Swifts, newts and decking

by Richard Jones

... being an old country hand I could tell the moment I stepped out of the door that something was afoot.

Richard JonesOn Sunday 4th of May, the winds of change swept through East Dulwich. And being an old country hand I could tell the moment I stepped out of the door that something was afoot. It wasn't a tang of salt air from the distant ocean, or a warning red sky, or a late opening of goatsbeard flowers either. It was the noticeable absence of 747s turning on their final approach into Heathrow. Only a serious change in the wind can do this. An hour later this new wind brought a wonderful gift - the swifts returned.

I'm no bird expert, but these harbingers of summer lift my heart when, as now, they scream their victorious celebration of return across the heavens. They made one low sweep together, a passing salute, then divided and wheeled off to the horizon. I counted about 15, the same number we get every year, give or take. They're late this year; in 2007 it was May 2nd.

Then it was newts, three of them paddling about at the bottom of the pond. They were easily visible against the new butyl liner I had to put in when the old one sprung a leak. Our pond is raised, three railway sleepers high off the ground, so these two females and a male had managed to scramble up and climb in. There's not much else going on in the water yet - no boatmen or beetles or skaters - but a shaft of sunlight through the scattered pondweed shows the dancing hordes of water fleas. The water is clear and clean so I'm expecting great things in coming months.

I spent a lot of time in the garden on Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday. Why? Decking. I'm not sure what the received wisdom on decking is, but we have a thoroughfare near the end of the garden between the lawn and a secluded patio. Overshadowed by apple tree and creeper-covered pergola, and trodden underfoot by children stampeding to the playhouse, it turned to mud long ago, so putting a small area of deck seemed like the obvious choice. This is the first time I've tried my hand at this type of woodwork, and I'm feeling rather smug I have to say. We now have a small but perfectly formed seating area in the dappled shade, just the place to enjoy a glass of something with the neighbours as the swifts continue to screech overhead.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Swifts, newts and decking
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 07/05/2008 at 18:45

I am putting a number of odd broken ceramic pots, large stones and bricks, logs, twigs, bits of bamboo and broken tiles etc on top of the weed free covering, between the joists under the decking for newts, frogs, toads small mammals and insects.I think it is an ideal way to get rid of some of my rubbish and help the wildlife.

Gardeners' World Web User 07/05/2008 at 21:00

I too have noticed the Swifts return, I had only mentioned in the morning to my husband that the swifts should be back soon and there they were, swooping about above me. Since then the weather has been warmer and drier, perhaps they brought it with them?


We live in a suburb of Southampton and the swifts used to nest in next door's roof, but the owner had the roof repaired and now they can't get in there, what a pity.

Gardeners' World Web User 09/05/2008 at 14:47

I also went out to the garden on Mon 5th (may day)to see several swallows sweeping by. I must say it took me by surprise but it really lifted my heart after a cool spring. The sun has shone everyday since here in Carrickfergus. Who knows perhaps the swallows have brought us a hot african summer :)

Gardeners' World Web User 09/05/2008 at 22:22

My daughter and I built our wildlife pond early last spring. Last year we had frogs inhabit it and making themselves at home, leaving us with several offspring who have returned this year. But to our great joy we have a newt (probably more than one I don't know yet) in our pond this year to add to the wildlife already inhabiting it.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/05/2008 at 18:33

I too was very pleased with my new decking but unfortunately then had some uninvited guests sharing it with me - 2 rats! The man from the Council told me that decking is a favourite home for rats, together with left-over bird food. I think we have got rid of them now, but just keep an eye out for any burrowing underneath the decking going on. On the positive side i have a blackbird's nest, together with many sparrows and a family of blue tits.

See more comments...