Ponds have been a feature in the wider countryside for centuries. Some alongside roads were formed from ancient extraction pits for clay or gravel and no doubt provided drinking water for horses while the cart wheels cooled. Other are surviving medieval fish ponds or the remnants of moats around isolated old farm houses. Ponds on farms provided water for livestock, but following the reduction in cattle and sheep rearing many have been filled in. Surveys in the UK have revealed that there been a loss of 50% of our ponds during the 20th century, and many of those that are left are in a poor condition because of pollution and lack of appropriate management.
Ornamental waters feature in many of the grand designed landscapes but for most of us a small pond in our own garden can still provide a tranquil place for quiet reflection as well as a welcome haven for all kinds of wildlife. Well planted with aquatic plants such ponds provide food and shelter for the many creatures that depend on such water bodies for their survival. Dipping a net into a pond will reveal snails, the assorted larvae of dragonflies, water beetles and midges and larger ponds may even support fish.
Amphibians such as frog, toads and newts need to lay their eggs within water but will spend much of their adult lives on land, eating a range of garden pests including slugs and snails. Dense vegetation and creating a rockery with suitable mini-caves will help shelter them from excessive heat. Sadly, frogs and toads have become quite scarce in the wider countryside with the reduction in suitable habitats, but they seem to thrive in gardens favouring ponds found under some dappled shade.
Sightings of frogs and toads are included in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch and the results from 2018 revealed that frogs were the most common non-bird garden visitor, being present in 39% of the more than 174,000 gardens included in the annual survey. Toads were only found in one in five gardens. Sadly, these records revealed that the number of toads in gardens have fallen by nearly a third since 2014, while sightings of frogs have dropped by 17% over the same period.
During March, the croaking of male frogs hoping to attract a mate is one of the sounds of spring, but with the variability of the current climate, frog spawn is appearing much earlier.
So if you find frogs, toads or newts in your own ponds, then please do pass this information to either the Essex Field Club or the Freshwater Habitats Organisation to add further information about the distribution and possible numbers of these special creatures in Essex.