for the love of ponds

Guest Blogger today is Richard

with Ricardo's Ramblings

Much of my youth was spent messing about in water, rivers, ponds and the sea when we were lucky enough to go on a sea side holiday. I went to see a good friend called Andy over the weekend who has just moved into a lovely dilapidated cottage set in the Lower Mind in Shropshire. Andy and I went to University together and found a mutual appreciation in ‘fluvial geomorphology’ and ‘environmental geology’. Andy spent much of his younger days chasing moorhens and ducks ‘up the cut’, home made catapult discreetly concealed, in the Blackcountry, where muddy canals abound, having been excavated to sustain the industrial revolution in the 1700s.

Many of the farmland ponds that I knew as a child have now gone, filled in by farmers driven by short sightedness, greed or government policy (which often amount to the same thing). The salamander sized great crested newts and seething masses of frog spawn long since decimated in an attempt to increase the volume of crop yields, often by pathetic amounts. Unlike the long lost playgrounds of my youth Andy’s ‘cuts’ which during his formative years were often in dire neglect, have now been renovated to accommodate an increase in pleasure boaters and herald our heritage. Currently much of the government funding, which the Rural Payment agency is struggling to distribute, is geared to encourage farmers to reinstate ponds and scrapes, increase buffer zones along water ways, widen hedge boundaries and cut hedges in a manner which sustains diverse wildlife. I can only hope that these initiatives will last the test of time and that those that would assume the role of ‘guardians of the country side’ will not simply grub up strips of set aside, currently harbouring the so essentially important last few remnants of wildlife, if and when cereal crop prices exceed that which they are getting from the public purse to manage the land in a more sustainable fashion. We shall see.

Garden ponds have played an oh so vital role in supporting many forms of aquatic life and there seems to be a trend to create an environment specifically for native life rather than newtpole gobbling hybridised cyprinids. Andy is going to dig a pond adjacent to the stream that his children have loved playing in this last summer, he’s also talking about hydro electric power, but that’s another story. Sarah and I are awaiting a planning decision for an application we made to put a pond in the paddock that lies to the south of our house. Billy, Heather’s (of Wiggly Wigglers fame!!) brother has agreed to dig it for us. The water table in the valley, in which we anticipate this wildlife haven to nestle, has dropped in recent years and the area adjacent to the paddock, proliferated by common rush, has shrunk. By excavating a pond of sufficient surface area and depth we hope to make available a body of water which can be relished by aquatic and riparian life. For me the ability to provide a space for our ever dwindling natural history is unsurpassed. The pleasure derived from supporting a population of newts, dragonflies, damselflies, frogs, toads, water fowl etc etc isn’t one that fades like the shine of a new car or the tick of an expensive watch, to give is far more satisfying than to take – if only everybody realised that!

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