The Steyning Downland has its own chalk stream which emerges from a series of springs in the wooded valley on the Rifle Range. The stream supports a series of ponds. These were dug artificially, it is believed, to create a steady flow of water for the watermills downstream. For more detail on the history of the stream, please read this report (with grateful thanks to Alec Harden).
In more recent times the ponds had fallen into disrepair, being deeply shaded and invaded by trees. The SDS Pond Group was set up to explore the options for their future management. The Group is made up of local people and ecologists with interests in the beauty, wildlife, recreational value and history of these special habitats.
The team’s goals have been to to focus on conserving wildlife in the lower, more secluded ponds while enabling the local community to enjoy and better understand the wildlife of the Upper Pond.
The Upper Pond has been restored in stages, clearing some of the trees, allowing more light to reach the pond and reducing leaf-fall. At each stage we have learned a little more, although the brick dam remains a bit of a mystery. At the time of writing, water continues to leak from it, although we are not sure how, or the best method of preventing it. The risks to be considered in doing anything around dams have added a sobering background to this process of exploration, and much valuable advice has been provided by a variety of engineering specialists.
The brick dam has an overflow pipe which was cleared to restore flow through it, as originally designed, and to reduce erosion around the ‘wing wall’ next to it. This work was also carried out (after taking appropriate technical advice) by enthusiastic volunteers.
Ecologically the most important part of the system is the spring-fed, heavily shaded, chalk stream (or ‘ghyll’) flowing through a steep-sided wooded ravine above the main pond. The habitat is highly unusual on the chalk in Sussex. You can read a little more about this habitat in this Sussex Wildlife Trust leaflet.
In 2018, we began some more extensive clearance of the Upper Pond. We are most grateful to Tescos Bags of Help for their grant for this work and to Bill Kear Contractors for their the generous support. Future work is planned for summer 2019, when we hope to address the mystery leaks in the dam wall.
To find out more, or to get involved in the pond group, please e-mail us.