This year’s major project to increase biodiversity at Beckside - and provide a watering hole for the livestock we hope to acquire one day - is the creation of a new large pond. Hubcap wanted it to be a dew-pond, (which may yet happen), like those which used to exist by the thousand all over the country, dug and lined by specialist itinerant teams as watering-places for beasts and/or fish-ponds. Man-made dew-ponds are a simple yet very clever way of exploiting physical processes: dug in a shallow bowl shape and lined with 10 – 15 inches of fine clay to produce a thick, cold layer on which dew condenses to fill them naturally.
Unfortunately, the clay layer at Beckside isn’t that thick or even – as Hubcap discovered thanks to help from a couple of friends desperate for some safe, constructive occupation during lockdown! The clay runs at a 30 – 40 degree angle over a rotten, rusty sandstone, which meant that the pond had to be dug much deeper than planned, and the clay cut out, broken up and spread over the bottom. The heavy rain over the past few weeks really helped by softening everything so that the last big messy task could be completed: ‘puddling’ the clay to make the lining. Hubcap found the best way to do that was to put down a layer, throw on buckets of water from the beck, cover it with a big polythene sheet, trample it well down and repeat (see below left); stones and larger particles sink to the bottom, and the finer clay minerals float to the surface to form a coherent layer. When this has had chance to settle, he’ll go over it with a roller to flatten out irregularities; then lay a pipeline, pump in some rainwater from our cistern, and see what happens. If it holds water and continues to fill naturally, well and good. If not, the options are either to import a load of good quality clay to puddle it properly, or buy a synthetic pond-liner; the former would be a long, hard job but will give a natural, durable lining which could last a century; the latter will be much quicker and easier, but there’ll always be a risk of it being punctured, for instance by a stray hoof!
Meanwhile all the spoil from the hole has been seeded with a meadow mixture and cornfield annuals to grow into a lovely bank of vegetation; and our first little pond continues to do very well, as you'll see from the pictures below. Regular readers may recall that Hubcap installed a humble Belfast sink back in Spring 2018, to house some newt tadpoles rescued from another site.
We added a reed from the beck, some pond weed, and a small population of suitable creatures including a stickleback, a dozen or so water-lice, and a freshwater mussel to filter the water (below left). To our great delight, not only did everything thrive, this tiny body of water also attracted local frogs and toads to spawn in it; and a mere two years later, as well as being nicely surrounded by vegetation, shaded by trees, and much more natural-looking, it’s absolutely seething with life, as you can see from the pictures - below right is the pond in 2020, with a close-up of tadpole feeding frenzy in the centre. It’s always a joy to behold – so I can’t wait until the bigger pond has become just as well established!