Earlier this year I acquired a garden pond. The slope on the garden has always made a pond rather a difficult project and this one is of very modest size but, since all the environment experts stress the importance of ponds, I have great hopes for it. It was too late for this year’s frogspawn, but I was interested to see how quickly the birds recognised it – the wood pigeons standing on the rim and dipping their heads to drink, the smaller birds using the hedgehog escape route stones to get closer for a sip. There was invertebrate life in there too – though mainly midge larvae, I’m afraid. Still, I hope larger pond life will consume these before they mature and bite! We spread a light piece of netting over most of the surface to catch the leaves cascading down from the oak tree overhead, though, after mid November gales, we should be able to remove this soon.
I try to leave drifts of dead leaves in odd corners of the garden as they provide a refuge for lots of invertebrates and, who knows, possibly for an overwintering hedgehog. However, we do also have a wire-mesh bin for collecting the surplus to turn it into leaf mould. My gardener was taking some of the older stuff to use as a mulch but had to withdraw because there, nestled in among the lower layer, was a large frog. It had already entered its hibernating state, inert, its body temperature right down, and obviously intended to stay there till warmer temperatures and the urge to mate told it Spring had arrived. If you are raking up – or perhaps even burning – leaves do take care to check for such sleepers. They may actually give you a shock. I remember one such occasion. I was tidying a flowerbed and the neighbour’s cat was fossicking in dead leaves nearby. Suddenly there was an ear-splitting shriek. The cat leapt back in alarm, but I knew what it was. A large (probably therefore female) frog had been bedding down there. Such large amphibians have developed the ability to inflate themselves and then expel the air under pressure in a whistling scream. It’s meant to deter predators and, in this case, was completely successful! The cat and I left it to find itself an acceptable winter refuge. I hope it survived till Spring.