Creating and Maintaining Ponds
Ponds are a brilliant resource for outdoor learning and a valuable habitat for wildlife. But if you don’t have a pond or if you have inherited an unloved pond, what can you do? A full guide to pond creation and maintenance would be as long as this module so I will summarise the important points below and direct you to my favourite resources on the subject.
Pond Creation and Maintenance
The best time of year to create a new pond is during the autumn, this will give it time to settle before the spring, when many animals will be around to colonise it naturally. Look for a level area, with partial sunshine, away from main thoroughfares. Too many overhanging trees will only lead to a pond full of leaves the following autumn, so try to avoid this. Aim for a natural, irregular shape, with both shallow and deeper areas to attract the most wildlife. You can involve the PTA in digging out the hole and either line it, or insert a ready-made pond like the ones supplied by Ponds for Schools (www.pondsforschools.co.uk). Their rigid ponds can also go above ground, which saves on digging and improves access for children where mobility is an issue.
Whatever type of pond you choose, you will need to consider what plants to put in it, planting is essential to oxygenate the water and provides somewhere for the creatures to hide.
Regular use will help you monitor and maintain your pond, and simple steps taken at the right time of year will ensure that the plant and animal life is happy, and your students will always ﬁnd plenty of exciting creatures when pond dipping.
During the autumn, ﬁsh out any dead leaves and cut back reeds if necessary. In the winter you can place a ball on the surface to prevent freezing over, or melt a hole in the ice by placing a pan of hot water on the surface, this will ensure oxygen can still get to the pond creatures.
In spring, remove any duck and blanket weed carefully, add more, larger plants if needed and split or transplant established plants.
During the summer, watch the water level and ﬁll up from a water butt if needed. If you need to clean out the pond, do it at the start or end of the summer holidays and make sure any vegetation pulled out is left on the edge of the pond for day or two, to allow any creatures caught up in it to escape back into the water. All of these simple steps could be carried out by your school eco club as a fun activity once a term. And don’t worry if you get stuck, the Freshwater Habitats Trust has a handy advice centre.
As well as the huge educational value in getting your students involved in the planning, creation and maintenance of your pond, pond dipping is the main activity you can carry out. Set out the equipment. Approach the water sideways on, with your knees slightly bent. Take care not to dig too deeply with your pond net and avoid disturbing the mud at the bottom of the pond when dipping. Students can work in pairs and take it in turns to sweep the pond using light, long-handled nets.
Gently moving the net around in the vegetation will help coax out more invertebrates!
Tip the nets out into lightly coloured trays with a couple of inches of water at the bottom, and then separate the creatures into small dishes using a plastic spoon. They should be identiﬁed, recorded and placed carefully in to a class observation tray before the pond is dipped again.
More than 80% of the child’s time should be spent at the observation bowl, separating and recording their ﬁnds, with only 20% or so spent moving to and from and at the water’s edge. Towards the end of the lesson, you can run through the contents of the class observation tray with the whole class. All collection trays and dishes should then be emptied carefully back into the pond – with extreme care so as not to injure any creatures. If you have a second adult with you, they could empty out students’ bowls and dishes while you are running through the contents of the class observation tray. Students should not lean over the water’s edge to ﬁll or empty their observation bowls, and must dip sideways-on.
Variables for your investigations could include time of year, depth of sample, temperature of the water, or you can just carry out a simple ‘look, see and identify’ with younger students. Follow-up work could then include creating keys, food chains and webs, developing image banks and creating your own ID guides. Older students can explore how the creatures are adapted to life in the pond. You can also take part in national projects, such as the ‘Big Spawn Count’, ‘Big Pond Dip’ or OPAL Water Survey.
You will need to ensure the pond area is safe and that children cannot access it without adult supervision. Consult the Group Safety at Water Margins booklet and the relevant CLEAPSS guidelines to ensure you have considered all the health and safety aspects, and have an appropriate risk assessment in place. Always ensure children are supervised and wash their hands thoroughly after contact with pond water.