Swindon Saplings Home Ed Group – Our Wildlife Pond!
Back in October, talks began with the committee of Tadpole Garden Village (a local allotment) which unfortunately had an unusable plot due to winter flooding, left looking unsightly and overgrown. Finally, in April, we were ‘handed over’ the plot and given the green light to turn this unloved plot into a beautiful wildlife haven and relaxing spot for people to enjoy. Our trip to the Roots and Shoots Awards in March had really made this dream possible after winning the money from The Do Schools Award. We now had the funds to make this happen and together with this prize money and generous donations of items from business and locals, we were able to move forward with this project!
Making a plan
We had a meeting for the children to start coming up with ideas for the plot – we knew we wanted to make this a wildlife hotspot. A beautiful pond to attract frogs, newts and other pond life, flowers to support the bees and other pollinators, log piles and other housing such a hibernaculum, bird houses & feeders, hedgehog houses, a bug hotel, log piles and an area to support snakes and slow worms…there were lots of priorities!! We also knew that we wanted to make this project as environmentally friendly as possible and wanted to repurpose and reuse items as much as possible.
We hitched up the trailer and gathered up items that were destined for the tip or being given away for free locally including rocks, stones and wooden planks. However, we knew it would be best to invest in a new pond liner to avoid risking a leak in our pond! We purchased some sand, liner and an underlay in order to prep our pond area correctly. Due to the very thick, clay soil and the need to level the ground, it was decided that a mini digger would be the most effective way to dig the pond. Thankfully, one of the dads was on hand to dig us a hole!
Whilst the pond was being dug, some of our eager children started making raised beds to go on the higher ground on the plot, using planks of wood that were rescued from a skip (with the homeowners permission!). They started by removing the flaking paint before sawing and screwing the planks together to make the raised beds that we will use to grow fruit and veg.
After the ground had settled and dried out over a couple of days, the children then got involved in putting in the sand and liner into the pond area and enjoyed seeing the first drops of water starting to fill up what would eventually be the pond. As the pond was filling up, we placed rocks around the outside of the pond liner to secure it in place. We now had a hole in the ground, full with water and no leaks! Stage 2 was complete.
Planting and landscaping
After a shopping trip at the local garden center, together with a £40 donation of plants from the allotment committee, we were able to plant a selection of perennials, self-seeding plants and evergreens around the pond which would attract and support pollinators and enhance the look of the pond area. We also had a donation of wildflower seeds from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust which we have spread around the border of the allotment plot, which we hope will be buzzing with life and looking absolutely beautiful every summer. Farmer Chris at Park Farm, who we had previously planted trees with and built a bug hotel for, donated a huge selection of wonderful pond plants to support a variety of wildlife within and outside of the pond. We also had some plants donated by members of the public who wanted to support this venture. Now, all we could do was to wait for the plants to grow and see what wildlife would come!
Due to the type of soil and the number of birds around, we felt that spreading grass seed would be a very long and potentially unsuccessful journey. So, it was decided that we would use some of the funds given to us by The Do Schools Award to buy some turf which we could lay around the pond area. Additionally, thanks to a very generous donation of beautiful cotswold gravel by G. A. Sand and Gravel, we were also able to lay a border around the pond and a very useful pathway. The new turf and gravel made such a huge difference in just one afternoon and we could really start to see the pond area taking shape.
“Grow your own”
Over the duration of the project, we have been growing our own organic fruit and vegetables, including strawberries, raspberries, potatoes, onions, courgette, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, corn and celery. We have been learning about companion planting and how to give our plants a fighting chance…if they can survive the slugs! Ripe fruit and vegetables are given to families of the group, or left as donations for other allotment members to have. As our skills improve, we hope to do more with the food we grow and help more people with it.
Our local wildlife
In order to further support the local wildlife, we have created a range of homes and habitats on our plot, including a hedgehog house, several log piles, bird houses (all built by the children) and feeders, a hibernaculum (using an old broken plant pot) and have been keeping areas of the plot wild with long grass. Over the past 4 months, since starting this project, we have watched bees and butterflies visit our flowers, watched dragonflies laying their eggs in the pond and witnessed birds bathing and drinking from the pond. In this short time, we already have an amazing variety of wildlife living within the pond including our resident newt (Sir Isaac NEWTon) and his wife (Mrs. NEWTon) and lots of young newts, we have seen 2 frogs, water boatmen, pond skaters, leeches and pond snails.
We know that being out in nature is good for mental and physical health and we wanted to create a beautiful space that people can come and enjoy at any time. We were given 2 benches for our plot, one from a lovely member of the public, and another from the allotment committee, giving people somewhere to rest and enjoy our inviting space. We have planted evergreens next to the bench with a variety of bushes, flowers and grasses which will continue to grow into the space and we also used 2 unused plant pots to plant lavender and bright, colourful flowers to soothe the soul and please the eye.
4 months into the project
You can see from the photos what a fantastic plot this has turned into. The residents and other allotment plot holders absolutely love this space and we receive lots of comments from people about how wonderful it is looking and how hard the children work. It has been a lot of work and the children (and their parents!) have been absolutely fantastic at getting stuck in and putting in so much hard work to make this happen.
Environment: our pond has been able to help the create a natural ecosystem, supporting the environment and wildlife by providing food and habitat for insects and animals. We have, and will continue to use, chemical free and organic planting practices to grow food and plants for the plot.
Animals: a whole variety of wildlife, from tiny insects to mammals and birds are able to access the pond and allotment plot for water, food and shelter.
People: We have created a calm, relaxing space to help others escape the every day hustle and bustle of life. Our selection of plants and seating area design has created a calm space for those to enjoy on their own or with the company of others. As a group we enjoy watching the wildlife come and visit the pond and hope that others do too.
Our plans for the future
We will continue to use the plot for regular sessions where we can maintain the plot and investigate how the pond and its inhabitants change throughout the seasons. We want to create a more ‘wild’ feel, rather than a manicured lawn and will be sowing clover, yellow rattle, daisies, cornflower and other colourful meadow flowers to add another dimension to the plot which should look beautiful this time next year. We are excited to see if any birds decide to make our bird houses their homes too.
I just want to say thank you again to The Do Schools for their amazing award money which has made this project possible. Also a huge thank you to the Tadpole Garden Village Allotment committee for the opportunity and space to do this as well as all the local business and community members who have donated plants and other building supplies to help make this plot look so beautiful. But finally, a HUGE thank you and WELL DONE to all of the children and their families for all of their hard work. It has been an amazing project and its so wonderful to see the children exploring the area and looking for pond life during our sessions at the plot.
In 4 short months, we have achieved something amazing…
From this………………………………………………..to THIS!
“You would be amazed at what inspired children can do.” – Dr Jane Goodall
Watch this space,