Post & Go Freshwater Life – Ponds

Royal Mail’s first Post & Go Stamps for 2013 are a series on wildlife found in the habitat of UK ponds, available on a series of six stamps from today. The Ponds Post & Go stamps feature three species familiar and widespread in the UK and three which are endangered and protected by law.

Post & Go Freshwater Life – Ponds stamps.

Post & Go Freshwater Life – Ponds stamps.

Lesser Silver Water Beetle

Lesser Silver Water Beetle stamp.

Lesser Silver Water Beetle stamp.

About 15cm long the lesser silver water beetle, Hydrochara caraboides, is a species of water scavenger beetle. Although the beetle is actually black, hairs on the underside of its body trap a silvery looking air bubble that enables the beetle to breathe underwater, giving the beetle its name. Eggs are laid in spring or early summer, and the larvae are often found from May to July, floating just below the surface. Adults are herbivores and feed on decaying plant matter, but the larvae are carnivores, and feed on water snails.

In the UK it is found only in the Somerset Levels, Cheshire and north-east Wales. It is classified as an endangered species protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Three-Spined Stickleback

Three-Spined Stickleback stamp.

Three-Spined Stickleback stamp.

The three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus, is larger of our two sticklebacks. It is usually 5cm long (but may reach, exceptionally, twice that length). In front of the dorsal fin there are the three spines that give the fish its name (though some individuals may have 2 or 4). The stickleback can live in fresh, brackish or salt water and is found in ditches, ponds, lakes, backwaters, quiet rivers, sheltered bays, marshes, and harbours.

Smooth Newt

Smooth Newt stamp.

Smooth Newt stamp.

Also known as the Common Newt, Lissotriton vulgaris is found throughout Europe except the far north, areas of Southern France, and the Iberian peninsula. Females and non-breeding males are pale brown or olive green, often with two darker stripes on the back. Both sexes have an orange belly, although in females it is paler. This is covered in rounded black spots. They have a pale throat with conspicuous spots. During the breeding season, males develop a continuous wavy crest that runs from their head to their tail, and their spotted markings become more apparent. They are also distinguishable from females by their fringed toes.

Like other amphibians their eggs are laid in the water and hatch into tadpoles, which eventually develop into air breathing adults

Fairy Shrimp

Fairy Shrimp stamp.

Fairy Shrimp stamp.

The fairy shrimp Chirocephalus diaphanous, is a beautiful, translucent crustacean, which lacks a carapace. It has a relatively large number of segments and bears 11 pairs of legs fringed with bristles; the head curves downwards, and in males the second pair of antennae are modified ‘claspers’ for grabbing females during mating. Fairy shrimps swim around on their backs, propelled by the constantly moving legs.

They hatch during the cooler parts of the year, as water returns to their shallow ponds, which dried out during the summer. They reach maturity over winter, then lay eggs, which can survive long periods of drought and then die when their ponds dry out in spring. It is found in no more than 100 ponds in the whole of the UK.

Fairy shrimps are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act and can be found in Hampshire’s New Forest, on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, on Salisbury Plain, in parts of the Sussex Weald, as well as in Oxfordshire, East Anglia and South Wales.

Emperor Dragonfly

Emperor Dragonfly stamp.

Emperor Dragonfly stamp.

The Emperor Dragonfly, Anax imperator, is a large and powerful species of hawker dragonfly averaging 78 millimetres in length. It is found in Europe, Africa and Asia. Males have a sky blue abdomen with a black dorsal stripe and an apple green thorax. Females have a green thorax and abdomen. The species lives by ponds, gravel pits, and slow rivers, where they feed on other insects and tadpoles.

Eggs are laid on pondweed and the larvae develop underwater as ferocious predators feeding on invertebrates, tadpoles and even small fish.

Glutinous Snail

Glutinous Snail stamp.

Glutinous Snail stamp.

The glutinous snail, Myxas glutinosa is a small air-breathing freshwater snail. This snail is unusual in that it extends its almost transparent mantle to completely cover the shell when moving, giving the animal a glass-like appearance. It also makes the animal sticky to the touch, hence its common name. It is only found in very clear, clean ponds, lakes and canals.

This species has undergone a big decline, and while it was once found throughout the UK it is now known from only one site in Wales. As a result it is classified as Endangered in the UK and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The reasons for its decline are almost certainly due to water pollution particularly from nutrient enrichment.

Ponds is the first of three Post & Go sets to be issued in 2013 – all on the subject of the UK’s freshwater life. As with all previous Post & Go stamps to date, Royal Mail commissioned Kate Stephens to produce the designs. These were illustrated by lino-cut artist Chris Wormell. The national charity Pond Conservation has advised on all the stamp sets. The charity works in all freshwater environments and runs the successful annual Big Pond Dip, where the public is invited to monitor local ponds for life.

The Ponds Post & Go stamps will be available from Post & Go terminals in 146 Post Office branches. The initial design used for the self-adhesive stamps, which are overprinted with the postage on demand, featured the profile of Her Majesty the Queen created by Arnold Machin and used on UK definitive stamps. Pictorial versions of these new kinds of stamps were introduced with Birds of Britain in 2010 and 2011 followed by British Farm Animals in 2012.

Post & Go terminals allow customers to weigh their letters and packets, pay for and print postage stamps and labels without the need to visit the counter. The first Post & Go machine was trialled in The Galleries Post Office in Bristol in 2008. Since 2008 over 220 terminals have been installed in 146 branches. BPMA has a Post & Go machine located in the foyer of the Royal Mail Archive which is currently offering the Union Flag and gold Machin designs.

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