Pond Life By Stew Betts

I’m not an expert. This isn’t a “how to” guide. Just a small celebration of the joys that a modest
garden pond can bring.
There are plenty of sources telling us about the benefits to wildlife that a garden pond can bring,
and of the enjoyment that a pond in your garden can provide. It’s all true!
I had long hankered to build a pond in our modest, enclosed Thorpe Marriott back garden, and several years ago, as soon as our daughters were old enough to understand the dangers and the need to be
careful, we set out over an Easter weekend to dig and construct a relatively small (c12ft by 6ft) kidney-shaped pond, about 2ft deep at its deepest. Be warned, even this produced a great deal of spoil! With nowhere to secrete
the spoil in the garden we hired a medium-sized skip, which was brim full by the time we had wheelbarrowed the spoil around the side of the house. We lined the hole with old carpet and newspapers and installed a butyl
liner – which took shape as it slowly filled from our garden hose. We trimmed the liner, but didn’t cover the edges with stones or slabs, we created a narrow garden border around the pond and by the end of Summer the plants in the border had disguised the pond edges.
We weren’t purist about things. Friends and family with ponds were happy to pass on plants,
and we ended up with an eclectic mix of native and ornamental plants which were planted in
baskets and placed in a fairly random arrangement about the pond. I inherited a pond pump
from my mum’s old pond and rigged up a pleasing arrangement in which water pours gently
from an urn – providing the sound of splashing water, lovely anytime, but especially wonderful
on a warm Summer’s evening.
Then we just let the pond get on with it. We soon found both “standard” pond snails and
ramshorn snails – presumably arriving with plants. Pond skaters and water boatmen found their
way to the pond fairly quickly. Broad-bodied chaser dragonflies arrived quickly too – with a fine
male holding territory for several days. Damselflies also established residence. Large red, azure
and blue-tailed all hung around throughout the summer and we were able to watch them
clashing, mating and ovipositing (egg-laying). Later in the year common darters also took up
position around the pond. We’ve since had emperor, southern hawker and brown hawkers
ovipositing, as well as several other odonata species around the garden. Our local blackbirds
soon made use of the pond for bathing, and our collared doves and wood pigeons
demonstrated their unique family skill of sucking up water to drink.
The following year we discovered frogspawn one morning in late February (February frogspawn
is usual in the pond now), and through an open kitchen window we were entertained by a very
loud frog chorus every morning and evening for several weeks. Large red damselflies had
clearly been successful and as well as the adult insects themselves, we found their exuviae
(the empty case left by the larvae when the adults emerge). A small clump of bog bean flowered
beautifully (now, after several years it’s a rather large, and still very beautiful, clump).
Later in the year a friend who had a large garden pond gave me a bucket of water with a dozen
or so sticklebacks in it. I don’t know the origin of his fish, but they seemed to take well to our
pond and now breed annually. We can watch the brightly coloured adult fish courting and very
occasionally they will “nest” in the gravel on a plant basket, bringing hours of fascinating
observation. On a couple of occasions I’ve seen a “cloud” of newly hatched sticklebacks, but
they quickly disappear into the cover of pond vegetation.
The regular cycle of pond life is entertaining in itself, but over the years we’ve had occasional
one-off highlights:
Sadly they’re not regular, but on a few occasions we’ve had whirligig beetles spinning
maniacally on the pond surface.
In November 2002, during a terrible storm our garden fence blew down, leaving a single upright
post a few feet from the pond. Coming down to breakfast I heard a familiar call and looked out
of the window to see a kingfisher on the post, presumably eyeing the sticklebacks! Sadly it soon
flew off, never to be seen again. As yet we haven’t had problems with herons, although I’ve
seen them on our neighbour’s roof a couple of times..
Lots of local birds visit the pond to drink and bathe. Another regular occurrence in recent years
is for our local house sparrows to bring their newly fledged young to the pond to dust-bathe and
spruce up. This is most entertaining, with anything up to twenty visiting at a time.
The list of bird species that we’ve seen bathing is now in double figures. The blackbirds especially seem fearless, hopping under occupied garden furniture en-route to an energetic splash-about. Last summer one of
our female blackbirds worked out how to extract pond snails from their shells – leaving empty shell debris all over our patio. Perhaps the strangest episode was in October 2013. I was gently dozing on a lounger in the
early afternoon sun, when there was a loud plop. When I opened an eye, there was a brown long-eared bat floundering in the water! I fished it out and placed it on our shed roof to dry out, from where I guess it moved on.
Just a couple of “don’ts”. Firstly, it should go without saying that if you want a wildlife-rich pond don’t introduce ornamental fish; and from personal experience don’t introduce any kind of pennywort. I was given some by a well-meaning friend and it almost took over the pond. Hopefully this gives a sense of the contribution even a modest garden pond can make to your local wildlife, and the very real entertainment value it can provide. A pond doesn’t need a great deal of maintenance – you’ll spend way more time staring at it than you will maintaining it!

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