The story

On a recent visit to La Junquera, I took the time to visit some ponds across the farm to observe what life was to be found among the small oases in a semi-arid landscape.

Constructing ponds is an effective strategy to support biodiversity on farm. Ponds are built by excavating into the earth and are used to harvest and store water. That makes water available for biodiversity throughout the year – critical in a semi-arid landscape like the Altiplano Estepario, Southern Spain. When visiting La Junquera – a farm part of the AlVelAl network and owned by Alfonso Chico de Guzmán – I checked out some ponds to see what life could be found.

It was September 2021 and towards the end of a dry summer. There had been no decent rain for several months. One pond appeared to be completely without water; cracked crevices marked across the dry earth. Looking at the pond gave me a premonition about what even drier climates might do to water sources in the region: some reports claim with current trends, Southern Spain will be a desert by 2100.

Climate change is causing hotter summers and longer periods without rain in Southern Spain (Photo credit: Tom Lovett).

Yet when I walked out onto the pond, my premonition dissolved and was replaced by curiosity. I noticed tracks of wild boar gently imprinted on the surface. And in-between the cracked earth was wet mud. Here, there were small light-coloured frogs; waiting for the next rains. Then I followed the wild boar tracks to a large patch of disturbed mud: signs of a bath. I imagined the wild boar wallowing in the mud, cooling off in the hot summer weather. So even seemingly dry ponds attract and provide habitat for wildlife.

regenerative agriculture

Even seemingly dry ponds attract all sorts of wildlife. Here, wild boar tracks are printed on the surface, while a small frog cools off in the shade (Photo credit: Tom Lovett, Commonland).

Wet mud offers habitat for wildlife like this frog (Photo credit: Tom Lovett, Commonland).

Across La Junquera there are 80 ponds. Some act as small dams to support swales, while others have a surface area of a hectare and a capacity of 1000 cubic metres. All ponds offer support for biodiversity. Because the presence of even a small amount of water, or wet mud, creates habitat for wildlife – essential during the dry season. Recently in an interview on podcast Farmerama, Alfonso describes how “ponds are helping a lot with biodiversity. They provide water, shelter for birds and little different habitats across the farm.”

Alfonso (pictured) is an advocate for ponds and has constructed 80 across his farm at La Junquera (Photo credit: Tom Lovett).

When I walked to another pond containing water, life quickly made itself known. The pond was hidden by tall grasses and, at a low water level, brimmed with plants. Approaching the water’s edge disturbed hidden frogs which leapt into the pond. I sat in the grass, appreciating the cool microclimate and waited to observe what was going on.

A pond with water in the dry season offers critical habitat for local wildlife (Photo credit: Tom Lovett, Commonland).

The vegetation growing around ponds provides habitat for birds and other animals to nest (Photo credit: Tom Lovett, Commonland)

Dragon flies flitted along the water in a mating ritual: colliding in copulation. Under the clear surface, beetles floated to air only to scurry back down into watery green undergrowth. Previously disturbed frogs rose to sit on plants; eyes on the circling dragon flies. I even saw a coiled snake, cooling off underwater, which then glided into the water plants.

All sorts of water plants, insects and animals are attracted by ponds (Photo credit: Tom Lovett, Commonland).

I was amazed to see just how much life congregated to this one small patch of water. Alfonso explains how you can tell a lot about ponds from the animals and insects that come. For example, dragon flies need clean water and their presence signifies a healthy pond. And ponds attract biodiversity that support agriculture. Recent research by a student at La Junquera demonstrated that many insects found at the ponds are pollinators needed for almond production; agriculture directly benefits from the biodiversity living in and around ponds.

By attracting and providing habitat for biodiversity, ponds are an important component for resilient agriculture (Photo credit: Tom Lovett).

Ponds are a magnet for life. Constructing them across farms in a semi-arid climate like the Altiplano is essential to supporting biodiversity on farm. Not only does the presence of water support local wildlife, but the insects that congregate around ponds are critical for supporting food production. Ponds are then a key component to nature-friendly and regenerative farming in the Altiplano Estepario. Constructing ponds will allow farmers to develop resilient food production which can face up to the climate changes to come.

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2 replies on "Ponds: creating biodiversity oases in a semi-arid landscape"

  1. Very nice story, zoomed in on creating biodiversity at farms.

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