Ponds which provided a breeding ground for protected species and other rare wildlife have been poisoned with dumped diesel.

Smallford Pits has been designated as a Local Wildlife Site, which identifies it as a crucial location for wildlife in the county and protects it from development by the planning system.

Herts Advertiser: The ponds at Smallford Pits before the pollution.The ponds at Smallford Pits before the pollution. (Image: Steve Brooks)

The site has also been identified as a breeding ground for great crested newts, a European Protected Species, and is also an important area in Herts for dragonflies.

Smallford Pits supports 19 species of dragonfly, including the nationally rare Scarce Emerald Dragonfly. Only Kingsmead near Hertford, supports as many dragonfly species in the county. The area is also rich in birds and reptiles.

Last September the ponds on the site were completely dug out and scrub cut to the ground. Then in December the ponds were polluted with either petrol or diesel which had been dumped into the water.

The police and Environment Agency are currently investigating the pollution as a wildlife crime.

Christine Pedder, who first reported the pollution, said: "I have enjoyed the ponds for many years and loved seeing the amazing wildlife in and around them.

"My main concern is that this crime will not be prosecuted and as a result will set a precedent."

Matt Dodds, planning and biodiversity manager at Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, said: “It’s devastating news that one of our most significant wildlife-rich sites has been subjected to these actions which has destroyed the habitats of the species that depend upon it.

"We are living in a biodiversity emergency and we cannot afford to lose vital wild places like Smallford Pits that are home to such a diversity of life.”

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust was made aware of the ongoing issue last year by local residents who reported the pond destruction and have since been trying to resolve this issue with the help of the community and the police.

The Trust was appalled to discover that the damage has escalated over the past few weeks by chemicals in what remains of the ponds, thought to be diesel or petrol, effectively poisoning the wildlife there.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “Following reports of suspected pollution we sent an officer to inspect two ponds at Smallford Pits. These lie within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), designated by Natural England.

“Our officer found minimal traces of oil in each pond which were degrading naturally, no clean-up was required. There was no evidence to identify where the oil came from."

Neighbours and visitors to Smallford Pits have reacted to the wanton pollution of the wildlife site.

County councillor for Colney Heath and Marshalswick, John Hale, responded to the vandalism: "I am very angry at what appears to have been the deliberate destruction of a wildlife site, at a time when we are all being encouraged to protect such sites. We need to be encouraging wildlife, not destroying it.

"I hope that the recent commitments by both the county and district councils to increase biodiversity will mean that improvements elsewhere will mitigate somewhat the damage done here, but it is a disgrace that this site has been damaged."

Local resident Steve Brooks works for the Department of Life Sciences at the Natural History Museum. Over 2020 he surveyed the dragonflies at the site, and identified 19 different species, of which at least 16 were breeding.

Steve said: "It's so sad to see this wonderful wildlife site so badly damaged. It's the last thing we need at a time of biodiversity crisis. Places like this are so unusual in Hertfordshire, a truly wild site managed by a herd of ponies. A bit like a mini-New Forest on the edge of St Albans.

"Smallford Pits has more species of dragonflies than any other in the county, including nationally rare species. It is also rich in aquatic plants and birds so we can't afford this loss."

If a member of the public is concerned about a suspected environmental incident they should phone the Environment Agency's free 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.