How to … build a DIY pond

 

In the latest of our How to … series of articles – in which we dish out simple advice on ways  to enjoy nature in your garden – Mike Horne explains how to construct a temporary wildlife pond

 

Building a long-term wildlife pond takes some time in the planning and construction stages.

But if you have decided you need something for you and your family to do during the current lockdown why not get out into the garden and make an unsuspecting object into a temporary wildlife pond.

It has long been known that the creation of a water feature does something to the mind that has no equal when it comes to staving off feelings of deep boredom or depression, and the satisfaction of adding a totally new aquatic ‘dimension’ to your garden almost instantly allows the restoration of ‘balance’ and harmony.

There is no denying that having somewhere new in your own garden where one can go to sit with a nice cup of tea or coffee and peer into the water to see what may have appeared overnight is an exciting prospect.

Here’s how to create a temporary wildlife pond.

Step 1: Choose a container to be your pond

 

I chose to repurpose a water butt stand that was hiding in a corner of my garden, although almost any large-ish object that can hold water will do. The bigger the better, really, so that the water temperature doesn’t fluctuate very much during the day (as that only seems to encourage algal blooms). One thing you could use is a washing up bowl.  If you want you can also dig a hole to place your container in, but remember that you need sloping sides so that potential wildlife visitors can get in and out easily.

Step 2: Fill it with water

If you are a patient sort of person, you may well be content to use water from the mains tap to fill up your object and then wait a week or two so that the chemicals can dissipate. Alternatively fill it from a water butt.

Step 3: You may wish to add an additive

I often use an additive that instantly makes tap water safe for fish and wildlife, and which is very convenient.

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4: Acquire some plants

This might easily be done if you have an obliging neighbour who has their own wildlife pond. Naturally, you will need to observe social distancing, but if this can be done then all is well.

Ideally, you should have a mix of fully aquatic plants such as a mini water lily, oxygenators – such as hornwort,  and semi submerged plants such as brook lime or water mint. Reeds and Iris also add structure to a pond. Stones can be used to keep the new plants in place until they develop a root network.

Step 5: Add some wildlife

Lastly, you need to introduce some small fully aquatic life into the new wildlife pond, and so do please ask your friendly neighbour to include these when they are bagging up the plants.

Water fleas are essential in keeping algae from turning the water into a sort of ‘pea soup’ colour, and having a few water snails and water louse are also quite helpful in keeping the pond clean and balanced. (Adding fish to a wildlife pond never works very well, as they eat all the water fleas and the water usually then turns green within a week or two.)

Insects such as water beetles, water boatmen, dragonflies, damselflies and caddis flies will find your new pond easily enough, and in a few weeks you will have many new additions to your wildlife pond.

If the pond is at ground level, then your local amphibian population will also be delighted to discover its whereabouts. On hot summer days frogs, in particular, will often sit in ponds to keep cool.

Step 6: Enjoy it

Good luck with your new addition to your garden. It doesn’t take long to create a wildlife pond – once you have a source for the plants and animals, but it can give hours of pleasure just sitting nearby and watching what is going on underneath the surface.

VIDEO: Cuckoo on film

We all love to hear the sound of the cuckoo – a sure sign that summer is on the way.

Steve Zealand filmed this great video which was posted on Langdyke’s Facebook page.  He had to spend hours in the rain to capture the video.

Click on the image to make it play.

Posted by Steve Zealand on Wednesday, 29 April 2020

April in pictures

Social distancing measures and the Government’s Coronavirus stay-at-home message meant that we asked you to share some of your garden photos – and have we had some amazing shots.

And the picture (above) of the first Toads returning to the garden pond  taken by Sarah Lambert has been selected as our image of the month for April.

Each month we select photographs taken by our Facebook members. They might not be technically perfect – but they sum up the events of that month. Here are some other images from April.

Our gardens are really rich with nature if this month’s pictures are anything to go by

This great shot of a Woodpecker was taken by John Parsonage.

Woodpecker Photo: John Parsonage

One of several Langdyke challenges set on our Facebook page was to find and take a photo of a beefly.  Nathan Stimpson didn’t just find one – he found a pair … and they were actually mating.

Beeflies mating Photo: Nathan Stimpson

This Orange Tip butterfly was spotted by Chris Gardiner in his garden.

Orange Tip butterfly Photo: Chris Gardiner

And Steve Lonsdale came across this Damsel fly.

Damsel fly Photo: Steve Lonsdale

There was no shortage of bird life either.  Although these ducks were unusual visitors in Keren Thomson’s garden.

Ducks in the garden Photo: Keren Thomson

And this partridge decided to drop in on Michael Jarman’s doorstep.

Partridge Photo: Michael Jarman

Our final garden shot is a colourful rainbow montage.  Another of our garden challenges was to take photos which represented a rainbow.  This is what Kathryn Parsons came up with.

