Childrens pond dipping platforms: a barrier to understanding, a barrier to nature

Dipping platforms like this one - the watermark suggests it is something to do with the Forestry Commission - distort and limit understanding of ponds. In this gently shelving waterbody about 80% of the different species of pond animal children could expect to see live in the inch or two of shallow water that the dipping platform conveys them past - before corralling them over deeper, duller water where they will have little real experience of the water environment (unless natural disobedience tells them to ignore the fences and walk round the sides)

Dipping platforms are often believed to be an essential pre-requisite for clean and convenient exploration of ponds.

But they also create a subtle and unintended barrier, distorting our children’s perception of the natural world, limiting their understanding and degrading – you might even say falsifying – their experience.

How could something so apparently beneficial be so detrimental?

First, dipping platforms have a practical shortcoming: they almost inevitably take children away from the richest part of the pond – the very shallow edges. Indeed their use betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of pond ecology – that the best place to look for animals is out in relatively deep water.

They also, of course, cover up – sometimes destroy – the very edge habitat which is the most diverse part of almost every pond.

They are installed so that children can get to the pond without getting wet or muddy – and perhaps in a belief that being perched clear of the water is in some way safer. For busy teachers confronted by children who lack any kind of outdoor clothing – like a pair of Wellington boots – this can be an important consideration.

But most seriously of all they subconsciously demonstrate to children that water is something you must be suspicious of and kept away from – you must not expect to experience water or wet, or mud, or get a little dirty.

Just how harmful this distancing effect really is is still hard to know – we are conducting an uncontrolled experiment on our children’s perceptions of the water environment.

The alternative? Rather than spend hundreds or thousands of pounds on a construction which damages and distances children from the environment they have come to experience, spend the money on a set of wellies, or better still children’s all-over chest waders. Safety? You’re far safer learning how to behave in 2 or 3 inches of water at the edge of a shallow pond in the long-term, than perched out on dry land. And if the edge is too steep? Hire in a digger and reshape the pond to make the access easier (and the habitat better too).

I would never from choice investigate a pond from a platform perched above the water – I wouldn’t expect children to be forced to experience ponds in this way either.


One Response to “Childrens pond dipping platforms: a barrier to understanding, a barrier to nature”

  1. Neil Says:

    (Apologies for dragging up an old post)
    Sadly these days of risk assesments teachers wont go near a place without a pond dip platform, and with Weil’s disease no teacher would risk a child falling over in water and possibly getting pond water in their mouth, which can obviously have serious consequences (though over the years Ive probably splashed a couple of litres of pond water in my mouth and Im still here!).
    All is not lost however. Pond with a bridge style platform across the middle or one end allow access to water of all depths and they can see for themselves the shallow edges with plants are the best place to find stuff.

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