Pond-tastic!

I love ponds; I can stare into them for hours. I have very fond memories of pond dipping events with visiting school groups or families when I worked at an RSPB reserve, and before that of being one of the school kids myself; eager and curious. A pond of my own has been a dream for a very long time. I built a small one in my parents garden as a teenager, and they still have it. I have container ponds: an old storage box performs the purpose in the garden at home. But the longing has never gone away. The urge to grab a spade and dig a hole… well until now…

Because I do indeed have a pond of my own!

Introducing, the Allotment Wildlife Pond!

So, firstly lets explain why I decided to built a pond on the allotment.
Read any book or online article on wildlife gardening and it will always state the same thing – “the best thing you can do to attract and support wildlife in your garden is introduce water to your space”. It is certainly true that water is vital for all levels of life, so by including a watery place in your garden, whether its a pond or a bird bath, the wild creatures will soon benefit.

The holy grail of wildlife gardening is of course the pond. Ponds offer a huge variety of microhabitats and resources for all kinds of wildlife from gnats to birds, toads to damselflies. And of course, frogs. And newts. I could go on…

But how does this apply to the allotment? Well in order for the plot to be productive and thrive, it needs to be part of a balanced ecosystem. To get the best out of my soil, space, and plants, I believe it is vital to work with nature rather than force my own will onto it. I grow organically; avoiding chemical fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides. I don’t want to harvest crops laced with potentially harmful chemicals, nor do I wish to poison the environment in the pursuit of my hobby. This does of course present some challenges regards pest control etc. This is where nature comes into the equation as ‘she’ has already invented the perfect answers. Encouraging beneficial wildlife to forage, live, even breed on my plot means that the predator and pollination teams are on hand, reducing intervention needed by me! A win-win situation for all involved!

Amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts, are great slug and bug munchers, whilst hoverflies are important pollinators. Bees are famous for their pollination duties but also need places they can make regular stops for drinking. Other insects will use the pond too as many breed in water or surrounding vegetation, and these in turn will attract in insect-eating birds, who hopefully once they’ve arrived, will hang around to deal with any aphid or other infestations on the crops. So, you can see a pond has a lot going for it!

In the corner of the upper allotment plot, on the border with the original Cutty Garden plot, has always been a large mound. This I think started life as a compost heap or rubbish pile under previous custodianship, and over the years just became a nettle and cleavers infested hummock that we skirted round and tried to ignore. I had considered digging a hole in the top of this mound and building a pond before, but there were always more important jobs needing doing. One night this spring I woke in the early hours of the morning, and all I could think about was building that pond. Suddenly it took on an imperative need and urgency of its own, it wanted to be built, to come to life. I lay in half light as dawn crept in, and mulled over and over different thoughts on pond building. My head was filled with watery thoughts of newts and marsh marigolds and bats feeding on gnats over MY pond. The pond that I would build.

Here are the step by step photos as the build continued:

Digging the initial hole
Using sand to build up the shape
Lining and beginning to fill with water
Settling down over a week or two
Flower seeds sown on the banks
A ramp for easy access or escape, pebbly edges to allow bees and birds to perch and drink, and aquatic plants to clean the water and provide habitat.

The first wildlife has already moved in – pond skaters arrived within days, and have already begun breeding! Gnat larvae wiggle in the waters, which although unglamorous, will provide vital food for bats in the summer.

This weekend I finalised planting up and adding finishing touches. The plants I chose to add were picked as they will provide different nectar and pollen sources for insects, cover for amphibians such as newts, and also emergent vegetation for those creatures such as damselflies which live half their lifecycle under the water and half above. Marsh marigold, water forget-me-not, and flowering rush are all native wildflowers, and shouldn’t grow too dominant in the limited space I have available.

I am delighted with the pond, and look forward to monitoring it as the summer progresses. Hopefully my crops will soon be benefiting from the ecosystem services it will provide!

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