Restoring the medieval stew ponds at Canons Ashby

Canons Ashby Stew Ponds 2018 view two

With a thousand years of history at Canons Ashby, our restoration of the medieval stew ponds is part of a larger conservation scheme for the whole estate.

The authentic reintroduction and planned development of a wildlife sanctuary, will help restore this part of the Scheduled Monument back to its original condition. Our aim is to enhance the historic and natural environment in this part of rural Northamptonshire and, as a tranquil spot where wildlife can live without threats, provide a very special place of interest for everyone. The project  could not have been possible wthout the assistance and funding from Natural England, help and support from Daventry District Council and the generous co-operation of our neighbouring landowners.

What is a Stew Pond and how does it help the environment?

Stew pond is the medieval name for a fish pond used to store fish live, ready to be caught when needed. Today many rural areas are suffering from pond loss because mains supply allows farmers to get water directly to troughs in the fields. Without continual maintenance, the ponds have been neglected, allowed to become overgrown and eventually dry up. This results in a loss of valuable wildlife habitat.

The Canons Ashby three

Stew ponds were often attached to monasteries and in the 12th century, when Canons Ashby was home to an Augustinian Priory, three stew ponds provided a valuable source of food for the monks. Fish was an important part of their monastic diet, not only because of their religious dietary restrictions, but also due to the cost of meat. With a natural flow of water into the closest pond, fish required no feeding and were available all year. They were moved between the ponds as they grew until they were ready to be fished, thereby providing a constant and valuable source of fresh produce.

Latest updates

29 Sep 17

Some 18 months on from starting this project, we see the creation of a wetland habitat and a much more welcoming environment for our wildlife

Whilst great crested newts are continuing to flourish, it's a delight to see a new visitor, the tufted duck. Also, with the thickening vegetation and re-established water reeds, we are looking forward to seeing the reed warblers nesting again, as well as other different wetland species. This challenging yet rewarding project has led to increased bio-diversity such as unusual pond weeds in the crystal clear water. As a visitor to Canons Ashby you are contributing to the care and development of this special habitat. Thank you.

Canons Ashby Stew Ponds 2018 view three

31 Jul 16

"This project will deliver huge benefits to wildlife habitat as well as providing an exciting opportunity to further tell the story of medieval life at Canons Ashby" Chris Smith, Project Leader

With the initial restoration work complete, our ongoing work is making good progress. The habitat is becoming established with dragonflies and other insects attracting both local wildlife and more exotic species such as the Hobby bird.

26 Jun 16

New occupants bring the ponds to life

Our three restored ponds are already attracting wildlife. Great crested newts, ducks with ducklings, frogs and a multitude of aquatic life have already moved in.

Frog peeping through the water