Making the pond

We had always longed for a wildlife pond but it just wasn’t that easy to visualise on this land, looking at the black forbidding area we had earmarked. This was a relatively open space which we hoped would eventually look like a natural location. Although we’d had an initial hole dug for a pond while the digger was on site for the drive, it wasn’t quite right, so early in 2003 we once again called in Jim Cobourn to wave his magic touch. The most important things were for the pond to look natural, and that we should be able to walk right up to the water’s edge on at least one side. We also wanted, ideally, to be able to see the water from the house. Since we knew his work we were happy to leave the rest up to him. All the thumbnails link to larger images if you wish to look at them.

  • Before work started
  • First shaping done
  • First shaping done showing feeder ponds
  • The underlay goes on top of a sand layer
  • Finishing off the underlay
  • Laying the butyl
  • First water goes in
  • Underlay on top of butyl for first retaining wall
  • Wall for bottom feeder pond
  • Water filling while wall is finished

We had a few headaches deciding between lining it with butyl or Bentomat. Although we thought that Bentomat sounded ideal and would look really natural, we had great difficulties in finding out much about it. It also sounded as though it would be very difficult to handle and expensive to transport. In the end, we gave up on that idea and went for the butyl although we were worried (wrongly as it turned out) that it would show. We’d seen some pretty dire ponds where the liner really detracted from the natural look.

Jim wasn’t able to start work until the June but we were happy to wait. We had discovered the hard way during the house build that we should avoid workmen who could start “next week” and treasure the ones who were fully booked! Meanwhile, we had a minor panic since frogs had spawned in the rainwater puddle which was to be the pond, so Tony built a temporary pond with a circle of bricks and a bit of liner, and we put the spawn there for safety with a bit of weed, a rock or two and a ramp. Much to our amazement within a couple of months we had a seething mass of tadpoles most of which seemed to survive and turn into froglets. You can see them here chomping on some ham fat - eat your heart out, Jaws.

We had thought it would be nice to take advantage of the natural slope down to the pond area to include a small flow of water into it. Again, we left the fine tuning to Jim. We were thrilled to find that he had not only shaped us a beautiful saucer-like pond but had also scooped out three little feeder ponds dropping down into it - far far better than we had anticipated. After the initial work with the digger, he and his helper Jeff then went over the whole area removing stones and raking it smooth. Then a thick layer of sand went on and was tamped down ready for the exciting stuff.

For this stage, Jim called in his friends Andy and Marian Jones who specialised in laying butyl liners and stone work. They had recommended using a heavy underlay rather than carpet to avoid any damage to the butyl. The underlay looked a bit like a grey blanket, and was laid in place on 20th August. The butyl was then carefully manoeuvred on top of that, needing all hands to help since it was so heavy and they had to be so careful to get it as flat as possible and not to damage it. As soon as it was in place, we started slowly to fill the main pond while they continued work.

Working “upstream” from the main pond, Andy and Marian put down another large piece of underlay - this time on top of the butyl - on which to build the first little wall. This wall would form the outlet for the lowest of the feeder ponds, and it was cemented on top of the underlay to protect the butyl, and then trimmed off. As each wall was finished, they started to fill the feeder ponds to check that the trickle of water was exactly right and then moved on to the next pond up and so on. They took immense care over this as you can see from the photos.

  • Butyl for lowest feeder pond goes under next wall
  • Main pond has now filled
  • Jim seeding with his "fiddle"
  • The fiddle close up
  • Turfing the edge
  • Clear water
  • Looking down on all ponds
  • Afternoon reflection on wall
  • The grass is greening up
  • Overall view November 2003

Jim then seeded the whole surrounding area for us, using an old traditional device called a fiddle. As he walked backwards and forwards he operated it just like the bow of a violin, scattering seed evenly as he went. He and Jeff trimmed off the butyl edges, dug them into the ground and then laid turf round the very edge of the pond to protect and cover the exposed edge of the butyl. The pond water of course rapidly turned into pea soup! However, within a week the water had cleared and has stayed remarkably clear ever since. We’ve put in a few plants and will continue planting in the spring. We’ve also put smooth cobbles in the deepest part of the main pond and in the feeder ponds (again, on underlay) to provide hiding places for some of the smaller creatures.

The grass was very slow to germinate due to the dry conditions of 2003, but by the last picture in the series (taken November) you can see that it is greening up although patchy in parts. We know it will come right in the spring. Within days of the pond being finished there were water insects and dragonflies galore. We’ve also had both pied and grey wagtails inspecting. We can see that it will be a complete time waster (for us, not the wagtails!).