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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. Today my City Wildlife Watch group were meeting at Martin's Pond in Wollaton and I was leading one of my favourite activities... pond dipping!

This month’s session was based around a trusty OPAL survey which would give us an idea of how healthy our pond is. 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.  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.

Getting started 

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 sure that all of the logos were visible and we were happy that our water was so clear.

Testing the acidity

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 breathe out carbon dioxide underwater it dissolves to create carbonic acid, lowering the pH of the water.

Having lots of plant life in the pond should help to cancel out 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 not perfect but as long as it's self-regulating I think it's unlikely there will be consequences to the wildlife living there.

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.

Awesome creatures!

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 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 nymph skins made us think that if we had dipped last month we might have found dragonfly or damselfly larvae, but we left it a bit too late! However, 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.


Time for crafts

We finished up the session with a craft activity; making colourful dragonflies out of wire and 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!

Annie Ives 



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