I was still alive.”
“Two years ago I didn’t turn up to one of the committee meetings so they decided to make me Vice Chairman! I’ve been a member of the society for about six years since I retired. The wife wanted me out of the house. I’d say my main role is planning various project at the pond, including the new pond dipping platform. I was also in charge of encouraging Turns onto one of the islands. We covered the island in gravel to encourage them to nest. We carted 55 tonnes over there, levelled it and fenced it off. The Turns came and have had a great summer – even Black Headed Gulls paid a visit.”
“I joined when I retired five years ago, thinking I was only going to do manual work and then somehow I ended up on the committee. I was supposed to be temporary treasurer – but here I am five years later. I’m involved with other societies such as U3A and cycling groups too. Three years ago, to kick off our Clearwater Campaign, I cycled up to Liverpool and back. This year Colin is doing a sponsored walk trying to cover all the sites of special scientific interest and nature reserves – about 21 miles in total. I think the manual conservation work we do is the most rewarding. Being treasurer is merely doing something useful, a necessity.”
“Our family have been members for seven years or so but I’ve become more active since I retired. I used to be a computer software developer, sitting at a desk all day, so I was glad to do something that got me outdoors. I’m pretty hooked on the pond and come to all of the monthly conservation days. I’m lucky enough to live on one of the roads that border the Nature Reserve. I’ve been in Fleet for 36 years and although I was too busy working back then to visit the pond, 1976 would have been about the time of the original band of volunteers. They were making the pond a place for everyone to come and visit; installing the first paths and bridges. This place is such a fantastic amenity, along with the Basingstoke canal which we also have on our doorstep.”
Hart Council Ranger
“There are seven rangers altogether, but we all work at nine various sites. I can be found here usually – I have been for two years now. I look after lots of things, from the restoration project, habitat management and scrub cutting to guided walks and events. The rangers and the society work out of the same base here at the pond and we work side by side on managing the site. We have a working task on the second Sunday of the month but we also host corporate days too.
I think there wouldn’t be a Fleet if there wasn’t a Fleet Pond. Having the open water is such a draw and everything’s so well maintained. You can enjoy a walk without having to wear boots and waterproofs. But I must say my favourite thing is running the events, hundreds of people turn up and it’s great hearing people talking excitedly about the pond and its wildlife.”
It’s believed that two large ponds were formed in the 12th century by constructing embankments which dammed the streams flowing from Lourly Hill to the area known as ‘La Flete’, on the low lying land at Crookham Common. Monks stocked the ponds with fish – a source of food for the local population.
Ownership of the pond changed in 1505 when it was leased to a tenant farmer, Sir William Giffard.
Fifty-three years later, the lease was transferred to George Paulet. In lieu of the obligation to provide fresh fish, which couldn’t have been easy as there was no railway or motorway, he was to pay annually 23 shillings for the pasture and 20 for the ponds and fishery.
A heavy storm carried away the head of one of the ponds in 1567. To save the repair costs the Dean who had succeeded possession in 1541, gave permission to convert the pond to pasture. The arrangement continued for 350 years.
The London and Southampton Railway Company bought Fleet Mill Pond as well as certain allotments and wasteland in 1836 for £50 and set about building a line from London to Southampton. Daytrippers flocked to the pond thanks to the building of Fleet Pond Halt station. Developers bought up the surrounding land and built second homes for wealthy Londoners. Traders moved in and set up businesses to service house owners – and so Fleet Town was born.
Large areas of land around Aldershot were acquired for military training in 1854 and Fleet Pond was included.
In 1905 the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Farnborough and two years later the first military airship was built there. Geoffrey de Havilland conducted float plane trials on the pond in 1912.
Early in the Second World War the pond was drained and the land planted with willows as it was feared the large body of water would provide a valuable navigation tool for the Luftwaffe. It was refilled in 1947.
In 1951 Fleet Pond was named as one of the first Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which was confirmed in 1984 under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
Fleet Urban District Council (FUDC) purchased it in 1973, transferring ownership to Hart in 1974.
Fleet Pond Society was formed in 1976 to assist in the management of the Reserve and at its suggestion the land was declared a Local nature Reserve in 1977.
The Clearwater Campaign
The Clearwater Campaign began when it was recognised that without serious works, the pond could lose its SSSI status. Over the years there has been an accumulation of silt which has reduced the amount of aquatic plant and animal life in the pond. The majority of the silt gets in through the two feeders – the Gelvert and Brookly streams. It runs from the MOD land to Sandy Bay at the pond, where it’s deposited into the water. The MOD have done all they can to reduce the silt but the problem is the material that’s already there, including detritus (leaves and general human debris). The campaign brought together the society, Hart District Council, Natural England and the Environment Agency as well as other local parties.
It was patron of the society, Chris Packham, who seemed to speed things up for the Clearwater Campaign. He produced a DVD which the society then used to publicise the problem. That seemed to get things moving and the council decided they were going to do something about it. They got together with Natural England and the Environment Agency and they started making bids for grant money. What they raised totalled £250,000 and the dredging began in 2012. The five-year restoration project is ongoing, with dredging, the building of new areas and islands and improvement to footpaths as well as notice boards.