Rainbow challenge image Photo: Kathryn Parsons

Of course, there was still a lot going in the outside world for those of us lucky enough to be able to enjoy as we took on our daily exercise routine.

The return of the Turtle Doves to the Etton Maxey reserve and surrounding area – earlier than some thought – has proved very welcome.

Linda Wellington was one of the first to spot one of them and took this photo alongside the Maxey Cut.

Turtle Dove, Maxey Cut Photo: Linda Wellington

While Steve Lonsdale captured this image of the magnificent display of Bluebells in the wood off Heath Road, Helpston while he was out walking.

Bluebells, Heath Road, Helpston Photo: Steve Lonsdale

Steve was also lucky enough to spot a cuckoo – the  call of which we all enjoy as one of the first sounds of summer days to come.

Cuckoo Photo: Steve Lonsdale

 

 

 

 

 

Join us for quiz

We’re inviting you to join us for a great night IN with Langdyke hosting a virtual pub quiz.

So make a date to grab a glass of something, form a family team – or if you prefer, play on your own – and fire up your computer for an online quiz with the emphasis on nature.

Here’s all you need to know …

What:

We’re organising a traditional pub-style quiz, slanted towards wildlife and the Countryside, and adapted to the needs of current times. There will be four or five rounds of themed questions, a picture round, marathon round, some random bonus points (including best mascot!) and a prize for the overall winner. 

Who: 

Members, supporters and friends of Langdyke, together with their families, are invited to join the fun.  In the circumstances, a ‘Team’ can be whoever is in your home at the time, but if there are four or more you could consider splitting into two teams. The Quiz will be hosted by LCT Trustee Chris Gardiner, formerly Warden at Castor Hanglands and Barnack Hills and Holes.

Where:

 In your own home, via video conferencing app Zoom (you don’t need any special software)

When: 

Wednesday May 6, 7.30 – 9pm. The video meeting starts at 7.30, we will aim to get the quiz under way at 7.35 prompt, allowing time for the usual preliminaries and resolving any technical issues! There will be a short break at around 8.15 (so you can recharge your glasses if you wish).

How: 

To enter, simply email david.alvey@langdyke.org.uk  and he will send you the link to join in. Don’t forget to think of a suitable Team name, have your mascot ready, and of course have a glass (or two) of wine or beer close at hand!

Please join us.

Join our survey of Swifts

The magnificent sight of Swifts soaring through the skies is a sure sign of summer.

This summer the Langdyke Countryside Trust is launching a Swift action project to monitor the birds across John Clare countryside. Langdyke member and trustee David Alvey explains what you can do to help this RSPB survey …

For the summer of 2020 we are inviting everyone to join in with a targeted survey of the John Clare Countryside.

With the ongoing uncertainty of what we will be allowed to do in the coming weeks and months this survey can be conducted from inside your house, in your garden or during your daily exercise walk around the village where you live.

What to look for

We are asking you to look out and report any groups (two or more) of low flying and preferably screaming Swifts. This is not just a one off event. We would like you to continue to look out for and record the number and location of Swifts flying low around buildings in your area between May 1 and  July 31.

We’d like to find out where swifts are seen and where they are nesting.

Watch out for screaming groups of swifts flying at roof-height that means they are probably  breeding nearby. 

What not to look for

Do not report sightings of swifts that are either very high in the sky, feeding over water bodies or away from the villages. Swifts travel some distance to feed so these may not be local birds.

Swifts can be confused with three similar but unrelated species (pictured, below): the swallow, house martin and sand martin.

The primary differences are the lack of any significant white, their size and their distinctive sickle shape.

Swift
Swallow
House Martin
Sand Martin

When to look

The best time to look for ‘screaming swifts’ is around dusk on a warm still evening, or early morning.

Last year I saw my first pair of Swift’s flying low around Barnack on  May 11at 19:30. The peak activity I observed was on July 9 at 19:45 when a group of 22 birds entertained me with their aerial acrobatics around the buildings in the centre of the village.

The final sighting was of a pair on August 4. My observations were on irregular survey dates as I was walking the dogs –  normally between 19:30 and 21:00.

The beauty of watching for Swifts is you do not need to sit still or hide away – they will happily entertain you whatever you are doing.

How to take part

We would like to know where you’ve seen screaming swifts or swift nest sites.

You can enter as many records as you like at different times. Ideally we would like to add your sightings to the RSPB Swift Action database by clicking the link below:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/safeguarding-species/help-us-help-swifts/

If for some reason you are unwilling or unable to do so then please feel free to email me at david.alvey@langdyke.org.uk with your survey results and location and I will add them to the map.

