ARC’s Education Officer for Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR), Janet Ullman discusses the benefits of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDs) and how they can join community and environment

Many of us are used to ponds in the landscape, whether they are natural features, manmade watering holes for livestock or part of an extensive park land. Over time we have lost ponds to development and drainage schemes. However, with climate change the tide is turning and there is a need to contain flood waters during extreme weather events. The need to conserve and even recreate wetlands has become a top priority, there is need for vital blue veins of water bodies and wetlands to be maintained and created to absorb storm force rains. Those of us who live in Glasgow and Edinburgh are getting used to seeing major ground works in progress to create more space for rain water to be intercepted. Part of this programme is the creation of more ponds.

Sustainable Drainage Systems, known as SuDs are becoming the brand-new shiny thing in the toy box of development, they were put as one of the five key considerations for development under the National Planning Policy framework of 2019, after debating and considering the effects of the devastating 2007 floods. It was seen that with generations of development, drainage from roofs, roads, car parks, etc. were netting massive amounts of rainwater runoff during storms, overloading the sewers, overwhelming the rivers and leading to flooding.

So, what does a SuDs look like? It can be anything from creating a pond in a housing development to including an excavated basin with storm drains. Under the guidance SuDs have to reflect the landscape around them sensitively, increase biodiversity and add to landscape value. Therefore, there is the potential for SuDs to be a shining beacon in the effort to provide more habitats to our struggling amphibian species, especially in the more urban areas.

The Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR) project is working closely with a community groups who have been ‘gifted’ SuDs as part of their community green space. We have been very lucky to work with two especially vibrant community groups with large SuDs within their grounds.

The Hamilton Claypits Local Nature Reserve (LNR) runs along the Forth and Clyde Canal, between Firhill and Applecross basins. It is owned by Scottish Canals but has a very active community reserve management group with dedicated volunteers and reserve manager Julieanne Levett. A recent large housing development next to the LNR has meant that a large SuDs pond was dug onsite with storm drains from the development leading into the basin of the SuDs. ARC Volunteer Pete and I were on site on the 6th June to pond dip along with local nurseries and school groups. Local schools have adopted the SuDs pond as their Champhibian pond and were excited to find out what amphibians may be lurking among the reeds.

The ponds level had reduced drastically over the weeks of dry weather, but even though the water level was low, among the reeds was a rich fauna of invertebrate life and numerous palmate newts of all ages and sizes. Children and adults were enchanted by these hardy little amphibious characters and were soon learning how to spot a tiny eft among the mayfly nymphs and spotting the differences between males and females. The SuDs will be fully connected to the storm drains this winter and we will be interested to see what happens and how this will effect the life in the pond next Spring. It is predicted the water level will rise significantly, helping make the pond more drought tolerant in the Summer, but how it effects the established wildlife remains to be seen. Certainly, the Champhibian schools will keep us informed as will Julieanne and her amazing volunteers.

On the 8th July Pete and I were at Malls Mire with Urban Roots Conservation Officer Nicole Digruber, for a school science day, where with the support of Butterfly Conservation volunteers and local artists we had a whole day with over 100 children on site, exploring the area around Malls Mire’s extensive SuDs.

Malls Mire lies between Toryglen and Rutherford, it comprises of woodlands and wetlands and has been managed between the environmental charity Urban Roots, the local community and Glasgow City Council since 2009 as an LNR and is Glasgow’s only community woodland. It has a very large and imposing SuDs pond the result of the housing and business development that surrounds the area. Major earthworks have created drainage basins around the whole developed area, with extensive green spaces engineered to slope towards channels running into the pond. As a result, the whole site has benefited from an increase in biodiversity, part of that being its ability to support a very large common frog population. On the school science day every froglet that had developed in the pond had chosen to emerge, the pondside was moving with tiny bodies all eager to escape the water. We had to choose our pond dipping site very carefully to avoid the disaster of stepping on tiny bodies. The children were awe struck, none of them had seen such a wonder before. Coupled with a very tame swan family with four perfect cygnets, it proved to be quite a day for us all.

We look forward to going and having a look at both sites again in 2024, to see how things are progressing, to support our partners at both Claypits and Malls Mire LNRs and to work with the Champhibian schools at both sites. This is the exciting prospect two SuDs have brought us, it remains to be seen how many more areas can join community and environment so completely.

This work has kindly been made possible by funding from Swire Trust