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Creating habitats at Wilton

Wilton Industrial Complex

ICI plc – one of the founding members of INCA – had at that time a large landholding on the Wilton chemical complex and adjoining estate. A considerable area of this land was undeveloped and the company had no immediate plans for its industrial use. Consequently, ICI’s ecological team worked with INCA to manage and create wildlife habitat on some of the vacant plots.  Two ponds were created, one involving the excavation of a moderately-sized pond in an area of rough grassland of limited ecological value, the other the improvement and extension of a small existing wet area to create a very large pond. The main objective was to provide habitat for amphibians and aquatic invertebrates, especially damselflies and dragonflies. 

The Wilton industrial complex is permeated by a network of grassland habitats, here looking south to the Cleveland Hills.

The smaller pond was excavated by the company’s maintenance team and INCA worked with the site’s ecology advisers to install a watertight butyl liner. After the pool was filled by the site’s fire service it was allowed to settle before it was planted with indigenous water and marginal plants.                                

These included Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, Water Mint Mentha aquatica, Flag Iris Iris pseudacorus, Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi, Lady’s Smock Cardamine pratense and Broad-leaved Pondweed Potamategon natans.  Eventually species such as Common Reed Phragmites australis and Reedmace Typha latifolia naturally colonised; however, these species had on occasion to be controlled to prevent them becoming over-dominant.            

The pool attracted a variety of damselflies and dragonflies, some of them in large numbers. Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans, Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum and Azure Damselfly Coenagrion puella were at times very abundant.  The most numerous of the larger dragonflies was Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum but Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum, Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea and Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata also occurred but in lower numbers.  Of particular interest were the breeding Emperor Dragonflies Anax imperator. At the time this species had a restricted distribution in Cleveland and this pool was one of the first breeding sites here.

One of INCA’s pioneering members of staff, Ken Smith, scans the Wilton Ecology Pond.

The larger pond was a much more ambitious undertaking.  The site’s maintenance department created more open water in the small existing wetland by removing some of the more rampant vegetation. Following advice from the ecological team and INCA, the pond was extended into an area of rough grassland, and when completed measured 140m by 25m in size.  

Known as the “Ecology Pond”, this improved habitat was colonised by large breeding colonies of Common Frogs Rana temporaria and Common Toads Bufo bufo, and like the smaller pond dragonflies and damselflies were particularly numerous.  The pool had easy access and the company’s education liaison team used it for organised pond-dipping visits for local schools.  

While the smaller pond subsequently declined due to invasion by New Zealand Pygmyweed Crassula helmsii and was ultimately filled in, the Ecology Pond, now managed by Sembcorp Energy UK Ltd, continues to be a very important aquatic habitat locally.  Although emergent plants such as Common Reed and Reedmace now cover almost half its area, it still retains one of the largest areas of freshwater on the south side of the river and in abundance of dragonflies and damselflies it must have few equals.