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
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