Londoners with back gardens are being urged to dig ponds to reverse a 100-year-old trend of environmental destruction in the capital.

Conservationists have recently instituted a programme to create communal ponds on derelict land to help to protect threatened species such as the great crested and palmate newts. The water soldier, a semi-evergreen free-floating plant with white flowers, is also at risk.

Now, however, the London Ecology Unit and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, which estimate that more than 80 per cent of ponds have disappeared since the turn of the century, say they want householders to 'dig for victory' in the battle to save


The trust, which produces a 'dig your own pond fact-pack' and visits schools as part of the campaign, blames the sprawling urban development for the crisis. Increasing demands for water and the need for valuable agricultural land has meant many ponds and small lakes that dotted the rural fringes of London have been swallowed up by development.

The unit has counted about 660 ponds in the Greater London area, excluding those in back gardens. Central London has few small patches of water left, save those in parks, and significant numbers of ponds are now found only on the outer edges of the city.

Dave Dawson, the unit's deputy director, said the inevitable result of the demise of ponds has been a decrease in the number of creatures that inhabit them. 'Ponds provide refuges not only for frogs, toads and newts, but also for a wealth of insect life, including dragonflies and damselflies, which have all suffered,' he said.

'There's a whole range of wildlife that you only get with water and I'm sure there has been a loss of species.

'The great crested newt, for example, still exists but it's in trouble. Even though it's protected by statute, the areas it lives in are not, so the ponds are not protected.'

Conservationists this week called for action to reverse the trend by digging more ponds and reclaiming abandoned ones.

The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers is excavating communal ponds throughout London and encouraged residents with back gardens to do the same.

Nick Forster, the charity's London manager - seen above at a pond-dig at St Francis de Sales school, Tottenham - said ponds enhance the quality of life by creating a focal point for communities. 'People seem to have a magnetic attraction to them.'

Mr Forster said Pond Alert Week, which runs until Sunday, is designed to instil in people

a feeling of pride in their

surroundings. 'Development certainly took its toll on London's ponds. A few years ago it was the policy of several councils to fill in as many as possible - they had a sort of 'zero pond policy' because of aspects relating to the safety of children.

'We want people to take steps to reclaim them and

manage them.

'Some of the pond plants we could bring back are amazingly colourful. I'm trying to avoid saying 'in your face' but that's what they are. They're great fun and people really enjoy them.'

The Ecology Unit's Dave Dawson said while it was impossible to return to the pond-saturated fringes of London of 100 years ago, effort by the home-owning public was essential. If we can encourage enough people to dig ponds in their back gardens then we might get some of the way back to that situation.

'Back garden ponds are the only possibility of repairing the damage.'

(Photograph omitted)