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Guest blog: 'Just Add Water' by TV's Mike Dilger

Posted October 4, 2013 - Blog Posts

FHT Tadpole1

As a passionate (and public) advocate for more nature on our own doorstep, the question gardeners most commonly ask me is the single best way they can make their own garden more attractive for wildlife. This is so easy… Just add water!

Put simply ponds are magnificent habitats which should be the centre-piece of any wildlife-friendly garden. Being quite literally full of the ‘stuff of life’, ponds seem to work like watery magnets, pulling in nature from far and wide. If you want to have your garden buzzing with dragonflies, awash with amphibians and brimming with diving beetles then it’s high time you added a water feature to your garden.

A couple of years ago I thought it was time that I too had better practice what I regularly preached on television – and turn my garden over to nature. Keenly aware of the huge wildlife potential a pond would offer, the first of many projects I wanted to tackle was the construction of a pond. Choosing a nice, sunny spot just left of centre in my modest-sized garden, and armed with nothing more than a spade, I proceeded to dig a kidney-bean shaped hole no more than three metres across and with varying levels up to a maximum depth of a metre. Once the hole was suitably sculpted to my satisfaction, a butyl-rubber waterproof liner was then slotted in and anchored around the edges, before I filled the pond with water and prepared to let nature take its course.

The first thing that amazed me, was how quickly wildlife managed to locate and colonize the pond. On popping out the following day, primarily just to check the liner wasn’t leaking, I was delighted to find, not only that the pond was still full of water, but that pond-skaters had already flown in and were whizzing over the surface, as they busily carved up this new and obviously desirable watery piece of real-estate which had just come on the market!

Having constructed the pond in early spring, over the course of the next few months ‘pondwatching’ quickly became my newest and favourite past-time. As I watched a whole procession of wildlife enticed into my garden, which would otherwise either have flown straight over or crawled or hopped straight past.

FHT Tadpole 2

In quick procession I was able to add six different species of damsel and dragonfly, water boatmen, diving beetles and a staggering array of aquatic larvae to the ‘Wildlife Recorded in my Garden’ list. Proving it wasn’t just those creatures who had mastered the power of flight that had somehow found my pond, I was also delighted on one balmy evening to find that smooth newts had also taken up residence. Lit up in the water column by my torch, I was thrilled to watch a male in all his breeding finery seducing a female with his courtship dance, as he attempted to persuade her that he was the perfect paternal choice, for her – as yet – unfertilized eggs.

Ponds represent such wonderful mini-ecosystems, stuffed to the gunnels with all manner of aquatic creatures, it’s no surprise that as a habitat they’ve featured in many wildlife documentaries. With modern technology nowadays, miniature water-proof cameras can give us a tadpole’s eye view as to what’s lurking under the surface. But for me, still the best way to investigate the aquatic life of a pond is a with a group of children and some nets.

From experience, I can officially confirm that if you give a child a net and a pond to dip in, or take them into into an underwater world on television, where they’ll virtually be able to swim along with the tadpoles, you’ll find them entertained for hours. Nowhere else will they be able to have such a close encounter with a dragonfly larva, which pound for pound, is every bit as fearsome a predator as a lion, whilst being so amused by a whirligig beetle, which for its size, is easily as speedy as a cheetah.

So have I convinced you to put in a pond yet? If you’re short on space, then I should warn you that size really doesn’t matter! One of the best ponds I’ve ever seen was nothing more than a Belfast sink sunk into the ground. Also, adding a pond to your garden need not be expensive, and believe me, it’s the part of the garden that will probably need the least maintenance.

And, like my pond, once its finally up and running, it will then be a constant source of free entertainment, for all generations, for months and years to come. So why not bring some water both into your garden, onto your TV and into your life? All that you need to do then, is to sit back and enjoy the show!

Mike is a passionate naturalist who has birded, botanized and entomologized in a huge range of countries, accumulating along the way an unparalleled expertise of British and South American wildlife. He can currently be found presenting regular wildlife features on ‘The One Show’ & ‘Inside Out’ both for BBC1.

For more information about creating your own garden pond, visit our friends over at Freshwater Habitats Trust.

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