The Amphibian and Reptile Group of South Lancashire have installed or improved a number of ponds across the county. Newts in particular prefer ponds with vegetated margins, a gradual slope and large areas of open water (free of underwater vegetation or shading). Apparently males use the open water for courtship dances, which I am sad to say I have never witnessed. The vegetation around the edges can then be used by the females to lay her eggs, which she lovingly deposits in a folded leaf. Too high a percentage of shade on the water stops it from warming up, which is needed for the eggs to hatch. Consequently, newts tend not to favour ponds with trees around all or most of the edge. A gradual slope is just useful so they can get out easily, no newt wants to perform the stuck in a swimming pool scramble we’re all familiar with from childhood (just me?).
Which leads me to a day of volunteering in Blackburn with ARGSL, where we did some additional work on ponds created there in 2008. I managed to drag a friend and a work colleague along which helped me shirk some of the really hard labour (only joking… I would have shirked it anyway). The colleague ended up having to borrow a pair of wellies from me, which much to his displeasure had a flowery purple pattern on them.
Monitoring of the ponds, and a cursory glance and the well trodden path nearby, revealed that one of the dog walkers routes cut right past the largest of our ponds. So as well as clearing out the aquatic vegetation and removing some over hanging trees, we constructed a barrier with the felled trees. I’d stop short of calling it a wall or fence but after a few hours of lugging trees and weaving branches, we felt confident it would stop all but the most determined casual park users. I found this surprisingly enjoyable because as well as using my hands there was some spatial reasoning to it, and I love that kind of puzzle solving.
I found the actual pond clearance less fun, as it was essentially just bending over, putting your arms into freezing cold water and pulling out sludgy plant parts but nonetheless we all mucked in and had the job done in no time. Any vegetation or sludge pulled out of the pond was deposited a short distance away under a tree to make sure anything living inside could easily make their way back to the pond. I think my colleague was secretly hoping we’d come across some newts but alas, all we saw was a couple of common toads.