Information and Facts about Swifts

Swifts are one of the iconic birds of our summers. but how much do you know about them

  • The Common Swift (apus apus) is the most aerial of all birds and spends most of its entire life on the wing, flying continuously day and night.
  • Our’ swifts are only ‘British birds’ for a quarter of their lives (three months per year) – the rest of the time they are African. Living in Central and Southern Africa.
  • The wings are long and narrow, and superbly adapted for fast flight, but don’t allow slow flight or a great deal of manoeuvrability.
  • As a group, swifts are the fastest birds in level flight. The peregrine is officially the fastest bird but only in a steep dive called a stoop. Our swift holds the record for the fastest proven level flight, recording an impressive top speed of 69.3mph in a recent study.
  • A swift weighs about the same as a Cadbury’s Crème Egg,  40g. 
  • For its size, the swift has an exceptionally long life-span – averaging about 5.5 years. 
  • They almost never land – except at their nest sites – doing everything on the wing.  They eat, mate and sleep in the air – they can ‘snooze’ with one side of their brain at once, and then switch to the other side.
  • They seem to bathe by flying relatively slowly through falling rain.
  • It’s estimated that swifts fly an average daily total of nearly 500 miles. With the 6,000 mile journey to and from Africa each year, in its lifetime a bird may fly a distance in excess of 1.24 million miles. 
  • The swift probably eats more species of animals (small insects and spiders) than any other British bird. 
  • Swifts can be quite selective about what they catch. One was found to have caught only stingless drones around bee hives, and to have neatly dodged all the females, which had stings.
  • Swifts can’t feed in wet weather in the UK, so fly around storms to find dry areas – the only UK birds to do this. On the wintering grounds in Africa it’s different – there are more insects in the air on rainy days, so the swifts will head for rain. 
  • Swifts are extremely site faithful, so once they have found a suitable nest site they will continue to use it for the rest of their lives. Some colonies are very old indeed and have been used by successive swift generations for tens if not, hundreds of years. 
  • Nesting material is collected on the wing (it has to be) so they can only use what they can find in the air.
  • Clutch normally 2-3 white eggs (May-June). The weight of an egg is about one-twelfth the weight of the female that laid it approx 3.5 grams and are incubated for 19-21 days (mostly  hatching mid June)
  • Parent swifts gather insect snacks for their chicks. Each bolus (ball of food) brought to the babies weighs just over a gram, and contains 300 – 1000 individual insects and spiders. The average is 300-500 food items per bolus .
  • They have a clever adaptation. Food can be scarce in bad weather – the chicks can go cold and torpid and survive for days without food, then regain weight rapidly once supplies resume. Most baby birds can’t do this and would simply die within hours.
  • At about a month old, the babies do ‘press ups’ in the nest, lifting themselves up by pushing down on their wings, probably to strengthen the wings. By the time they’re ready to go, they can hold their bodies clear of the ground like this for several seconds 
  • Fledging is 5-8 weeks (late July-early August)
  • Once they launch themselves off on their very first ever flight, that’s it, they don’t return to the nest and are no longer cared for by the parents. After leaving the nest where they hatched, they’ll keep flying non-stop for three years!
  • There is more information about them  on the RSPB site.

Threats to the bird

Like so many other small birds, swift numbers have declined sharply in recent years, some estimates suggest by over 50 per cent.

Swifts numbers are declining for a variety of different reasons, but one that all the experts can agree on, is the lack of suitable nest sites available to them. Swifts are almost entirely dependent on our buildings for their nesting sites, squeezing into small nooks and crannies generally under the roof tiles or soffits.

Unfortunately when older buildings are refurbished these little openings are often inadvertently sealed up by the homeowner and the nest sites are lost forever.

To make matters even worse virtually all new buildings are extremely wildlife “unfriendly” with no spaces available for birds to nest. So as part of the John Clare Countryside vision we are planning to install Swift boxes in as many promising locations as we can.

In addition, an abundant supply of insects is critical for their survival. So even if you do not have Swifts nesting around your property you can help them out by making your garden more insect friendly.

Look out for tips on this being published on this website in the coming weeks or look up now the Wildlife Trusts – Take Action for Insects programme by clicking the link below: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/take-action-insects

The main Swift photograph was taken by Sarah Lambert.

Chat with Adam Frost

Despite the coronavirus lockdown there is an exclusive chance for Langdyke members to chat online with Gardener’s World expert Adam Frost.

Adam, a leading garden designer, lives locally and has teamed up with Langdyke to take part in a special online event.

With traditional Langdyke spring events obviously on hold, we have been looking at how we can use technology to keep us together and help us learn about the natural world around us.

We are delighted that Gardener’s World presenter and Garden Designer, Adam has agreed to be our guest at our first on-line event this coming Wednesday 15 April at 5pm.

