As the days start to lengthen, we will be tempted out in good weather to work in gardens again. February is a time to plant new trees and hedges, prune fruit trees and make a pond among other things. The latter can be as simple as an old washing up bowl set into the ground.
Between January and May the UK’s frogs, toads and newts spawn. This starts by now in the south west of the country and then the activity gradually spreads eastwards and northwards as temperatures rise.
From observations collected over the last few years, we know that frogs and some newts and toads spawn in ponds in and around Watlington and that the toad population is particularly large around Christmas Common – it will soon be time for the volunteer ‘toad patrol’, that was so successful last year in saving adult toads crossing the road to get to spawning ponds, to start again!
This year will hopefully be a good one for survival of tadpoles in the Willow and Horse Ponds, and other spring fed pools as the groundwater level beneath the town is high following last year’s rain on the Chilterns. In many years those ponds dry out before the young are mature enough to leave the water. In those years, the new generation only survives in garden ponds and other water containers. One location that is successfully used by newts and frogs each year is a watering trough on the allotments (see picture).
One of Watlington’s successful newt and frog spawning locations – a water trough on the allotments with a ramp to provide access.
If you are thinking about making a pond there is a very good guide available from the Freshwater Habitats Trust https://freshwaterhabitats.org.uk/pond-clinic/create-pond/make-garden-pond/ and many other sources online. A pond will usually need to be lined because of Watlington’s free-draining soils. However, liners can look unnatural if left exposed to view under the water and around the edges; but they can easily be hidden under a layer of gravel or soil, especially if the sides are made gently sloping rather than vertical.
If you are curious about aquatic life, you could simply try burying a plastic container level with the soil surface, filling it with water and leaving it to see what arrives naturally over a year or two, you might get some interesting surprises. But, whatever you decide, be it a small container or a pond, make sure that one or more of the sides is gently sloping or alternatively place rocks, logs or a ramp that will allow animals that accidentally fall in and amphibians to crawl out.
Iain and Eliza Naismith