Linda Viandier was about to give her pond a good spring clean when she learned her efforts could devastate the very wildlife she wanted to protect
A wildlife lover narrowly avoids making a terrible mistake in her garden
When we bought our house in Burgundy in July last year, we inherited an ancient abreuvoir, a former watering hole for animals from when the house was a hunting lodge. But it was overgrown with duckweed and, as the water was stagnant, filthy dirty. We were surprised to discover that it attracted lots of beautiful red and azure damselflies as well as majestic blue emperor dragonflies. Unfortunately, it also attracted my arch enemy: mosquitoes.
Drain the swamp? We planned to drain the water and clear the surrounding area the following spring and create a clean pond with lilies to aerate it, adding some carp to eat the mosquito larvae.
Thankfully I had a chance meeting with conservationist Lisa Leprêtre from the Réseaux Mares de Bourgogne, part of the Société d’histoire Naturelle d’autun. She stopped us just in time, as our plans would have been devastating for the very biodiversity we were hoping to encourage.
Emptying the abreuvoir in spring would have destroyed all the larvae harbouring there, including my beloved dragonflies, which have inspired the name of our house, Les Libellules. What’s more, introducing fish would have further threatened not only the dragonfly larvae, but any frog, toad or newt eggs (these species all feast upon dragonfly larvae also, but not on such a grand scale as carp).
A‘ mare’ is a medium-sized pond (our abreuvoir, loosely translated as ‘trough’, just about qualifies), providing a unique environment for both aquatic and terrestrial plants, insects, and amphibians. Mares are reservoirs of biodiversity and are the natural breeding ground of many threatened species such as the triton crêté (great crested newt) which is very sensitive to environmental changes.
According to the Sociéte d’histoire Naturelle d’autun, it is estimated that 20% of mares have disappeared over the last 20 years from Burgundy alone, due to them either being deliberately filled in or abandoned and then filled in naturally with overgrowth of plants and weeds, therefore becoming so murky and lacking in oxygen that they are no longer fit for habitation by either fauna or flora. Multiply this figure by all the rural regions of France, and this amounts to a vast loss of habitat for many indigenous plants and animals.
Protected ponds Most departments in France have a society for the protection of mares and, to date, more than 30 in Burgundy have become a ‘ refuge mare’ displaying a sign alerting people who are passing that this is a protected area.
These societies offer practical advice and support, and supply literature on how to cultivate and maintain a thriving mare, including what positive actions to take and what not to do, which species of plant to introduce, and which not to introduce. They provide information on which plants are native to the area. They can also give advice on how and when to clean the mare, and the importance of not using pesticides or other harmful substances.
Mares have most often been created by man, so if not cleaned and maintained, they will fill in naturally, leaving nowhere for the species that have moved in to go. If you have an existing mare, remember not to clean it in spring, however, as this will kill any larvae.
A beautiful Emperor blue dragonfly
It is illegal to take frogspawn from the wild
Linda almost pulled the plug on her own pond