Newts and pond water

by Richard Jones

We have newtpoles. Or rather we have newtlets, since they have already lost their external gills and grown legs.

Water skatersWe have newtpoles. Or rather we have newtlets, since they have already lost their external gills and grown legs. The first was just hanging from the water surface, but disappeared down into the gloom with vigorous wiggling of its tail. Since the initial sighting I've seen several, or the same one several times. I'm assured there are at least two, but they seem to be more than slightly disturbed by my shadow falling over the water and don't seem to notice my smiling, non-threatening face.

Although we've had frogs and toads in the garden for years, they've never bred successfully, and we've never had tadpoles in our small pond. I'm hoping the newts will have better luck. Since I re-made the pond after its leak last year, we've not had much else in there. There are no skaters. They were usually the first insects to arrive and we used to have a squadron of them zooming over the surface. This bunch took advantage of a drowning spider. And there are no boatmen or beetles yet either. But Saturday saw several damselflies in tandem mating pairs so recolonization is happening, if only slowly.

The water level has been going down slowly in the hot weather, only 7 or 8cm, but enough to show the ugly liner at the edges, so I topped it up with a hose at the weekend. It was only when I was looking at the RSPB Homes for Wildlife website that I notice they advise not to use tap-water. Since the new ring-main was built through South London about 10 years ago, the chlorine levels in our drinking water have gone down drastically. There was a time when the water was only potable after using one of those tabletop filter devices to get rid of the chlorine smell, but now it's as clear as bottled spring water. I've always told people that the tap water is now fine for ponds, but the RSPB factsheet tells me it contains high levels of nutrients, likely to cause algal blooms.

Our water went slightly cloudy when the sun came out a month or two ago, so the algae are already at work. But I'm hoping that London's water nutrients went down with the chlorine levels and that my newts are not going to soon be swimming in murk.

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Gardeners' World Web User 06/07/2008 at 15:31

I have a small pond in the garden which was here when I moved in. It is small and not very deep, however, it has loads of water lilies, water snails and one frog. Should I clean the pond as it is very muddy at the bottom or should I leave it be. Your comments would be appreciated.

Gardeners' World Web User 07/07/2008 at 09:23

Lucky you Richard, we moved to our new bungalow 3 years ago. The garden is a lot larger than our previous garden and as we are both disabled had a large pond made. The first summer we had dragonflies which laid eggs (but no newts) and this year they hatched, we know this because we found 2 casts by the pond. We have blanket weed also and we do top up the pond with tapwater, especially when we back wash the filter. I am very envious of the newts we have been hoping for some but no luck just yet

Gardeners' World Web User 07/07/2008 at 10:29

The advice I've always given is that ponds, like ditches and dykes, should be cleared piecemeal over a period of several years. This always means that some part of the water and edge is left alone and yet a rotation of clearance prevents too much built up of vegetation and infilling. With a small pond this just does not work. I'd suggest you leave the pond alone. Mud is fine, it's what many bottom-dwelling invertebrates live in. If it looks in danger of silting up completely then do a bit of dredging with your hands or a small scoop. The main danger to small garden ponds is leaf-fall from overhanging trees. This makes the water too nutrient-rich and it becomes dank and smelly. Oxygen is used up by the bacteria which means that aquatic wildlife cannot survive.

Gardeners' World Web User 08/07/2008 at 20:49

Hi I have a small pond. It has been in my garden for 20 years. It has fish,frogs/skaters/dragon flies and a lot more, I clean it by using a hose pipe I start a siphon and let the pipe suck up the contents at the bottom. Every third year.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/07/2008 at 20:12

I understand that newts eat frog spawn and tadpoles, which explains the shortage of tadpoles and frogs in some ponds.

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