This last week has mostly been dedicated to very exciting work on the Balcony and the new pond we have been nurturing there. Originally, where the pond is now, there was a natural seasonal spring-fed pool, which, at best, would resemble a boggy, muddy puddle. It is located just at the top of rainbow wood fields and, once upon a time, would have been a primary water source for the cattle that have grazed the meadows over the last couple of centuries. However, the cattle have more reliable water holes now, troughs that are either spring or mains fed. At some point, a fence was erected around the pond site, separating it off from Rainbow Wood Fields, and the pool was in a distinct state of disuse.
The dream of a luscious species rich pond began to develop. It was a fantastic opportunity to create a whole new habitat that could have the potential to support a huge diversity of plants, invertebrates, birds and more – increasing the ecological value of the site and providing a new feature for the public to enjoy.
And so the pond project began. It was dug out in October by Barry, one of our contractors, using a mini-digger and the new hole was lined with two feet of puddling clay to make it water tight. The rangers and volunteers then built a wooden board walk around it with the idea that when the pond naturalises it will be used for children’s pond dipping events. The bank was landscaped to be quite a wide and shallow incline and a few clumps of reeds were dug up from the adjacent field and planted with soil in the clay. The pond is still fed by the spring that comes down off the hillside, the water channelling in through a culvert pipe underneath the balcony path and back out of an overflow pipe.
The pond, however, became a total dog magnet and the clay and reeds were being completely trampled, disturbing any chances of wildlife – or the clay for that matter – settling in the pond. Not only was the pond still looking a bit more like a glorified muddy puddle but dog owners were having to battle daily with their seriously clay covered canines. The pond project had been set off to a fantastic start, but there was still work to be done.
So, over the last week or so, we’ve been working hard to give the pond a bit of a makeover. Barry came in again and re landscaped the bank so that it is steeper and the surface area of the pond is bigger. Along with unblocking the overflow pipe, this has helped to prevent the water from overflowing the farside bank of the pond, where there was an undesirable swamp forming on the other side of the fence.
A stretch of fencing was fitted across the front of the pond to try to make it less inviting for dogs. The fence has been sanded, primed and painted black and its all looking very lovely.
Rob and Tabi had ordered a selection of waterside plants including forget-me-nots, sedges meadow-sweet and water mint, and we planted them in the clay on the bank with plenty of compost taken from fairy wood. We didn’t plant anything actually in the water in the hope that the plants would spread into the water more naturally. A couple of hazel whips have also been planted at either corner where the fence and the boardwalk meet, again to try to blockade any inviting gaps
Meanwhile, Miles fixed a mesh, taken from a kitchen sieve, over the mouth of the overflow pipe and a rockery of sorts was built over the pipe with a couple of plants around it to obscure it from view.
Finally, we had the whole team scrubbing the board walk, washing off most of the clay that had collected there to reveal the wood underneath.
As you can see, the pond is already attracting the local bird life. We hope now that we have given it a bit more of a jump start to become a richer pond environment and that there will be less disturbance from dogs and other wandering mammals.
Whole sections of the balcony path have also been resurfaced over the last week. The path is originally one of Ralph Allens 18th century carriage drives, one of many in a great network connecting his large mansion-house – now Prior Park college – to the rest of his countryside estate and Bath. While some is still intact, much of it has become very pot-holed and entrenched in mud over the last few years. Subsequently, walkers circumvent the worst of the mud throughout the winter creating areas of erosion and widening the path.
So, last Sunday Richard and I arrived at the Balcony with a small group from the Bath National Trust Volunteers where we found piles of coarse grey stone by the side of the path, delivered there by Rob the previous week, ready to be used for resurfacing.
We began by removing the surface layer of mud, before raking the new stone over the revealed surface of the carriage drive. We completed one big section on the Sunday and then managed to get another couple of lengths done at the end of the week with our day volunteers. We have definitely resurfaced the worst of it, although there’s probably more work to be done in following years, and we have already been getting very positive feedback from those that use the path.
During one of the days, while we were up at the top of Rainbow Wood Fields, Miles and Mike set to clearing the nettles from around the burnt ash so that it is more accessible for use by the public as a view and picnic point.
We also took the time to try to repair all four of our punctured wheelbarrow tyres – two of which were successful.
We were up at Rainbow Wood Fields at the right time to catch the cowslips and the cuckoo flowers just before the end of their season. Both are typical, early blooming meadow plants that contribute beautifully to the transition from the winter sea of green to the colourful wildflower mosaic of spring and summer.
And here’s a rain-soaked dandelion seed head that caught my eye while we were having lunch one day.