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

15 Feb 21

Five years on the Stew Ponds are a thriving wildlife habitat

Our team regularly see many birds, including reed buntings, tufted ducks, little grebes, swallows, whitethroats, and flycatchers. We also spot mammals there: noctule bats, field voles, and regular visits from badgers, foxes and deer. Closer to the ground we see plenty of insects, great crested newts, grass snakes and a healthy abundance of damselflies and dragonflies. Although most of these creatures are hiding from the freezing winter (or have migrated!), we look forward to many years of caring for this new habitat.

Winter scene looking out over Canons Ashby Stew Pond

14 Feb 20

Wetlands moths have moved in at Canons Ashby

The Stew Ponds have continued to be enjoyed by an increasing number of species. A recent moth survey found an Obscure Wainscot at Canons Ashby. The caterpillars feed on reed beds at night, and hide in the reeds during the day. It is likely that this tiny moth came from the reed beds at the Stew Ponds. These moths are not very common in this area so it’s great that the stew ponds are giving them a home. Moths are an excellent indicator of biodiversity. When an area has a wide range of moths, it often indicates that nature is doing well in that space.

A close up image of a light brown moth at rest, with delicate black veins in the wings

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