Ponds provide a lucky dip

PUBLISHED: 17:13 15 June 2009 | UPDATED: 15:08 20 February 2013

Migrant Hawker Dragonfly

Migrant Hawker Dragonfly

Nick Martin of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds explains why a pond is so great for the garden.

Nick Martin of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds explains why a pond is so great for the garden.

Anyone with a pond in their garden will tell you what a fascination they are. A wildlife pond with an array of plants and animals will provide year round entertainment, even more than the best-planned borders and flower beds. But what is it that makes ponds so wonderful and what's going on under the surface?

At this time of year the ponds and lakes will be coming to life. Hot dry days will bring thirsty birds to drink and bathe whilst in the evening the frogs will emit their chorus safe from the cover of the pond fringes. Water provides frogs with the hub of their life cycle, males meet and court females in the early days of spring where their coupling is succeeded by the laying of the familiar clumps of spawn. Even small pools can be chosen and many gardeners will have been astonished with the sight of a tiny pond seemingly overflowing with beads of spotted jelly.

In the coming weeks the emerging young will swarm at the pond edges as they feed on microscopic algae. They themselves are food for birds, fish, diving beetles and dragonfly larvae that stalk and ambush the defenceless tadpoles.

The dragonfly larvae might actually have been in the pond for two or three years. They are formidable predators and will take everything from aquatic insects, other larvae and even small fish. When the days reach their longest in early summer mature damsel and dragonflies will crawl from the water, emerge from their outer skin and make their maiden flights. As an adult they will be every bit as piratical as their under water nymphs and hunt flies, lacewings and butterflies. The summer though will pass quickly and after laying their eggs in vegetation at the water surface they will die, relying on the pond to keep next year's dragons and damsels safe over the winter.

Whilst many of these small life and death struggles may go unnoticed, larger predators are drawn by the abundance of life around the pond. Many a proud fish keeper has cursed the heron that clumsily alights in the garden after the goldfish and koi. Kingfishers, grass-snakes and even otters are known to visit gardens drawn by the easy pickings, all of these are shy however so will be spotted by only the vigilant or lucky observer.

Creating a wildlife friendly pond is relatively straightforward provided a few basic principles are followed. Here are top tips for making the most of your garden pond:

Sloping sides, emergent vegetation and some deeper areas will all provide great habitat for numerous species. Use a shallow section of your pond to create a stone pool and birds will queue up to wash and drink.

If you must have fish, choose small native sticklebacks that will have less impact on amphibian and dragonfly larvae, they will also be less of a draw to the hungry heron!

Many species will find their own way to your pond, particularly the winged pond skaters and water boatmen. If, like me, you are impatient and want to give your new pond a kick start add a bucket of water from another well established local pond making sure to have let the new pond settle for a week first.

Each autumn clear out some of the vegetation if it is begging to dominate the pond, leave the dredging next to the edge for a few days though and this will allow small creatures to find their way back to the water.

Make sure that animals such as hedgehogs can climb out of the pond by providing shallow sides or a log or stone causeway. Hedgehogs are actually good swimmers but will tire eventually and many drown in ponds each year.

A large stick or branch arching over the pond will provide a perch for dragonflies and damselflies. They will return repeatedly following hunting forays around the garden.

If you end up with a lot of frogspawn don't be tempted to move the excess to other ponds and lakes, frogs and toads are sensitive to local diseases and this could prove disastrous to the receiving population. If you must move it, try to find a new pond with no other spawn or frogs already there.

Frogs, newts and toads all spend a lot of time out of the water and hibernate under large stones and logs. Provide a few of these near the pond and you will have increased its value to amphibians.

To find out more about ponds and have a go at pond dipping, visit the RSPB at the Birdwatchers Summer Fair at Middleton Hall near Tamworth on the 31st May and 1st June. There will be guided bird walks and a whole host of other activities and things to see. For more information visit www.birdwatchers-springfair.co.uk

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