Tips for happy pond life

Country Life Every Week - - In The Driving Seat -

❍ Don’t add wildlife—it just ar­rives

❍ A real wildlife pond doesn’t have fish— they eat spawn—so leave them out. Un­for­tu­nately, ours came with non-na­tive gold­fish, now mainly black, which we treat as feral—we never feed them. De­spite this, and pre­da­tion by snakes and herons, they thrive, as do toads, newts, drag­on­flies and cad­dis­fly lar­vae

❍ ‘Ducks are a-dab­bling’ might make for a pretty ditty, but the re­al­ity is less so. Mal­lards can be at­tracted to ponds, es­pe­cially in the breed­ing sea­son, and will soon make a mess as they search out snails and lar­vae from the bot­tom and prob­a­bly gob­ble up the frogspawn as well. They can be dif­fi­cult to de­ter, as they tend to ar­rive in late evening and leave at dawn, apart from the fe­male that de­cides to nest in your shrub­bery and whose 12 duck­lings will have to face a trau­matic— for you as well—wad­dle to the near­est river. The only real de­ter­rent is a net over the pond, which isn’t at­trac­tive and not al­ways fea­si­ble

❍ If you’re putting in a new pond, think about light and shade. Sun­light is im­por­tant for wildlife, but so too is the shade pro­vided by aquatic plants; too many trees nearby will mean the pond will quickly silt up with a mass of rot­ting leaves. The ideal is a deeper cen­tre and var­i­ous lev­els and shal­lows planted with mar­ginal plants

❍ If you need to raise the water level, use rain­wa­ter, not tap water. This isn’t prac­ti­cal with a large pond, but don’t worry too much as the level of a nat­u­ral pond will in­evitably drop in sum­mer with­out too much ef­fect on wildlife. A nat­u­ral drain might en­sure it doesn’t over­flow in the wet months

❍ Make sure the pond has a nat­u­ral, easy exit from the shal­lows. Or­na­men­tal ponds with straight sides or slip­pery lin­ers present a huge haz­ard for wildlife as they sim­ply can’t get out. Ours has a gravel in­let, which is not only a handy drink­ing point for the hedge­hog—and dog—but the route by which hun­dreds of mor­ph­ing toadlets leave

❍ Once they’ve left the water, tad­poles, frogs, toads and newts are vul­ner­a­ble, so the pond should be sur­rounded by nat­u­ral cover in the form of plants, grasses, large stones and wood­piles

❍ Dur­ing the sum­mer, blan­ket weed might need to be re­moved. A long-han­dled shav­ing fork—as used for muck­ing out a sta­ble—is a good tool for the job. Leave the weed on the side of the pond for a few days to al­low wildlife to get back to the water, then com­post

❍ Clean­ing or prun­ing back of in­va­sive plants or lilies should be done in the au­tumn be­fore win­ter hi­ber­na­tion. It works best to do half the pond one year and the other the next

❍ In the same way that a clean and tidy gar­den can’t be a wildlife haven, nei­ther is a pris­tine pond—it needs silt and veg­e­ta­tion

The long-last­ing and self-seed­ing pur­ple top (Ver­bena bonar­ien­sis) pro­vides an at­trac­tive back­drop, struc­tural sup­port for spi­ders’ webs and is much loved by but­ter­flies, moths and bees. In win­ter, small birds feed on the seeds

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