Day 4 – Pond dipping with Wildlife Watch!
I arrived back in Nottingham late last night but there was no chance for a lie-in this morning… it’s Wildlife Watch day 🙂
I volunteer with two Wildlife Watch groups in Nottingham: the City group based at Wollaton Park meet every first Saturday of the month, and every third Sunday I’m with my Attenborough group as Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Attenborough Nature Reserve. Today my City Wildlife Watch group were meeting at a different site (Martin’s Pond in Wollaton) and I was leading one of my favourite activities… pond dipping!
The past week has been hectic and I didn’t have as much time to prepare as I would have liked but luckily I had a trusty OPAL survey making life a lot easier. OPAL (short for Open Air Laboratories) is a nationwide citizen science scheme led by Imperial College London, but currently running with 13 partners including The University of Nottingham. Their objectives, which include encouraging lifestyle changes and creating an accessible environmental education programme, are truly admirable and very close to my heart. It’s well worth checking out their website, not only for the awesome surveys but also to download free identification guides and posters on a multitude of plants and creatures.
Our Watch session today was themed around water so after a quick safety chat and an introduction to The Wildlife Trust’s #30DaysWild campaign we went down to the fishing platforms and got stuck in with the first part of our survey ‘How Clean is your pond?‘. One
of our boys carefully filled a 2 litre bottle with pond water from the edge and we counted how many OPAL logos we could see on the ‘OPALometer’ disc at the bottom of the bottle. The children were unanimous in their decision that all of the logos were visible and we were happy that our water was so clear 🙂
Next we dipped a pH test strip into the water and compared the colour of the indicator
square with the colour scale. We discovered that the water in our pond is quite acidic, with a pH of 5.5. This could be for a number
of reasons including the chemical make up of surrounding rocks and soil, fallen leaves, pollution or rain. When fish and amphibians breath out carbon dioxide underwater it dissolves to create carbonic acid, thus lowering the pH of the water. Having lots of plant life in the pond should counteract this effect because the plants remove carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. Most fish prefer a pH of between 6.0 and 9.0, and a pH of 5.0 or below would become harmful. The pH of our pond is probably not ideal but as long as it’s self-regulating I think it’s unlikely there will be consequences to the wildlife living there.
We had a great time dipping in Martin’s Pond and I was proud that the children did a really good job of looking after each other and keeping safe. The survey asks that you sweep the net in a figure of eight movement for 15-20 seconds. We wanted to sweep near the bottom of the pond to find any creatures lurking there, but we tried not to disturb it too much, otherwise we’d get a tray full of mud.
Now for the most fun part … the results! We found some cool creatures – one of the boys was especially pleased with the big Ramshorn snail that I scooped up. We found pond snails, mayfly larvae, water hoglouse, diving beetles, pond skaters, leeches (much to the excitement of our kids!) and the girls even managed to catch 3 tadpoles in different states of metamorphosis.
We completed the OPAL water survey workbook with our results. The workbook gives you numbers to add up for each different creature you find; we got an overall score of 18. We probably could have improved on this – the presence of shed unidentified nymph skins led us to think that if we had dipped last month we might have found dragonfly or damselfly larvae, but we left it a bit too late! In any case, a total score of between 6 and 30 means that the pond is ‘quite healthy’, so we were pretty pleased with our mid-range score 🙂
After a show-and-tell with our pond creatures, we released them and took a short walk through the reserve and around the pond. There were plenty of flowering plants, including comfrey and yellow iris. We even spotted a heron on the far side of the pond and some fresh water mussels.
We finished up the session with a craft activity; making colourful dragonflies out of wire and pipe cleaners. Unfortunately we hadn’t seen many flying insects in the morning but as it brightened up towards mid-day, one large white butterfly came out to play. The children made some amazing creations with the pipe cleaners – one of the boys decided he was going to make a variety of pond creatures then hang them from his ceiling and turn his bedroom into a marsh! Sounds like a perfect wild activity to me!
All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.