I hope some of you had the chance to visit the Wivenhoe Wildlife garden over the weekend. The garden looks its absolute best this time of year. I wonder how many of you have your own ponds, or whether ponds like the one in the community garden in Wivenhoe inspire you to maybe have a go at doing something similar. I love walking around Beth Chatto’s garden with the amazing ponds she has managed to create there. However, a garden like that I could only dream about. Although, I am currently working on a wildlife garden design for a client that will use the runoff from the roof of the house to feed two ponds with a small connecting stream to connect the two. All in a space three meters wide and ten meters long. So even in one of the driest parts of the country in a small terraced garden you can still create a watery world for all sorts of living creatures. If you are still not convinced, please read on and hopefully I can change your mind.
H2O is a simple molecule. Two hydrogen atoms chemically combined with an oxygen atom. Simple, yet it is essential for all the complexity of life. All life on Earth began 3.6 billion years ago in the prehistoric oceans. It is unclear when the first living organisms managed to survive outside water. What is certain is that it took over 3 billion years of evolution before this was possible. Such is our dependency on water. Humans are made up of billions of tiny cells; small containers of this fantastic fluid. Within this solvent all life giving chemical reactions take place. We cannot survive more than a few days without it. Give water to a seed and it will come alive. Take the water away and it shrivels up and dies. Water quite simply is the molecule that all living things cannot be without.
In the UK we are lucky to have such a rich variety of plants and animals sharing the limited space we have on this relatively small island. It is one the reasons I love living in Britain. Here in Essex we are particularly fortunate. Growing up in the cooler north I never saw snakes, but I regularly come across grass snakes and adders when walking around Essex. The birds of prey I spot in the sky on a regular basis such as Barn Owls, Little Owls and Marsh Harriers are all evidence that the ecology of this area is in good condition. However, birds are animals that can easily search out water as they fly over our land. Some animals cannot search so far for the water they need to survive. Small mammals and smaller insects also need a constant supply of water. This is why, when designing the Wivenhoe Wildlife Garden by the King George playing fields, I pushed so hard to have a wildlife pond. There was a time when I thought it may not happen. There were voices of concern about the safety implications of having a pond. It is these same concerns that have led so many to fill in garden ponds in fear that youngsters may fall in and drown. Luckily we managed to convince those involved in making the decision that the dangers are really relatively small, but the benefits are undoubtedly massive, both for people and wildlife.
Our wildlife relies on such bodies of water. Dig a small pond in your garden and I guarantee you will enjoy watching a whole plethora of wildlife that water will immediately begin to attract to your garden. First the pond skaters, which at the first flicker of light reflecting from the shiny surface will fly down to skilfully hunt across the top of the water. Then dragons and damsels will be darting for flies around your garden before laying their eggs in the pond. Like so many insects they need water for the first stages of their lifecycle. Who can forget watching frogs developing inside their transparent eggs, the tadpoles waggling their way through the murky water before developing small feet and emerging as tiny jumping frogs? Ponds amaze children. With responsible guidance they can learn a great deal from them so developing an appreciation for their natural world. Why deny them this wealth of experience? More importantly, why deny our wildlife such an important habitat?
In my own garden I have an old white Butler sink, left there by the previous owners when they modified the kitchen. It is my plan to block the drainage hole and lower it into a hole in the ground. A couple of stones and a few water plants will give me my own miniature pond feature so I can look forward to sitting in the summer sun watching the wildlife that will very quickly move in. If you do not have a pond, hopefully this article has convinced you to at least consider one for the future.