by Paul Cox, South Merseyside
In the spring of our second year frogspawn appeared. Strangely, the frogs only laid their spawn in the deeper pond but there was so much that I moved some to the other pond to even things out. Soon, both ponds were full of small tadpoles swimming in the spring sunshine. But slowly, the tadpoles in the shallower pond began to disappear. I was puzzled by this, but could not think of an explanation.
Then, one sunny but cold late April day, there he was, standing in the shallow end of the deep pond eating tadpoles as fast as he could swallow them: an adult male blackbird. By now there were no tadpoles left in the other pond but why was no longer a mystery. Hurriedly, the beach area of the deeper pond was covered over with a sheet of plywood, left over from building work. Then an urgent visit was made to our local hardware store for wire netting.
With the wire netting in place, observations were kept on the ponds. The blackbirds could no longer reach the shallower water in the deep pond, but several were observed nearly falling in while continuing to attempt to catch tadpoles from the deeper water. One blackbird was also observed wading in the margins of the shallow pond obviously catching things. An investigation revealed that all of the water beetles were now missing from the shallow pond, only a few beetle larvae remained. We decide to leave the shallow pond to its fate.
Despite the ravages of the blackbirds, quite a number of small froglets appeared in the late autumn. I was worried that the pond margins were not established enough for the small frogs to survive, but adult frogs were surviving and in evidence in the adjacent vegetable patch. By a miracle, three tadpoles had also survived in the small pond, each of which turned into froglets.
After giving up on the Water-Mint I purchased some much more robust Water Forget-me-not which appeared to thrive in the shallow area of the large pond. What delighted me the most was the discovery of a female smooth newt in the deeper pond while clearing out excess pondweed in the early autumn. A small movement caught my eye and there she was hanging in the water for about two seconds until, with a flick of her tail, she disappeared into the pondweed. The same newt, or certainly a newt, made an appearance the following autumn, actually walking over my hand as I knelt beside the pond. Unfortunately, that was the last I saw of newts.
During the long hot summer, the shallower (and sunnier) of the two ponds had virtually dried out. I was advised that the only suitable pondweed for such conditions was a form of underwater grass. The grass was of a clumping variety, with very fine leaves, and grew to about four inches tall. This was duly purchased and seemed to thrive. By some invisible means it also spread to the shallow area of the deeper pond, where it helped to supplement the much-needed cover. Native grasses were also by now starting to grow right down to the waters edge.
The summer was unusually hot and dry, with water shortages in parts of the country. So bad was the situation that the Government promoted a campaign for people to install water butts. We had a particularly large garage, so four water butts were purchased to catch the water off the garage roof. While installing the butts, I realised that through an ingenious system of underground plastic pipes, the overflow could be routed to the shallow pond to help prevent drying out. Water butts are quite expensive though, as is plastic pipe, so to save money I used some old hosepipe to convey the water to the pond. However, as winter returned it soon became obvious that the hosepipe was not working. After becoming very wet investigating this matter over several cold and rainy afternoons, I realised that the diameter of the hosepipe was just too small to prevent air locks. Proper plastic pipe was duly purchased and buried one cold and damp winter’s day.
No pondweed survived in the smaller pond other than the underwater grass. This pond continues to be very susceptible to drying out, despite the water feed from the garage roof. The reason for this is now obvious. The very shallow pond margins encourage grass and other vegetation to grow right into the water. This makes the pond look very natural, but encourages large amounts of water to be drawn into the adjacent soil, which remains constantly wet. The damp soil is ideal for waterside plants. Water Avens grows very well, and Ragged Robin has made an appearance all on its own. The pondweeds, which survived in the larger pond, turned out to be Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) and Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis). Each year in late spring the Water Crowfoot puts up small delicate white flowers, which contrast nicely with the Kingcup growing in the pond margins.
Read on: Part 3 of Paul’s diary – the frog population takes a tumble, will it recover? Plus, what does the arrival of a grandson mean for the ponds?