Birches Farm Trail – Foolway Pond

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B: Foolway Pond viewpoint

At this location you would be stood on top  of a hummock, looking down at Foolway Piece Pond. 

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Hummocky moraine

Geologists describe this landscape as “hummocky moraine”. This means that the rocks here were laid down by a glacier and have formed these rounded bumps in the fields. At this location you would be standing on top of one of these hummocks.

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Aerial view

Viewed from above you can see this field and adjacent fields have a series of hummocks crossing them. Foolway Piece Pond is just off to the top left of this image.

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Beneath a glacier

During the last Ice Age 22000 years ago, this area would have been underneath a large glacier that came from the Welsh mountains to the west. As glaciers move forwards the bits of rock that they pass over get picked up and form a very hard rough surface at its base. These rocks act like sandpaper, wearing away the ground that the glacier passes over and carrying this new material away with it.

The ice would probably have been many tens of metres thick over this area, but the high tops of the Welsh mountains would have risen above the ice. Their rock surfaces would have been fractured by ice and thick drifts of snow would have filled the gullies.

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Left behind by the ice

As the glacier melted and retreated back towards Wales, it deposited lots of sand, gravel and rocks that it is was carrying. It is this material that makes up the surface here and it often includes rounded pebbles and rocks, called “erratics” that the glacier picked up along its route.\n\nThis picture, taken in Iceland, shows recently formed hummocky deposits.

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As well as creating these hummocks, the retreating glacier can create features known as kettle-holes. Some of these can form ponds and one of them can be seen in the field in Foolway Place field.

Kettle-hole ponds are the type of Ice Age Pond formed during the retreat (melting) stage of a glacier.

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How Kettle-hole ponds form

Essentially they are hollows that were once filled with blocks of ice left behind as the glacier retreated from the area.

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Glacier retreating

Glacier is retreating in a warmer climate. As it retreats a block of ice is left behind, insulated by an overburden of debris deposited as the main ice sheet melts.

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Isolated ice block

An isolated ice block which will very slowly melt. The ice is insulated by the overlying debris.

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Pond formed

The location of the former ice block is now a depression filled with water. Glacial debris will infill part of the hole and soften the angle of the edges. We now have a kettle-hole pond.

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Pond infilling

The depression will slowly infill with washed in sediment and the formation of peat, from decayed vegetation that has become established in the glacial deposits.

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Foolway Pond – a kettle-hole pond

At the lowest point of Foolway Piece field is the small seasonal Foolway Pond. Depending on rainfall it will usually hold water from autumn until spring but will dry out during the summer. Despite often being referred to as ‘temporary ponds’, seasonal ponds like this can be extremely persistent in the landscape as sediment does not accumulate in them over time.

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Managing temporary pools

Management of temporary ponds is mainly aimed at preventing them from becoming overgrown by trees and scrub, as most of the wetland plants and animals prefer open, sunny conditions. The pond has been fenced to limit excessive trampling of the vegetation by cattle, while allowing access by sheep.

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Pond from above

The base of the pond is covered in a dense growth of bladder sedge (Carex vesicaria). Around the edges are a small number of other wetland plants, including sharp-flowered rush (Juncus acutiflorus) and cuckooflower (Cardamine pratense). A ring of soft rush (Juncus effusus) clumps just inside the fence indicates the winter high water level.

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Life in Foolway Pond

When the pond was surveyed in 2019 eighteen different water beetle species were found. The most noteworthy of these is Helophorus strigifrons, a 4 mm long water scavenger beetle. This species is Nationally Scarce and prefers shallow seasonal ponds with grass or sedge vegetation; individuals invariably seem to be caked in mud when found. The pond is also important for common frogs (Rana temporaria); seasonal ponds provide good breeding sites for this species as they contain fewer tadpole predators such as newts and dragonfly larvae.

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Return back into Pool Field

At the gate back into Pool Field, veer left slightly to cross Pool Field diagonally.

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Crossing Pool Field

Cross Pool Field diagonally to the gate in the far corner, where you will enter Lawns Field.

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Into Lawns Field

Pass through the gate into Lawns field, continue ahead with the hedge to your right, towards another gate.

This field is a nice example of a traditional hay meadow. It has a great many types of plants and insects including a number of orchids in spring and summer as well as autumn crocus later in the season, as illustrated below.

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Spring flowers as found in Lawns Field

In the spring cowslips, bluebells and lady’s smock.

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Orchids in May and June

Common spotted, early purple, twayblade and green winged orchids.

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High summer

Devils bit scabious, birds foot trefoil, bugle, yellow rattle and knapweed flower across the site, while dyer’s greenweed thrives on the sloping northern fields.

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Late summer

Late summer sees swathes of harebells before autumn crocus steal the show.

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Designated SSSI

The meadows contain a wealth of species and the richness of this grassland has earned the reserve the status of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Herefordshire Wildlife Trust has continued to manage the site traditionally with seasonal grazing by sheep and cattle (and the odd donkey) and the cutting of a hay crop in late summer. They have also undertaken ‘green hay strewing’ – taking freshly cut hay from the most species-rich areas and spreading it onto the less diverse areas to allow the seed to spread.