All the world’s a pond

Still wa­ters run deep–af­ter five years, Ca­role Mor­timer is con­stantly de­lighted and sur­prised by the nat­u­ral life that teems in and around her gar­den pond. Here, she shares in words and her pho­to­graphic di­ary what she has learned about the cu­ri­ous ways of

Country Life Every Week - - In The Driving Seat -

Five years ago, we in­her­ited, with a new house, a rel­a­tively large gar­den pond. ever since, we’ve been in­trigued and en­chanted by the di­ver­sity of wildlife it brings and hosts. This one fea­ture has be­come the fo­cal point that has changed the way we gar­den, with wildlife habi­tat now a pri­or­ity.

The pond was once a cen­tral fea­ture of all vil­lages, farms and large houses. Most served what are now de­funct pur­poses: drovers’ ponds that quenched the thirst of live­stock on their way to mar­ket, duck ponds that helped to pro­vide food and spe­cially built ponds through which car­riages were driven to clean their wheels and the horses’ legs. Dew ponds— man­made, clay-lined dips in the ground to trap rain­wa­ter for live­stock—were also a com­mon fea­ture of the land­scape.

Most of these old ponds were filled in or be­came nat­u­rally silted up through ne­glect. Hous­ing and in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment plus the need for larger fields, roads, mo­tor­ways and rail­ways have all con­trib­uted to the demise of the pond—and its wildlife. Ac­cord­ing to Fresh­wa­ter Habi­tats, 50% of the UK’S ponds were lost dur­ing the 20th cen­tury alone and 80% of those left are in a poor state.

Our pond pro­vides a peren­nial source of en­joy­ment and cu­rios­ity. Mild, rainy Fe­bru­ary nights bring toads and newts out of their win­ter quar­ters—of­ten quite far away from their spring des­ti­na­tion, so we watch where we tread and drive. About a month later, as the cheery yel­low kingcups come into bud, spring proper is her­alded by the rau­cous croak­ing of amorous toads. in April, the patch of snake’s-head frit­il­lary by the pond erupts into del­i­cate flower as spawn hatches and turns into wrig­gling tad­poles.

As the days be­come warmer, we may spot a bask­ing grass snake or two (on one oc­ca­sion, it was four) and the cot­ton grass comes into flower. in late June, if we’re lucky, we catch the rise of the mayflies; newly emerged toadlets leave the water to be­gin their grown-up life on land and water boat­men skid across the top. irises and lilies bloom and the sur­round­ing shrubs are alive with bright turquoise-and-red dam­sel­flies; the thrum of wings means drag­on­flies are bat­tling for ter­ri­tory.

On late-sum­mer evenings, there’s time for a mel­low pond­side gin and tonic while we sit and watch, mes­merised, as swal­lows and house mar­tins swoop by for a drink; as the light fades, bats quench their thirst and feed on the many small fly­ing in­sects over the water.

even in win­ter, when most life has de­parted or gone to sleep in the silt, mov­ing bits of twig on the bot­tom sig­nify cad­dis­fly lar­vae feed­ing. Pond life doesn’t mean still life—there’s al­ways some­thing stir­ring in those cool, dark wa­ters.

Last June, we en­joyed a rel­a­tively large ris­ing of mayfly—per­haps from the nearby river—that laid eggs in the pond. Although the lar­vae live for years be­fore emerg­ing, the fly it­self has a brief life—only a few days, in which the sole aim is to mate and lay eggs

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