Creating a Pond at Coed Gwern

Jony Easterby, an Artist in Residence at CAT, has been working on creating a pond over at Coed Gwern – CAT’s mixed woodland. His blog, first posted here, charts the development of the pond up to early summer.

I thought I would start by up putting a quick sneak preview of the work I have been doing as part of my Leverhulme Fellowship artist in residence up at CAT. I have been working on and off between other projects to integrate my artistic practice into the Landscape of the Dyfi Biosphere, something I have been keen to do for many years, as my work usually takes me out of the valley, and indeed mostly out of Wales. It seems to be working as I have completed one project in South Wales and am nearing the completion of a landscape scale pond work up in the woods at Coed Gwern.

The site for the pond

Working with Grace Crabb in the CAT biology department, I soon discovered the CAT woodland project. Thirty acres of well-managed mixed woodland. We talked about what I have been doing and Grace talked about the need for an area of standing water to encourage a different range of habitats for amphibians and invertebrates. An area of predominately Birch and Douglas Fir was identified, and I began to mark out a ten meter diameter space. I also looked at the watershed and thought that I would enhance and make a feature of the drainage channels already existing in the woods.

After marking out, saws came out and I chopped down and transplanted a lot of saplings. I then hired a small excavator and started to dig. The ground is heavy waterlogged peat from years of moss and woodland on the site. Easy until its starts to rain. It then takes a lot of fiddling around and some tricksy techniques with the bucket to get the machine out.

I bought the machine onto the site three times at different stages to get the profile right,using a  rotary laser level to get the water level exactly where I needed it to be. The pond stayed like this all winter as I waited for a drain bung and for the levels to slump, this means I can drain it down if I need to work on any part of the drawdown zone or island.

Early spring saw the first frogs move into a large puddle of muddy water and drop off a pile of frog spawn…..our first inhabitants……Its working!

After a few months  I felt happy enough with the site to start planting an avenue of trees and re-establishing some of the vegetation, transplanting polypody ferns and working on the creation of moss habitats. I have used non-native  betula jacquemontii, a well used landscaping tree, which is long lived and very white. It is also sterile in this country so will not mess with the natives.
Eager CAT volunteers

Stella the dog was at hand to catch voles and help with the digging as you can see. Also at hand was Adam Thorogood who bought CAT volunteers over to help put steps in and build a boardwalk around the edge of the pond. This is being made of riven oak to give an organic feel. The timber has been sourced from the surrounding oak woodland by Jules Russell a local woodsman and craftsman, who has also been helping on the build.

  • Joyce Collins

    Dear Jony Easterby,

    I look forward to seeing the progress of your pond and hearing about its new inhabitants. Did you need to puddle it to keep the water or is the ground naturally wet all year round. Ben Law (the woodsman in Sussex) did the initial design for my new small woodland planting back in 2000, which is now getting established but a pond would definitely be an asset. Should you be in Kent on your travels we would love to get your angle on it. Regards Joyce

    • Jony Easterby

      Hi Joyce Thank you for your interest in the pond. The pond needed no puddling and no pond liner. The ground is very peat based and so holds water very well, I examined the local conditions and saw that the ground seemed to hold water naturally. It was touch and go. It is presently still overflowing despite there being very little rain. I designed the pond to capture as much water as possible from the watershed as it flows off the hills and forestry drainage channels. The natural climax habitat is alder and oak, both which love water really.I checked the pond last week and watered broad chasers dragon flies and greater blue and red damselflies mating on the edges.I am guessing Kent to be much dryer and free draining if you are on calciferous ground. I would actually recommend a pond liner, unless you have clay quarry very nearby. Puddling a pond actually needs quite a bit of maintenance and ideally grazing stock to repuddle and fill the cracks in times of dry weather. Most chalk land dew ponds have disapeared because of this reason. I made a chalk pond a few years ago in the Yorkshire Wolds which is a chalk area I used a pondliner and lined it with limestone/chalk. It is very successful in terms of life and birds feeding/bathing and drinking. Let me know where you are and I can maybe visit if I am down your way for work sometime. I have a sculptural tower on Samphire Hoe near Dover which I like to check up on every few years. Good luck with the woods.

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