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The Decline of Ponds and Primordial Soup

The Decline of Ponds and Primordial Soup In 1872, Charles Darwin, in a letter to his friend Joseph Hooker, theorized that life on earth began in a “warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, lights, heat, electricity, etc. present.” If so—and his theory still has supporters—life may have a hard time of it today, given the news that eighty percent of British ponds are in “a terrible state,” according to a national survey conducted by the group Pond Conservation. The Great Crested Newt, today’s Endangered All-Star, is likewise in a state, the focus of much concern in Britain, where it is considered threatened and has been declared a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The plan aims to restore populations to at least a hundred sites around the country and will require the creation of new ponds and the restoration of old ones damaged by agricultural pesticides, fertilizers, and good old neglect. The lost ponds carry with them severe costs, not only to newts, but to carbon sequestration: A recent estimate suggests that the world’s ponds absorb even more carbon than the oceans. Thus, Pond Conservation’s ambitious solution: The Million Ponds Project. Since it costs far less to dig a new pond than to restore a damaged one—and since Britain is reckoned to have lost about half its ponds to infill—the group has already carved out some 40 new ponds at Pinkhill, near Oxford. According to a recent article in The Guardian, these little waterways are already thriving, filled with 85 species of native plants and 165 invertebrates. Jeremy Biggs, the group’s director of policy and research told the newspaper: “They are wonderful, full of life. They are a place you can get close to nature. They are mysteries because you don’t know what you are going to find. A lot are aesthetically pleasing as well: the view over water, there’s something deep about that.” Surely, the newts feel that as well.
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