What’s in the pond in December?

Tassel stonewort, a wintergreen pond plant (though this one is a special plant of temporary ponds, now lost from much of the countryside)

Tassel stonewort, a wintergreen pond plant that lives in temporary ponds. It is now one of our most endangered water plants, lost from much of the countryside, a plant at the front line of the extiction crisis

We’ve all been told so often that our ponds go quiet in winter that it’s easy to believe there’s nothing to be seen in the water at this time of the year.

It’s true that its harder to see amphibians now, though it’s not that uncommon to see smooth or palmate newt larvae in the water now, and the adults soon after Christmas. And of course there are quite likely to be frogs hibernating in the pond.

For a lucky few with the cleanest water there may be stoneworts still present at this time of the year.  Stoneworts look like ordinary water plants but are actually giant algae. I’ve got a nice tub full  just outside the back door that are still growing healthily.

this is one my the tubs in the garden today

Stoneworts are wintergreen: this is one my the tubs in the garden today

Stoneworts are special for a number of reasons but two of the most important: they are wintergreen so go on providing underwater shelter for animals all year round – unlike most other water plants.

Second: they are a sign of clean, unpolluted water – they usually disappear from ponds  that are affected by fertilizer pollution.

Seeing some in a garden pond near Sandy in Bedfordshire this week was a good sign; interestingly the pond also had dense growths of filamentous algae, probably a sign that polluting nutrients were still getting into the pond. The culprit was probably the bare garden soil round the pond. But the nutrients and algae hadn’t quite overwelmed the stoneworts – it will be interesting to see the pond again in a year or two’s time.

I wrote a few days ago about the animals in my pond just now – large red damselfly larvae, backswimmers, pond olive mayflies, lesser water boatmen, three different species of water beetles – despite it being fairly deep midwinter, they’re all still out there.

I will write more about these winter hardy animals soon.

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