It’s All Relative – Muir of Dinnet NNR

This week’s guest blog has been written by Ewen Cameron, Chair of the Habitats and Species Group, NE Scotland Biodiversity Partnership. Ewen has been involved in nature conservation for around 40 years and shows us what you can achieve with a wee bit of water in your back garden.

The National Nature Reserve at Muir of Dinnet extends to 1,163 hectares.  My garden is a mere 0.27 hectares; it would fit into the Nature Reserve 4,300 times over!  But if you read Daryl’s Forvie NNR blog on the 12th of April, you will already know that a great deal of wildlife can benefit from a small space; and a garden space busy with people at that.  Nature knows how to share.   While Muir of Dinnet enjoys two fascinating Lochs – Dinnet and Kinord, my village garden hosts a much smaller body of water – my garden pond.  

Well over 60 years ago I first discovered the pond on the family farm where I grew up.  The story in the family is that it was an old retting pond for flax; part of the process of separating the fibres for making linen – and the Old Statistical Account shows that linen was grown in that part of Scotland.   But I’m getting off the point.  From those first encounters with frogs and tadpoles I have never lost my fascination, mainly for the wee beasties, that live in still, and sometimes smelly, freshwater. As I write this, my pond is still emerging from its Winter quiet time.  The water level is low but plants like Marsh Marigold are just starting to flower.  The yellow duck isn’t real by the way.

Ewen’s pond

But that’s just what we see with a casual glance; but there’s lots more if you take a little more time.   Like the proverbial iceberg, there is much more going on below the surface, but let’s start with “on the surface”.  Lots of activity from the whirligig beetles and as their names suggests they are constantly whirling around the water surface like those at a 1970s disco and too fast for me to get a decent picture.  However this pond skater is much more deliberate in its behaviour sensing vibrations through its feet and waiting for something tasty to stray within its grasp.

Pond skater

Below the surface you have to be patient before you spot the slow moving pond snails browsing algae off every surface – like a heard of armoured cows grazing across a field.

Pond snails

Or this caddis fly larvae that at first looks like nothing more that a wee bit of decaying plant stem, but is actually several pieces of vegetation carefully stuck together with silk to make a mobile “hiding tube”.  Here it has popped its head out for a quick look  and will withdraw back to safety at the smallest sign of danger.

Caddis fly larvae

In a month or so’s time the pond will be like a jungle from a frog’s eye view with so much activity you won’t know where to look first.  But just like on the Nature Reserve you have to be patient, you have to keep still with your eyes and ears open and your mouth firmly closed.  Then there is a good chance of seeing much more wildlife

Pond close-up

Orange tip butterflies will soon be on the wing and laying their eggs on the pale lilac flowered Ladies Smock.  Adult blackbirds will be searching for things to feed to their hungry young and a steady stream of all sorts of birds will be lining up to have a bath.

Orange tip butterfly on cuckoo flower

Or if we are really lucky, we may be visited by an Emerald Damselfly.

Emerald damselfly

And of course there will be even more going on below the water.  Lots of tadpoles of course, but also lots of predators, like this dragonfly larva, waiting for juicy tadpoles to stray to close to its powerful jaw.  Dragon fly larvae can spend several years in the gunge at the bottom of the pond, slowly developing before they crawl up the stem of a plant and emerge as the familiar and beautifully coloured adult we usually only see in a flash.

Dragonfly larvae

Or the fearsome looking larva of the Great Diving Beetle.  It often hangs vertically in the water waiting for a tadpole or other tasty beast which it grabs with it huge biting jaws.  Both these predatory larvae can grow up to 5 centimetres long – imaging coming face to face with that if you were a tadpole!

Diving beetle larvae

That’s just the merest glimpse of what can be seen in and around a small garden pond.  I’m sure mine has hundreds if not thousands of associated species – from birds to bacteria.  Now you may not have a garden pond – you may not even have a garden, but I’m willing to bet there is at least one place very close to where you live that is just as busy with wildlife – when you have the time to stop and look closely.

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