I think most people know what a puddle is: rain water captured in a shallow ground depression, where young children can safely jump with wellies on. Puddles can also be quite large and hide deep depressions or even holes, where it might not be safe for small children to play. The benefits of puddles to wildlife are perhaps more important than one might at first realise.
Puddles can offer a drink, and maybe trapped bug snacks for passing animals, or act as a staging post for amphibians. Swallows use the damp loam that gathers in puddles as cement for their nests. Many butterflies and moths gather liquid nutrients from puddles.
Small seasonal riparian plants, grasses, and wildflowers germinate with this “head start” of moisture from puddles.
What about scrapes? How many people know what a scrape is, and what it’s for? Well, apart from unwelcome paint damage that can appear on the side of a car, a scrape is a useful wetland feature.
A scrape is a shallow ground depression; a mega puddle if you like, perhaps three metres wide and gently sloping to a depth of around 500mm. Wildlife action occurs on the water’s edge. A scrape should stay wet for most of the year, drying out during the summer, but never completely.
The North Pond chain is a mechanically created scrape with the northern end deeper than intended. North Pond and the next pond down the chain hold most of their water all year round. From the second northerly pond, the water depth slowly decreases until it trickles over the riverbank. In a dry summer, the water table falls and the scrape level can drop quite a way back from the riverbank. The pond chain is 15 metres at its widest point and 215 metres in length, and benefits from a direct connection to the swamp, which is 300 metres long and 150 metres at its widest point.
North Pond has developed into a general wildlife pond system, attracting ducks and heron, eels, great crested and smooth newts, toads, frogs, moorhens, coots, and the whole gamut of insects, including many dragonfly species, diving beetles and many other water-dwelling beasties.
The location of a scrape has a large effect on its productivity and the type of wildlife it is likely to attract. If your scrape is primarily for wading birds, it is best sited it in low lying open wetland, and don’t surround it with trees. The ground cover conditions required by waders depends on the species.
Drainage ditches are a real haven for wildlife. Being around a metre wide and bordered by dense reeds, the marsh swans and ducks love swimming and grazing along our drainage ditches on warm evenings. The areas around these waterways are home to large quantities of invertebrates, beetles and amphibians. There are seven amphibians native to Great Britain: Great Crested Newt, Smooth Newt, Palmate Newt, Common Toad, Natterjack Toad, Common Frog and Pool Frogs; there are also around a dozen escaped non-native species as well.
Pools are accumulated water. The south pool is the most open area of shallow water on the marsh and is fed by the main drainage ditch to the South marsh sluice, which is along the South side of the pool. If we remove a few of the sluice boards, the pool level falls. The South pool is intended to attract wading birds. We don’t want aquatic plants completely taking over this area, so the pool is drained in spring and the water level raised again towards the end of the growing season.
Oh, roll on spring! I want to photograph lovely insects and wild blooms.