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  • Writer's pictureAlistair

Pond Progress

Phase 1: Ron at work ... watching a skilled digger operator is amazing

As both regular readers will know (actually Mum, you’re not reading twice, are you?), it is almost two years since I got the first of the new ponds and scraps dug out in a wet field bordering a major ditch which carries water through the middle of the land at pretty much its lowest level.  That was February 2022 and in September of that year I got Ron, digger driver extraordinaire, back to create some more.  That gave the field nine ponds / scrapes.  The shallower ones (around 1m deep) would be defined as scrapes … four fit this criterion.  The rest (up to 2m deep) we will class as ponds.

 

The soil removed was used to create south facing banks on the north sides of the ponds, creating a sun soaked (hmmm, this is Wales) and warmer environment which suits some reptiles and insects.  Initially the whole field looked like a lunar landscape, or worse still an open cast mining operation.

 

Fortunately, a combination of rain (no shortage) and sun, along with some very eager nature, meant that within six months things were looking good.  The ponds are not lined with anything other than the clay soil which abounds in the field.  Ron was very skilful at creating a natural edge with gradual gradients, so it all looks very natural and also means the things can get out easily.  He also broke up as many of the old clay drains as he could find, to stop ponds draining away into these (in these wet fields, farmers over the generations had sought to drain water off and into the large open drain, using clay pipes and also by simply digging a trench and refilling loosely, perhaps with some shale in part, to create an easy route for water). And finally, Ron dug a few shallow channels to help water flow into the ponds.

 

Phase 2: on the right a broken clay pipe laid in the last century to help drain the field, bottom the gradual slope into a 2m deep pond with natural edges and a bank at the far side

Of the nine ponds or scrapes, seven always contain water, come rain or shine.  The water level may fall by up to 50cm when it has been very dry, but as yet, they have never come close to emptying.  One scrape always empties in dry periods, occasionally for months on end, another usually maintains a puddle at least. 


Fixed point photographs of one of the scrapes filling between mid September and mid October 2023. Seven of the ponds / scrapes hold water throughout the year, but two, including this one, fluctuate

Those initially barren grey banks have quickly vegetated over and the area is now full of life. 

 

Over 18 months the lunar landscape was reclaimed by greenery ... different seasons, but you get the idea

The only thing I have brought in is a couple of buckets of pond weed from a pond in the bottom on an old quarry I have just off the bridleway, no more than 300m away.  Some ecologists may take a dim view of this, as there is potential to bring in something that should not be there (i.e. something non-native and possibly invasive).  But, being so close, it is likely that all I have done is potentially sped up a movement that would have happened regardless, as some critter would soon have inadvertently carried whatever across that short distance.

 

Top left, a pond in an old quarry provided pond weed for the newer ponds 300m away

And the point of all this effort?  Well water in a habitat is a boon for life.  Constant water even more so.  That big drain may slow to a trickle over a dry period (and we have had a couple over these two years), but the ponds allow a lot more life to hang on and gain a permanent foothold creating a fabulous habitat.  Those new dwellers naturally provide a food source for their predators, so the impact is multiplied.

 

Channel into one of the ponds where pond weed is becoming established

That’s the theory and thankfully it is backed by the evidence.  Frog spawn was spotted in early 2023, newts and frogs were seen later in the year.  A couple of herons are regular visitors, as are some ducks.  And at the back end of last year we found (I, as you might expect, did not do any finding, but I did see what someone competent, Rob, the ecologist from INCC, pointed out) evidence of an otter visit, plus field voles and, perhaps most excitingly, water voles (the UK’s fastest declining mammal).  Anal jelly, latrines and the like in the pictures below.  We knew that they were in other areas of Cefn Garthenor, but there had been no evidence in this area.  So, the ponds have absolutely increased the habitat available for a host of critters (including many, I’m sure, that I have no idea about).

 

The proof is in the ... left, anal jelly from an otter, top right field vole latrine and cut soft rush, bottom right signs of the larger water vole. The hand model is Rob, if you have any opportunities.

The otter, by the way, will have been after the frogs … no fish here.  The anal jelly, in case you were wondering but didn’t like to ask, is actually a mucus from the stomach that helps prevent damage from sharp bones and other protein shrapnel.

 

The increase in small mammals will help the barn owls which have been breeding here, the red kites and buzzards that are a near constant sight above, and also our latest regular visitor, a kestrel (big on field voles).  I only first spotted the kestrel late last year, very exciting.

 

Plus, the Galloways and Tamworths all appreciate the new amenity.


Galloways cooling off over the summer

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