We had an unusually long spell of dry weather last summer, prompting Roger to dig a test hole to see if we could have a pond. Sections of our fields are often soggy or flooded by the river. They are only really good for grazing, or being turned over to create wildlife habitats with trees, wildflower meadows, and a pond. We sought advice from Devon Wildlife Trust and felt a pond could work.
The pilot hole was about four feet deep. We both hoped Roger’s digging might tap a natural spring to feed our future pond. That didn’t happen. Roger filled the hole with water from the river and then took daily measurements. Our test hole mostly held, but through evaporation and lack of any additional rain, the water level dropped somewhat. We were uncertain if a pond was going to work.
When we began our discussions of creating a pond, I never considered there could be so many different types. Shaded. Vernal. Overgrown. Stream-fed. I can’t go anywhere without looking at ponds. For selfish reasons, I’m especially interested in seasonal ponds, the kind that partially dry out in summers, as that is what we will likely have. While on a mini-holiday in Yorkshire, the dogs and I were on an early morning walk through a foggy and flat landscape. Off to my right I spied a small body of water in and amongst some gnarled old trees. I’m only a visitor, but I suspect this is a seasonal pond and somewhat overgrown with leaf mulch. It’s lovely.
When I think about our pond, I have visions of clear water, rich in wildlife, surrounded by a smattering of waterlilies and fringed with rushes, cat tails, and native tall grasses. Caressed by a soft breeze and warm sun upon my face, I emerge from a grove of trees, fishing pole in hand. I stop not too far from the house, yet far enough to be out of earshot and cast my line. My “bobber” floating on the water. I wait and then wait some more for a fish to bite. Meanwhile, the mosquitos are biting at my legs. Hold on! This isn’t Crockern. I’m at Aunt Jeannette’s farm in Yellow Springs and I’m five.
Meanwhile, back to Crockern when in September we hired a man and his digger to do some work for us. After several attempts with my shovel to clear the overgrown drains along our track, I accepted defeat. In two days, Matt cleared these long neglected drains, facilitating the passage of water into the culverts beneath the track, the flow of runoff water we get from heavy and extended rains. Of course, the new and freely flowing drains revealed that three of our six culverts had collapsed or were blocked from decades of neglect. We still have work to do once the winter rains ease. Anyway, while Matt was here we had him dig our pond.
Matt’s the kind of person you want doing this work. He knows his stuff, engages in the discussion of ideas, has great problem-solving-insight, and works with a surgeon’s touch as he operates a 3-tonne digger. Not only did he dig our pond in a day, he moved earth to create a raised edge at the deeper end of the pond, creating a windbreak, and shifted stones on the shallow side of the pond, making a slope for wildlife to be able to access with ease.
The day after we dug the pond it rained. Two days later, our pond was full and has remained so ever since. No surprise as we’ve had rain almost without break since September. From our living room window, our new pond looks like a donut in the bottom corner of our lower field. The ground surrounding hasn’t grassed over the mud, nor are there any native plants to soften its edges. But standing next to it, it looks splendid.
During the past century, nearly 70 percent of ponds have been lost from the UK countryside. For wildlife, adding a pond has increased importance. I wonder, what delights lay ahead in this new haven?
We spotted a Grey Heron standing on the island. There aren’t fish, but perhaps it knows of some other food sources present and will become a regular visitor. Two Mallards were paddling in the waters in November. Not much cover, but at least they could retreat to the island if they elected to breed here. Before we committed to the pond, I saw a duck with eight ducklings paddling in a quiet part of the river. I never saw them again. Our river is, at times, torrential and populated with all sorts of predators along its shores, not ideal for rearing young ducklings.
Every spring, we have swallows and house martins. Our pond will serve as a great place for them to use muddy areas to aid in their nest building.
Perhaps some grass snakes? We know our field has snakes, having spotted more than a few Adders. Who knows what they may hunt near the water’s edge?
Having “constructed” our pond in the autumn, this spring and summer is our time to plant. Roger has ordered 120 trees for the field and around the pond. We have some naturally growing lilies and fox gloves, so I may do some transplanting. In time, plants and wildlife will colonise the pond, but we want to help establish it. I read placing some dead branches into the pond can enrich the habitat considerably. That’s easily done.
Our pond, our seasonal pond. Unlike my childhood memories, this pond most likely won’t have fish and that’s okay as they themselves can predate on insects and amphibians. In our pond, if you’re not being eaten, you can thrive! Bring on the newts and water beetles. Welcome frogs and toads! Caddis flies, damselflies, dragonflies, mayflies, pond skaters, snails and water beetles get your groove on and breed in our pond. And you ducks? Come back and raise your duckling brood.