Draining ponds

by Kate Bradbury

[...] why would you drain a pond in spring? Isn't spring the most crucial time of year for wildlife?

Close-up photograph of a tiny frog, perched on somebody's fingerThere's a park near me. It's a great place to escape the urban sprawl. There, I've spotted eight species of bumblebee (including a winter buff-tailed colony), plus honey, solitary and feather-footed bees. I've also seen butterflies, great spotted woodpeckers, witnessed blackbirds and robins fighting over territory, and sat a little too close to a wasps' nest.

It's generally a very good habitat for wildlife: there's a mass of ivy to provide food and shelter for all manner of creatures, and something in flower all year round. I've never seen a frog there but I know they're about as last year the pond was full of frogspawn and tadpoles. That was, until the pond was drained in spring.

I never found out why the pond was drained. It was filled in again in late-summer. But, as I watched the tadpoles swim in an ever decreasing puddle of muddy water, I realised I would have to intervene. I try not to intervene with events in the natural world, but I consider the draining of a man-made pond to be quite unnatural, and besides, I like getting muddy. On a particularly hot summer's day I grabbed a spade and plastic container and rescued the tadpoles. I got as many as I could, but it was hard as the water had by then completely dried up and they were fully submerged in the mud. But I did my best, and re-homed them, transporting them on the Tube to a friend in Tottenham. I've since visited them as baby frogs, seemingly unharmed by their ordeal.

But why would you drain a pond in spring? Isn't spring the most crucial time of year for wildlife? And it's not just ponds. In February I witnessed the clearing of shrubs and ivy by some councils - which were surely providing shelter for numerous hibernating creatures - and I've also seen contractors trimming hedges in May. Would they have checked for nesting birds?

As gardeners we're conditioned to work with wildlife. We avoid tidying borders in winter, trimming hedges in nesting season, and are frequently reminded of the benefits of having a pond. But this message doesn't always seem to filter through to local authorities. It must be hard enough coming out of hibernation, without your hibernaculum being dug up, chopped down and bagged, ready for municipal waste disposal. And, if by some miracle you survive that, you find your breeding ground has gone.

Can these jobs not be done in late-summer, when the birds have fledged, before creatures settle down to hibernate?

The pond in the park has been drained again this year, only this time I phoned the council. It didn't do any good. The welfare of the frogs is a top priority for them, apparently, just not enough to fill the pond in again in time for spawning.

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Gardeners' World Web User 09/04/2010 at 15:20

I went into my greenhouse to sow some seeds the other day, opened up my half used compost and there to greet me was a Robin's nest with 4 eggs beautifully placed. Mum was'nt sitting on them at the time so I managed to retrieve some plants but she is back now so my other plants are getting a bit dry!!! Luckily I have another greenhouse so I am working in that one for now. I can see I am going to be a liitle pushed for space in a few weeks time when my Tomatoes, Beans and Sweetcorn are going to be grown on. I feel quite honoured that my local friendly garden Robin has chosen to nest in my greenhouse.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/04/2010 at 20:08

how lovely jean, nothing sounds sweeter than a robins song.we have a long tailed tit nest cant wait to see the fledgelings.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/04/2010 at 09:12

where i walk my dog,the council have done the same drained the pond[manmade] i to moaned my head of at the council as i said the same where do the frogs go as well as newts to spawn also the dragonflys etc. the council just said it needed to be tidyed up....[although it really looked very tidy to me and other residents say the same].

Gardeners' World Web User 12/04/2010 at 15:26

Our pond is full of frog spawn and the many and varied daffodils have increased again this year. I just cut them down after flowering. Our o/door goldfish bowl was cleaned out at Easter. Thanks Dig In team - I've received my FREE pack. Ready, steady GO GO GO.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/04/2010 at 08:05

My pond has also been drained but beacause I thought it had a leak. Over Christmas (during the freeze up) most of the water drained out and the big fish died. The little fish disappeared presumably with the water. The frog was still there and happy to be so. There were no leaks in the pond just that the water feature had come apart so the mystery continues. The pond is now refilled , the frog is back in ,the water lily has been divided and replaced. However I have not put any more fish in yet. All is well but the mystery of the disappearing water and fish continues, any ideas would be helpful. Thanks.

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