Water is probably about the most important substance on our planet – as far as most of life is concerned – and IT’S surprising how little water is needed for life to get a toe-hold.

Have you ever seen frogspawn in a puddle and wondered whether it will win the race to hatch and turn into frogs before the puddle dries? Sometimes they get lucky – and that’s proof that even the smallest of ponds can give a boost to our wildlife.

When I moved house there was a pond in my new garden; it’s concrete lined, 50cm deep at the most, about a metre long and half as metre wide and, I thought, rancid and sludgy at the bottom. So imagine my surprise, then, when one day my first summer I found myself watching a number of newts occasionally swimming up to the surface for air: clearly they don’t think sludge is so disgusting – and the aerating pond weed I’ve since added seems to be hanging on and hopefully doing its job. There’s a shelf that dries out when it doesn’t rain for a while but allows my resident blackbirds to bathe and drink and the occasional frog to lounge. This all just goes to shows that even a small pond can help wildlife: even an old bathtub or sink sunk into the ground with some bricks or stones to form some shallow areas would be as good.

With natural wetlands being lost to development, – be it building, or drainage for farmland - providing alternative havens for wildlife is especially important. Just remember that a self-sustaining pond (maybe 1.5m diameter and 60cm deep) can support a greater diversity of life than any other ecosystem in your garden. (Don’t add fish though – they’ll probably just pollute the water and eat the wildlife).

At the other end of the spectrum of course are huge ponds that can support a diversity of plants and harbour dragonfly and damselfly larvae, diving beetles, water snails, lilies and a whole array of pondside plants to provide shelter for a variety of birds, insects, and small mammals. There are some amazing ponds at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Barkbooth Lot nature reserve. with rich and varied life: you can see downy emerald or golden banded dragonflies – or even medicinal leeches.

Ponds and wetlands are an amazing habitat and don’t need to be huge to have benefit., so when you walk through a muddy puddle in the woodland this spring, see if there’s any frogspawn, and if there is, maybe keep your fingers crossed for some rain?

  • This week to celebrate the launch of this year’s Wild About Gardens event, the Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society have produced a free booklet Big or Small, Ponds for All. Download a copy here or for a paper copy, email mail@cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk