By Paul Cox, South Merseyside
After seven years, the ponds are by now quite mature. This does not mean that they require no work. Being small and near to trees, they are always in danger of being spoilt by decaying vegetation. Fallen leaves from the trees have to be removed regularly. Every autumn, most of the pondweed in the lager pond is removed to prevent it from decaying as it dies back. Grass is allowed to creep into the water, but to keep the ponds looking attractive and to help to control excessive evaporation, it is periodically cut back. Similarly, the underwater grass is kept in check in the shallower margins of the ponds.
The maintenance is well worth the effort. The ponds continue to be a source of fascination and I have learnt a lot about wildlife over the last seven years. I have also become more aware of the changing weather patterns and how they can impact on nature. So keen have I become that I regularly pay visits to the ponds, to see what is out there. I have even modified a small low power telescope so that it focuses at about 200mm. With this I can more easily observe the small macroscopic animals that abound during the summer months.
On 21st June 20011, Midsummer’s Day, whilst I was watching the slow and what can only be described as measured progress of a water measurer, I spotted a small pale coloured ‘frog’ underneath the water lily leaves. The ‘frog’ was unaware of my presence and slowly rose to the surface. As it did so it revealed itself to be not a frog at all, but a fully grown smooth newt. After taking in a gulp of air, it allowed itself to slowly sink out of sight.
To say that I was both amazed and excited is an understatement! I had seen a newt in the pond nearly six years ago and again over four years ago. I don’t know how long newts live and if this is just a lucky sighting of the same newt (the last in the neighbourhood), but somehow I doubt it. Newts are indeed the most secretive of creatures.
After the sighting, I watched the pond intently for a full hour, but spotted not a sign. Every day from then until now I have spent several minutes searching, but I have seen nothing. Perhaps it will be several more years before I see another…
The following animals and plants currently live in, or have been observed in the two ponds:
|Hornwort Ceraophyllum demersum||Flatworm Polycelis nigra|
|Water Crowfoot Ranunculus aquatilis||Leech (species unknown)|
|Kingcup (or Marsh Marigold) Caltha palustris||Mayfly Cloeon dipterum|
|Ragged Robbin Lychnis flos-cuculi||Water Measurer Hydrometra stagnorum|
|Common frog Rana temporaria||Water Cricket Velia currens|
|Smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris||The diving beetle Acilius sulcatus|
|Flat Ramshorn snail Planorbis complanatus||The water beetle Hydrobius fuscipes|
|Pea Shelled Mussel (species unknown)||Several other unidentified water beetles|
|Several different damselflies (species unknown)||A host of macroscopic life forms not yet identified|
And here are a few tips, based on my own experiences, if you’re thinking about building a pond:
- Choose a flexible liner that will last, even if it means paying a bit more for a durable one.
- Choice of location for your pond will ultimately be decided by the size of your garden but remember too much sun may encourage things like blanketweed to take over and too much shade probably means lots of leaf litter.
- A wildlife pond does not need to large to be interesting – my friend has a garden pond that is 3ft x 2ft which is home to a pair of breeding smooth newts as well as being a place for frogs to cool off in the summer. My own mini pond, at the centre of a bog garden has been colonised by water fleas, water mites, beetle and fly larvae, and tubifix worms and I’ve spent many a pleasant half-hour observing the antics of its Lilliputian inhabitants.
- Allowing vegetation to grow up to the margins gives the pond a natural appearance but does encourage water to be wicked out.
Many garden and aquatics centres now sell native plants, and they can give advice on the stocking of your pond. My advice is to try several different species and see what does best. Avoid buying very vigorous plants, unless you have a very large pond, as they will tend to dominate.
- The secret to nice clear pond water is to ensure as little nutriment as possible enters the pond. This is done by regularly removing all fallen leaves and other debris from the pond; topping up the pond, if possible, with pure rainwater, and if water is running into the pond ensuring so far as possible that it does not pick up any nutrients on its way. Coupled with these actions, maintaining a healthy growth of pondweed will in itself lessen the nutrients in the water. We are talking about wildlife ponds, so remember – the type of habitat that your pond and its surroundings provide is important.
- For tadpoles and larger invertebrates, one of the prime predators is the blackbird. This causes a conflict between ponds to attract garden birds and those for other forms of wildlife. Plenty of pondweed and a thick edging of marginal plants are essential to help to minimise predation by blackbirds.
- Small maintenance jobs, such as clearing leaves or cutting back marginals can be done throughout the year to minimise the need for a big clear out all at once.
- If a seedling appears and you don’t know what it is, let it grow. This way I acquired what are now several Ragged Robbins and I am currently watching young plants, which I hope to be Cowslips and possibly an orchid.
If the above advice seems like hard work and no play, then take heart.
Your pond should not only enhance the appearance of your garden, but it should be a constant source of pleasure through observing the plants and animals that use it. My ponds are visited by virtually every garden bird that lives in the vicinity, particularly during dry weather. During late summer evenings I have also seen hedgehogs; whether they are foraging for food, coming to drink or both I am not sure. Despite having seen no damselfly or dragonfly larvae for several years, some quite exquisite small damselflies visit the ponds during the summer. To observe these pond visitors you will need a comfortable spot from where you can sit and watch without causing too much disturbance. A small summerhouse gives a good view of my ponds.
If you are lucky enough to have a shallow area with a gravel base, or very little weed cover, ensure that there is a good flat stone on which you can sit down or kneel while observing what is going on underwater. With any luck you will see all manner of small invertebrates and other small creatures going about their daily lives.
If, like me, this is the first time you have seen many of these creatures, you will be inspired to find out more.