We sought advice from organisations such as the Conservation Trusts and the then Nature Conservancy Council, but no one had tackled the problems we faced with such a large area of water, over 2 acres in fact. With the days of the old traction engines that cleared such ponds with drag lines long gone, no one it seemed had the technology we needed for such a difficult task. One of the first decisions was to decide what the problem really was. Did the geology of the area affect the water level? Could we get an additional source of water from nearby? At this stage Gifford & Partners provided the borehole survey, which indicated to us the various depths of clay, silt and sand in the pit area, and from this we devised our action plan.
Our main aims were;
a. to clear areas of vegetation to enable a good surface area of water to be seen by the public, and used by wildlife.
b. to retain the area at the back of the pit as a secluded wildlife reserve.
c. to remove some of the accumulated silt and mud.
d. to create a new & safe pond edge to prevent erosion and act as a natural barrier.
e. to create additional areas of seating for the public.
Since then many other challenges have emerged, but we have always kept to the basic principle that the pit has to be a place of importance for wildlife, and a valued amenity and place of enjoyment for as many sections of the community as possible. Over the years fishing and pond dipping platforms have been built, seats provided, a sandstone buffer provide to prevent erosion of the banks, a silt trap to prevent surface oil from the road reaching the water, and a swans' nest site has been erected. In 2009/10 coir rolls containing imbedded native plant species have been added to the banks to help stabilise them, and prevent further water erosion.
All these objectives have been met, often using recycled materials from old telegraph poles, discarded curbstones to slabs of unwanted paving stone. Team members have had to learn new skills to use these materials, but we have always been fortunate enough to have members with enthusiasm and commitment to the work to turn up whenever work is required. There has also been the wonderful support of other members of the community, not only in providing financial support in our fund raising, but vehicles, tools and equipment when needed. The Arden Family are foremost among them with the regular loan of equipment, and from our link with them through the Parish Council and the late Jim Partington & Phil Haywood. We have also benefited from the help and support of the Dandy Family of Littleton, and Eric & Brian Beech from Brown Heath Farm. We would also have been lost without the special help of Shell U.K. with their most generous support of workshop space for the development of equipment, especially the "Drag Queen", and loan of expensive cranes and lifting tackle when needed. Shell also arranged the loan of an enormous crane from Ainscough’s which lifted complete trees out of the Pit for us!.
Our link with Shell was through Ian Gorst our Chairman who has been the inspiration in providing solutions to our most difficult problems. We have also benefited enormously from having the artistic and creative skills of Eric Kenyon. Eric provides the drawings and plans that we work to, and has now become an expert in pond conservation, and is recognised as such by the Heritage Ponds Group.
The "drag queen" mentioned was not a medieval torture, but an ingenious device for dragging along the bottom of the pond removing unwanted rhizomes and reeds without damaging the ponds base. It looked rather like a supermarket trolley mounted on a sledge, which was attached to a long hawser and towed through the water, itself pulled by the long jib of a crane. This device guided by Ian and others in wet suits was instrumental in clearing the heavy matting of material that had accumulated very rapidly in the central area of the pit in the years between 1976 and 1986. The material was removed from the central area by boat and canoe, taken to the side of the pit where it was removed by other members, and deposited on areas of farmland or burned.
The contribution by Shell is recognised by the Shell Logo on the top of the water depth posts on either side of the pit. Each year working parties are organised to clear or maintain certain aspects of the pit, and all the improvements have created what is accepted as an excellent amenity for the village, creating a balance between the needs of the natural world and the community. Future work will be undertaken only when absolutely necessary, so as not to disturb the pond, plant and wildlife community.
When the pond conservation work started we were almost working in the dark, and perhaps in hindsight have done some things that might have caused more harm than it should, the removal of large stands of bulrush, combined with the introduction (unknown to us at the time), of fluoridated tap water killed off virtually the whole community of plants and thousands of pond creatures. This created a beautiful pond, but it was devoid of important elements, e.g. plants vital for the growth of insects and home to many aquatic creatures. Although we looked for advice from national organisations at the time decisions were taken, virtually none was available, but thanks to the Heritage Ponds Project and the work of Penny Williams, Jeremy Biggs and others from Oxford Brookes University, there is now a bank of knowledge available to pond rescuers in the future. Our involvement with the Heritage Pond Project was a direct result of our project being nominated by Dr Andrew Hull of John Moore’s University in Liverpool as a Heritage Pond for the North of England for the Millennium Pond Project.
The Christleton Pit project has achieved national status, and our pond was one of ten ponds chosen across the nation to illustrate the conservation value of ponds to other local communities. The strength of the Pit Project was that it was the only one that was truly community based, receiving almost no outside assistance from bodies such as the World Wildlife Fund or English Nature. The beautifully illustrated plaque commemorating the event now standing at the edge of the pit was designed by Eric Kenyon and made in nearby Shropshire. The base was cut and built by the team using some York stone, and the chrome ring and fixing designed and made by Ian Gorst. The National scheme was eventually shelved, but the Christleton Project has continued unabated. There is always work to be done, and volunteers are always welcome to join our number and help to keep this superb natural amenity safe for the future, and continue to be of great value to the village and the wider community.