Wednesday 17th November - Enthusiastic attendance at N Pond public meeting

Around one hundred people flocked to the Bishops Waltham Jubilee Hall on Wednesday evening, despite a cold wet November night. They came to hear about the latest developments on the Bishops Waltham North Pond. The evening was a varied programme run by the Bishops Waltham North Pond Working Group and included talks by the Environment Agency and Portsmouth Water Company. The owners of the pond were also there represented by Mrs Georgina Harvey, MD of James Duke Holdings Ltd. and Damian Offer of Winchester City Council.

Alan Inder, Chairman of the Working Group, provided some of the background and history of the Bishops Waltham Pond which, before the B2177 dissected it, had been one large pond. His talk included many interesting facts and photographs. The pond originated as a fish pond to supply, exclusively, the Bishops of Winchester. Throughout its working life, the pond had been emptied every four or so years for silt removal and cleaning, quite a contrast with the last century. Apparently, while it was empty a crop of barley was grown on the pond bed. Photographs of the 1950s showed the railway and engine shed beside the pond with no trees. By the 1970s, trees had started to grow and the new roads were in place, but by the late 1980s willows and other trees were well advanced in taking over the pond area. This is what the restoration plan is tackling.

Portsmouth Water Company have one of their main boreholes at Northbrook, which supplies a large population in Hampshire. Local residents have always been concerned about the water abstraction and what effect this has on the North Pond drying up in the summer. Andy Neve addressed this in his talk. There has been a borehole at Northbrook since 1890 and a water abstraction licence of 6m gals/day (21m l/day) was granted in 1960 when Portsmouth Water company took it over. Water abstraction is essential in Hampshire for water supply, where the chalk acts as a large sponge soaking up the winter rainfall. During the rest of the year the water makes it way down to the sea, percolating through the porous chalk, meaning that all streams on the chalk are seasonal and liable to dry up in the summer. Water abstraction from Northbrook has always been well below the licence allowance, but PWCo has a responsibility to provide clean water to the area, pointing out that everyone in the room is a PWCo customer. There are many pressures on water supply in Hampshire from increased housing, reduced abstraction due to the Water Framework Directive (to maintain better stream, river and harbour habitats) and also the effects of climate change. Residents can help by reducing their water usage from the current average of 160 l/person/day.

Rod Murchie of the Environment Agency explained the geology of the area and its effect on the North Pond. The pond is at the boundary between the chalk of the South Downs and the "Reading Beds", a geological strata of mixed clays. Rod presented quite a technical talk, but easily understandable. He showed the water table and how the difference in levels between winter and summer effect the North Pond causing it to dry out in the summer. There was some good news in that water abstraction from boreholes has been decreasing since the 1990s, despite increasing population in the south. This has been due to less leakage, reduced industrial usage, new building regs. and water metering. Rod also explained that the EA are the environmental police monitoring and regulating the use of water.

Alan Inder and Barry Jerome presented the restoration plan for the North Pond and the recent progress. The draft plan was agreed in March this year with the land owners, Parish Council and other interested parties. Since then there has been a lot of progress. The work funded by the Environment Agency made a big difference at the southern end of the pond. The purpose was to make fish rescue easier and to open up views for the public. It had the added advantage of generating lots of local enthusiasm which boosted the numbers attending the Saturday morning volunteer work parties. These work parties achieved far more than was thought possible in the time and have opened up large areas of the pond. These were always fun affairs, which included young and old, from the local community. The next steps are more detailed planning and to create a formal Community Association which will be able to apply for grant money to continue the restoration.

Eric Birbeck moderated a Q&A session which received many questions and comments from the assembled audience. All of the feedback was positive and appreciative of what had been achieved by the Working Group and the many volunteers at the work parties. There were also some suggestions for inclusion in the next stage of the plans. Dorothy Quiney, from the Parish Council, concluded by suggesting that everyone contribute something to the fund raising as they leave, which resulted in 97 towards the working fund. As the meeting broke up there was a lot of continuing positive discussion amongst everyone there and the conclusion was that it was a very successful meeting.

Barry