By Rachel Gardner (RSPB Youth Council Member)

Rachel Gardner beautifully illustrates a pond project undertaken with her brother in the family garden in the name of the families Wild Challenge...

"If you had looked into my garden in the heat of summer six years ago, you would have found me and my twin brother spread out on the lawn, with three different gardening books opened up in front of us, animatedly debating best native species of iris. Gripping his school calculator in one hand and propping open a book with the other, my brother watched as I added to our green and yellow swirly list of what we had bought so far. Behind us, in a neglected corner of the garden, lay a square of tarpaulin and a couple of spades propped up against the fence. How had we, two Minecraft-loving eleven-year-olds with only a passing interest in nature, become familiar with the local prices of Yellow Flag Irises and the dangers of alien oxygenators in garden ponds?"

About Wild Challenge:

"The reason for this adventure was the RSPB’s Wild Challenge, a series of wildlife-based activities that encourage children like us to get connected to nature. On this occasion, our particular goal was to complete the ‘Mini-pond’ activity to earn our Bronze Award."

"The project itself was actually spearheaded by my brother, whose outdoors interests largely revolved around digging big holes and hunting for snakes, who was inspired by the idea of an amphibian-attracting pond in his garden. The Wild Challenge’s suggestion of using a washing-up bowl was not enough for him, and so, with our parents’ permission and guidance, he ordered different layers of tarpaulin which could act as several layers of pond liner. He spent hours drawing out shapes for the pond – his research made him confident in creating a shallow area, to act as a newt breeding ground, and a deep plunge, which could hold enough oxygen-giving plants to create a healthy water environment. With copious advice from neighbours, family and the internet, he dug the hole, layered the rubber lining and weighted it down with stones.

My own interests were very different – I loved growing plants and flowers, liked all kinds of animals, and was, in a somewhat mercenary manner, motivated by the idea of receiving a Bronze Award. With my brother in tow, I looked around many different gardening centres before finally purchasing several bundles of oxygenators like Hornwort and Water Moss. We scavenged in the garden to find some smooth, attractive looking stones for the bottom, a suitable flat branch to act as a ramp for frogs, and a blend of irises and kingcups to encourage the visitation of pollinators. As a final touch, I made a frogitat, a habitat for frogs, out of an old plant pot, and painted some friendly signs so the animals knew where to go. At the end of our project, we had made our own garden pond, flush with native plant species, surrounded by habitats and food sources for frogs and newts."

Skills that we learnt from this:

"In creating our own pond, Wild Challenge led us to develop a wide range of useful life-skills, the foundation of which we still have today. We were given twenty pounds from our parents to help fund this project, and thus had to carefully budget the cost our materials, like lining, netting, aquatic and landed shelter-giving plants, within our budget, a type of detailed planning that we just hadn’t experienced before. When working out the area and depth of the pond and subsequently ordering the liner, we gained skills in spatial planning and found a practical application for much of the maths we had only studied in abstract. We also gained specialised nature-based knowledge, from understanding the common species of aquatic animals that we could see, to realising the necessity of oxygen in a healthy pond environment. We learnt the skills of perseverance and determination – we often just felt like giving up entirely – and got the satisfaction of creating and seeing a project through to completion. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when the smooth newts and frogspawn arrived next spring, we got the chance to give nature a home."

Your pond could be as small as a washing up bowl or as vast as the Gardner's project! To find out more visit; https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/family-wild-challenge/

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