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Donald Mitchell: Watch out for puddocks while putting in a pond!

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Making Space for Nature by Donald Mitchell

Young naturalists at Laide exploring the pond life.
Young naturalists at Laide exploring the pond life.

A pond! A pond! My kingdom for a pond! The single most effective way of increasing the amount and variety of beasties and bugs in any garden – a long way to say biodiversity– or plot of land is to build a pond.

It can be any kind of pond, any size, any shape and made out of just about anything which holds water. The simple fact that there will be lying water around attracts life – exactly why SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, keeps an eye out for planets which may have water.

It does not have to cost money either, many households will have old buckets or basins lying around which are ideal for a wee pond to start with, or for a wee garden with not enough space to swing a cat.

Actually, cats and gardens with many birds or mice and voles or wee ponds don’t blend very well, so swing the cat.

How to begin? Simples, dig a hole the size and depth of your chosen receptacle, the neater the fit the better, so that the level of the basin, or other, is level with the surface of the ground. This obviously is so that any amphibious creepy crawlies or water bugs can readily access the water without having to climb the equivalent of Ben Nevis to get there.

The corollary effect is also true in that you must build up the inside of the container so that the aforesaid creatures can escape the water easily – this is simply contrived with the use of various boulders, or bricks which may happen to be lying around, just make sure that the escape pile is stable.

It is a good idea to add some water plants, particularly those which may add oxygen to the water. Put them in pots, to contain the growth, as we don’t want them to run rampant and suffocate everything else.

Common frog.
Common frog.

Try also for a few which grow at the waters edge and emerge later to flower, and plant others at the outside edge of your basin which will provide some shade, particularly if it is a small container as it may overheat quickly in the Highland summer sunshine – really!

It is best to obtain your plants, or animals or insects, from local sources like a neighbour’s pond – ask first! Try also to find native water plants – native plants for native bugs.

There are so many examples of introduced species which have become an invasive problem that it is best to be wary. Even something like tadpoles might harbour amphibian viruses and spread diseased puddocks – a Scottish word for frogs – from your tiny pond to a much wider area.

Then you would have SISI chasing you – the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative is a four-year partnership project tackling invasive non-native species alongside rivers and water courses in northern Scotland.

Should you have the space and wherewithal for a large-scale pond, keep to the same principals but just increase your ambitions. Remember to keep it deep enough to prevent a total freeze up, though always be mindful if you have toddlers around.

There is masses of information on pond construction on the net, the internet not the pond net. Pleasurable ponding to you all.

Donald Mitchell, HLH countryside ranger.
Donald Mitchell, HLH countryside ranger.
  • Making Space for Nature is a monthly wildlife column with tips about how we can act to help to improve biodiversity in our communities. This month’s wildlife columnist, Donald Mitchell, is High Life Highland countryside ranger for north-west Sutherland. Donald has worked in wildlife conservation for over 50 years with research posts at the Nature Conservancy Council (now NatureScot) and within Fisheries as well as hands-on caring for wildlife at the Highland Wildlife Park. He is a veteran environmentalist and has worked with HLH’s (formerly Highland Council's) ranger service for 25 years.

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