Sole Common Pond - Jim Asher

BBOWT volunteer, Gustav Clark introduces one of BBOWT's lesser known reserves, Sole Common Pond

Sole Common Pond in West Berkshire is one of the least visited BBOWT sites. Over the years, I have seen maybe a dozen people up there, usually disappearing amongst the trees. 

It is a small, acid pond set in the woods – if you look for it on Google Earth it shows up as a dark clearing in the trees, but at ground level it is more open, with the large trees set back enough to let the sunlight in. 

On one side there is a small area of heathland, giving an idea of what the land was like when Sole Common served as a community resource, and on the other the hillside goes up through beeches and chestnuts.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly by Ross Hoddinott/2020Vision

The main reason that people visit the pool is for its dragonflies. Nineteen species have been recorded, although not all are present every year. The Emperor females can be seen laying their eggs on the water in the middle of the pool whilst the males patrol the airspace. 

There is a large area of floating bog, of sphagnum and purple moor grass. This changes over the years as the peat builds up or the edges are dredged. Birch and alder establish hillocks that need to be removed to maintain the habitat whilst for the last few years a young beech has been growing in one of the deepest parts of the bog.

Away from the water the woods are quite open – there is no fence to indicate the edge of the reserve. The beech trees dominate one side, together with their many seedlings.

Higher up there is a mature chestnut plantation, on the other side a larch plantation and, of course, lots of birch. The birch grows and dies in the wettest area and, together with the beech, is shading out the sphagnum which is holding the whole bog together.

Sole Common Pond

Sole Common Pond by Jim Asher

The water enters the pool at the southern end through what appear to be extensions of the bog, actually overgrown ditches filled with sphagnum. They extend up though a drier section of the wood until they open out into a couple of large flushes. 

These are where the water emerges from the gravel cap and runs down into the pool. They were probably there before the dam that holds back the water was built and, over the years, they have accumulated about half a metre of peat. 

In recent years the shade from the trees has caused some die-back but they are still quite healthy. It is quite striking to look up a slope and see the edge of a sphagnum mire.

Overall there are 10 species of sphagnum recorded for the flushes and the bog, out of 145 mosses and liverworts recorded for the whole site. 

Sole Common Pond is a place that largely looks after itself – no fences, no gates, no visitors. What is needed is work to encourage the heather, mainly by cutting bracken, maintain the bog by removing invading trees, and open up the canopy over the flushes. What is very notable is that unlike probably any other BBOWT site there is no blackthorn, no nettles and no brambles.

Gustav Clark, BBOWT volunteer

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