We will explore his engagement with the local environment and the benefits he sees in that relationship for both nature and our own wellbeing. There will be a chance to pose some of your own questions to Adam at the end.

The conversation will be available live as an online meeting using  Zoom.  To join the meeting please e-mail: david.alvey@langdyke.org.uk for the meeting link and password.  There is no charge for Langdyke members.

Langdyke chair Richard Astle said: “We look forward to you joining us for this special event which will include a special announcement.”

You can find out more about Adam by visiting his website here:

How to … camera advice

We can’t easily get out into the countryside at the moment – so why not spend more time admiring what is around your home. We are inviting you to submit photos of your garden to our Facebook site so we can share the delights with everyone. 

Sarah Lambert

Here expert wildlife photographer and Langdyke member
Sarah Lambert gives us some handy tips on how to take better pictures without having to move out of our gardens …

 

The current restrictions on movement mean that many of us are spending a great deal more time at home or in our gardens than usual.

For photographers, this can feel very frustrating, particularly as the world is now bursting into life after a long and dreary winter.

However, most gardens provide a wealth of subject matter for the wildlife photographer and being restricted to a small area allows us to develop a more in depth understanding of the wild animals and plants that share our space – which can be the key to getting that special photograph. 

There are several advantages to garden wildlife photography – firstly it’s literally on the doorstep, and, as long as you have a camera ready, you can pop out whenever lighting or weather conditions are particularly good, though getting up at dawn may still be a struggle!

Additionally, most birds and animals that visit gardens are used to human activity, enabling you to achieve intimate shots more easily than you would on a nature reserve or in the countryside.  We can also actively attract wildlife to our gardens by providing food, potential homes or even going as far as purchasing pheromone lures for clearwing moths. 

Garden fox

 

Figure 1 Garden foxes are generally much bolder than those in the countryside

If you are one of the people who are self-isolating, spending time with your camera near an open window can yield some excellent shots.

Observing wildlife and looking out at natural spaces is known to stimulate feelings of well-being, and during extended periods of observation you’re more likely to capture an image that illustrates interesting behaviour or some beautiful light. And sitting at home is generally a lot more comfortable than sitting in a bird hide!

Or, if you’re able to go outside, and are very keen on bird or mammal photography, now might be the time to construct a hide in the garden or purchase one of the many pop-up hides that are available on the internet.

 

Figure 2 Providing food attracts a range of garden wildlife. This Nuthatch was photographed through an open window from the comfort of our sitting room.

During periods of fine weather, garden flowers attract many insect visitors, and these can provide an endless source of subject matter, particularly if your camera has a macro facility.

Before you even get the camera out it’s a good idea to just spend time quietly walking round your garden, stopping frequently to watch what’s about. Many insects seem to be constantly on the move, but if you take your time, you’ll see that there are certain areas that they return to.

Many bees have favoured pollinator plants – the best way to spot Hairy-footed Flower Bees, which are currently on the wing, is to stand by a clump of Lungwort, which is irresistible to them. Later in the year Purple Toadflax is a magnet for Wool Carder-bees.

Butterflies often have favoured sheltered basking spots, while dragonflies usually return to a selected perch between hunting trips. Time spent watching is never wasted, and will potentially reward you with some excellent macro shots.

 

Figure 3 A Wool Carder-bee stopping to sip nectar from Purple Toadflax, one of its favourite flowers

The wildflowers, mosses and fungi that inhabit your garden shouldn’t be overlooked as a photographic resource and may be easier to capture than fast-moving insects.

Take time to look for interesting angles, stunning colour contrasts or intricate patterns. Many wildflowers look best if you take them from ground level.

Now that many cameras have flip-up screens, this no longer means you have to lie on the ground, though this can be a pleasant way to spend some time in warm, dry weather.

Good lighting is particularly important for wildflower photography – I enjoy shooting against the light in early morning or late evening, to highlight the translucence of delicate flowers or the presence of interesting spines and hairs.

Detailed shots of flowers are best taken on calm days with high cloud cover, when the sky acts as a giant soft-box, eliminating any harsh shadows. 

 

Figure 4 The delicate beauty of Wall Screw-moss, a species present in nearly every garden

As well as more traditional wildlife and nature photography, why not try out some more creative approaches such as in-camera movement, multiple exposures and long exposures? Or techniques that you might not have attempted before such as stacking or photographing flowers on a lightpad?

There’s plenty of information on the internet to help you with these techniques. 

 

Figure 5 Corncockle photographed on a lightpad.

While their reserves are closed because of the current pandemic, the Langdyke Trust are running a  garden photography competition.

It’ll be very interesting to see the range of wildlife that you find, and the act of taking photographs will provide welcome diversion from the current situation. 

f you’d like to see more of my photographs have a look at https://www.blipfoto.com/mollyblobs