GOB 120 Pondering
This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine September 2019
Around 150 years ago there were about a million ponds in the UK – a pond being a body of water less than two acres in area. Surprisingly, well over 90% of fresh water is held in such small ponds. Currently there are less than a quarter of that number!
When I was a lad I used to fish with my dad in a small ‘estate’ lake… small even by UK standards it would barely register as a pond overseas. Typically of estate lakes, a stream had been damned with a brick wall and a clay bank so that the stream flowed through an adjustable sluice and over a small cascade. Perhaps less usually, the stream then spread out amongst birch and alder forming a soggy area surrounded by poplars. Here I heard my first murmuration one gloomy November day sounding like Niagara Falls with every tree re-clad in leaf-like birds seemingly fluttering in a non-existent breeze.
The lake itself was no-longer part of the estate but incorporated into a farm and so silted up that the far end was now just mud soup into which I once accidentally stepped instantly up to my armpits in ooze. The lake sides were clad in ash, and elm and oak and it was there too that I saw the only polecat I have ever seen. Although, nearly sixty years on I gather they may have re-colonised my corner of the country.
The thick trees afforded no pondside access only the damn itself had space for we two anglers. The other small open area being visited by the plash and slurp of cows drinking the water and easing their feet from the clay.
The water was alive with pond-skaters and water-boatmen, water-fleas swarmed like underwater midges and the air reverberated from the wingbeats of massed dragonflies. Beneath, bright rudd and striped perch swam and a few gigantic pike lurked like sunken logs. Usually the lake was still, but sometimes there was a massive swirl as a monster pike snatched a meal. They seemed to feed rarely taking enormous meals and lying doggo for weeks like giant jungle boas. I once saw one rise and take a moorhen whole. Over several years we hooked a pike a few times, but each time they proved too strong for our tackle.
Over the years this quiet pool became a hauntingly beautiful memory of wood and water, lily and finch. Two decades back moved back to this county. A decade ago I went in search of all my childhood fishing venues. NOT ONE remained in its unaltered state.
One estate lake we frequented is now the centrepiece of a manicured ‘country’ park with neatly mown lawns and a pair of swans. The raw gravel pits I fished had halved in size half covered by a dual carriageway where once I would sit listening to the carp sucking snail eggs from the underside of lily pads on a cuckoo-filled summer’s day. The rest has matured into a nightingale rich habitat on the one hand and a private syndicate fishery on the other. A farm lake we fished was frequented a family of spotted flycatchers and a by giggling nuns mastering a dinghy on long summer nights. It has completely disappeared under the plough.
My mythological pike water is no more. The silt turned to mud and the mud to wet wood and eventually reverted back to a stream whose edges have been felled and cleared so cattle can drink. No swallows or martins skim the hushed waters, no starlings crown wet woodland. Time to ponder the future of ponds.