Burnt Ash Pond is perhaps the finest pond in the borough from an ecological viewpoint, supporting a good variety of aquatic plants and animals.
It is also aesthetically pleasing, with its fringing trees and colourful iris beds, and is much loved by residents of the surrounding houses in Melrose Close.
Open on the first Sunday of the month, 11am–12noon
Burnt Ash derives its name from the coppicing of the woods hereabouts for the manufacture of charcoal for sale in London. Burnt Ash Pond is thought to be an old farm pond, although there is little documentary evidence to support this belief. Burnt Ash Pond is managed by the Council's nature conservation section, with reference to a management committee of local residents and environment groups. The pond is fenced; views of the site can be obtained over the fence where the hedge is not too tall and thick.
Access and education
The pond is opened by local volunteers on the first Sunday of the month between 11am and 12 noon. Outside of these times access can be arranged in advance with the nature conservation team. It is also very popular with local schools. The Council has recognised the ecological and educational value of Burnt Ash Pond and declared it a Local Nature Reserve. The site contains educational resources that are available to local schools for hire. If you are interested please contact the Nature Conservation Team via the email below. Worksheets are available from the team's blog.
The pond first appeared on the Ordnance Survey 6in map of 1870, when it may have been associated with a brickworks north of Burnt Ash Farm. By the time of the 1908 Ordnance Survey map, it was in the back garden of one of the large houses along Burnt Ash Hill, which were built in the 1870s.
Local residents remember catching newts and sticklebacks in the pond in the 1940s, but by 1980 it was seriously neglected, and full of scrap metal and other rubbish.
The original plans for redevelopment of this area included the filling-in of the pond, but the pond was spared following a campaign led by the then newly-formed Lewisham Group of the London Wildlife Trust, the Group's first campaign. Thus, when Lewisham Council built the houses of Melrose Close in 1983-84, the pond was cleared out and restored, to form an attractive centrepiece for the estate. Since then, it has been managed by the Council as an educational nature reserve.
Recent dry summers have led to the pond more or less drying up at times. A standpipe has therefore been installed for topping-up when the water level gets dangerously low. The large willows on the edge of the pond are coppiced regularly to reduce their water uptake.
Burnt Ash Pond is well vegetated above, below and on the surface of the water. Most prominent among the marginal plants are the extensive stands of yellow iris, which produce a fine display of flowers in midsummer. Great willowherb and its smaller relative hoary willowherb (which is rare in Lewisham) grow amongst the irises.
The delicate, white flowers of water-plantain can be seen around the edges of the iris beds and, earlier in the year, common water-crowfoot sticks its white-and-yellow flowers above the surface of the water. Growing alongside the crowfoot beneath the water are Canadian waterweed, water-starwort and a dense growth of stonewort. The latter, although looking like a flowering plant, is in fact an alga; stoneworts are rather scarce in London.
The pond is surrounded by rough grassland with a variety of trees and shrubs. Many of these are exotic species, and may originate from the time, around the turn of the century, when the pond was part of a large garden. The single black mulberry bush, a species rarely planted today, certainly seems old enough to have survived since that time.
A perimeter hedge of native shrubs and trees was planted by the urban ecology study unit in 1987. The grassland is cut annually. It is not currently of any great botanical interest, but provides vital foraging habitat for the amphibians which breed in the pond.
The wood was first mentioned in a list of Assize Rents in 1384 and more clearly defined in a description of Lee Farm, dated 1607, in which 'A wood called Crabland Spring - four acres' is mentioned as one item among about 80 acres of woodland and 110 acres of grazing and arable land, which was purchased by Henry Howard, the First Earl of Northampton. By 1723 the woodland had disappeared, and Crab Croft was a field let to Thomas Butler, owner of Burnt Ash Farm. Rocque's map of 1741-45 shows the area as farmland, with two farms. The land on which the pond now lies probably belonged to College Farm, but no pond is shown on the map (Birchenhough and King 1981).
The earliest records show that a wood known as Crabland Spring covered the crest of Burnt Ash Hill. The word 'spring' in the name of the wood is indicative of coppice management, which would be consistent with charcoal manufacture. The present site of the pond would have been on the edge of this wood.
Burnt Ash Pond is probably the most important amphibian site in the borough, with a particularly large breeding population of common toads, and smaller but still significant numbers of common frogs and smooth newts.
Some fish that have almost certainly been released by well-meaning but ill-informed local residents are now posing a threat to all the fauna, vertebrate and invertebrate. The Council is now attempting to educate local residents about the deleterious affect that fish have in small ponds and are attempting to rid the pond of fish to benefit other species and biodiversity.
Aquatic invertebrates (or 'mini-beasts' as they are known to the numerous schoolchildren who capture them during pond-dipping sessions) include several species of water-beetles, and the fascinating water spider, which builds a silken chamber full of air, allowing this air-breathing animal to remain underwater for long periods. A recent invertebrate survey discovered several unusual, uncommon and scarce species including a nationally rare skipping beetle that breeds in dead timber (Mordellistena neuwaldeggiana); a nationally scarce soldier fly with aquatic larvae (Odontomyia tigrina) and a nationally scarce water beetle (Peltodytes caesus).