The Great Pond Clearout

Wiltshire Pond Life
Wiltshire Pond Life

THE GREAT POND CLEAROUT

This time of year sees many people clearing out their garden ponds as part of their gardening routine. But there is good news for gardeners who like to relax in the fine weather and enjoy their gardens from a sun-lounger. Leaving your pond completely alone is the best thing you can do for the wild creatures that live in it.

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust receives many calls on this subject in the summer months, which are actually the worst time to disturb a pond. The Trust’s Wildlife Information Officer says: “This is the most abundant time of a pond’s life, with the young of many species still living in it. Young frogs, toads and newts will still be living in the pond.”

The best time for pond clearance is in the Autumn, up until December. This is when the plants in the pond will have died back. Many of the pond creatures will be in egg or larval stage, deep within the mud at the bottom of the pond, and frogs, toads and newts will have left the water to hibernate on dry land. In any case, it is best to resist the temptation to clean out the silt lurking on the bottom of a pond. This humble-looking stuff will have taken many years to develop and will be a home to a teeming host of tiny pond-life.

Having a healthy pond needn’t involve back-breaking toil in the summer months, or leave your credit card in a state of exhaustion. You should be extremely careful when planting the pond: for the pond’s health, plants should cover no more than a third of the surface of the water.

When choosing aquatic plants at garden centres, it is important to steer well clear of plants such as the New Zealand Pygmyweed (Crassula helmsii). These horticultural aliens have a fearsome reputation for escaping from gardens (even a miniscule fragment, carried off by a bird, can be responsible for swamping a pond or river). It is this innocuous-looking pot-plant that is the biggest threat to Britain’s rarest wild flower, the starfruit.

If in any doubt about whether to buy an aquatic plant, contact Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

Another money-saving and wildlife-friendly tip is to avoid adding fish, which have a catastrophic impact on a pond’s wildlife value. “Fish eat pond-life, and will provide unwelcome competition for amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts,” – when creating a pond from scratch, you shouldn’t add frog- or toad-spawn yourself; “You could be introducing disease or unwanted plants. If your pond is a suitable habitat, amphibians will find it for themselves and form colonies.”

If things are desperate and you feel you really must do some pond-cleaning, be sure that you save as many of the plants and animals as possible, to ensure that the pond can be re-established afterwards. Take them out in buckets and containers filled with pond-water; they will be able to survive like this for several days.

If you are moving your pond, remember to create the new pond first and allow it to establish, before the old pond is cleaned or filled in.

Managing and maintaining a pond is easy: once you have a healthy pond, it will maintain its own natural balance with little or no interference. Don’t be too concerned, for instance, if the water level drops. In nature, pond levels rise and fall; lower water levels are actually better for some animal species. If you have a problem with algae, try to remove as much as possible, then leave the algae at the side of the pond until it has dried off. This will ensure that any creatures living in the algae can return to the pond.

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