Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

16-11-2013 : Waving a wand over the pond

When volunteers turned up at the Kingston Hill pond on Saturday they not only cleared it of overgrowth, but transformed it and the surrounding area into a healthy and supportive habitat for all sorts of wildlife.

Chris led the charge as volunteers dug out overgrown sedge

The Kingston Hill pond has gone through a lot over the last few months - installation of a new pond dipping platform, the summer's heatwave caused it to almost dry up, then the concentrated nutrients and sunshine created a growth spurt in weed completely smothering any open water. We also took the decision to coppice a nearby tree to allow more light to reach the pond to encourage photosynthesis and gas exchange. It was high time for some TLC to make the most of this important habitat.

Full of leaves and overgrown, the Kingston Hill pond was in much need of some maintenance
November is the ideal time to undertake pond maintenance as plants are beginning to die back and wildlife will have laid their eggs and started to find shelter for the winter.

With the assistance of Chris from the Environment Trust, volunteers keenly donned waders and ventured in the cold water to begin the clearance. Stirring up the silt on the bottom caused a great stink but not to be put off, volunteers embraced the challenge with vigour. Unfortuantely some of the sedge was equally vigorous and wouldn't go lightly! If spades and forks wouldn't do the job, then pruning saws surely would?! So we cut out the sedge chunk by chunk, balancing the open water and vegetation to more of the recommended 2:1 mix. 

Despite the chilly wind and mucky water, Tara gives our event the thumbs up

Putting her back into it, Rita heaves out a firmly established sedge plant

Doing laps of the pond with nets scooped up mountains of autumn leaves and detritus which would otherwise cause a nutrient overload and algal bloom in spring. We made sure we left some at the bottom of the pond as this itself is valuable shelter for grubs, larvae and hibernating frogs and eggs may have been laid on some vegetation too. Although it was tempting to go 'Gung Ho' and pull it all out, we heeded the phrase 'everything in moderation'!

Pramila proudly wields the large net to scoop up accumulated leaves and weed

All the leaves, weed and sedge was piled on the edge of the pond and will be left for a few days to allow creatures to make their way back into the pond. It will then be added to our compost heap to prevent the nutrients washing back into the pond when it rains.

Becca, Tara and Pramila take a breather after piling up the excess vegetation on the side of the pond

Chris brought over some flag iris which we dug into the water mint-filled planters already in the pond. During the clearance we uncovered a previously unknown planter so this seemed the appropriate place to plant the tubers. By planting in containers we will be able to manage the irises and ensure they doesn't spread too quickly and out compete other vegetation.

Flag iris bulbs waiting to be planted

Having discovered another planter in the pond, Guy promptly plants the flag iris there. It's yellow flowers should make sure we don't lose it again!

While some got wet, others preferred to stay on terra firma. The recently coppiced goat willow provided perfect material to produce log piles. With a bit of elbow grease, volunteers sawed through the wood into manageable lengths then piled them around the pond to provide habitat for hibernating frogs and toads. 

Tara saws up felled branches for logs

A newly created log shelter tucked in the undergrowth by the pond

As the wood decays it will become increasingly valuable for other forms of wildlife too. It is important to look after not only the pond itself but also the surrounding area.
After all our efforts, a much clearer pond emerged

Once we had completed this work, the ever present rhododendron loomed large and now bird nesting season is over this was up for grabs. This species of rhododendron is invasive, allowing very little to grow beneath it and offering limited benefits for wildlife. Enthusiastic volunteers jumped at the chance to get stuck in and their jovial spirits soon led to them breaking into moral-boosting song. A modified version of London Bridge is falling down kept momentum high and the rhodo cuttings pile growing!

In her element, Amy couldn't wait to start on the rhododendron

Rhodo bashing is hard work but fun nonetheless
As always we did a litter pick as we worked, uncovering areas that hadn't been touched for years.

'Please don't litter' - how ironic! This old style coke can must have been in the undergrowth for over twenty years
As the daylight dwindled, volunteers reluctantly packed away the tools and reflected on the valuable work they had done. A great deal of leaves and weed was removed from the pond, allowing light in and preventing excess nutrient build up; new habitat was created with our log shelters; new plants were dug in and invasive ones chopped out providing an opportunity for more wildlife to thrive in the area.
Shortly after volunteers left for the day, an inquisitive fox came to see what all the fuss had been about

We'll be continuing rhododendron clearance at Kingston Hill in December, but if you fancy more mucky jobs, we'll be venturing over to Tolworth Court on Sat 30th November to restore the ditches there (we'll also be planting spring bulbs as early nectar sources for bees). TCV will be joining us, so it's a great chance to work with this nationally renowned organisation as well as watch a few games of sport while we work!

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