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  1. In the ‘good old days’ of my youth (70s/80s) ponds were a quintessentially British feature, found gracing gardens and village greens alike. I was obsessed with the pond in my grandparents' small garden, so much so that whilst peering in to look at frogspawn I fell in fully clothed. I jumped out and ran over to my nan crying, accidentally standing on the end of a rake on the way, which then smacked me on the forehead. All very Frank Spencer! It didn’t deter me from my interest, or they from having a pond, and I continued to watch tadpoles and other pond life with fascination.

    Ponds have fallen out of favour for a number of reasons, resulting in there being only around half the number that there used to be. More's the pity as ponds are one of the best sanctuaries for wildlife, with even the smallest pond attracting a diverse range of species.

    The good news is that this can be easily rectified by creating your own mini pond, which takes up minimal space, costs little or no money, and can easily be made safe for small children. In fact, creating and watching a pond is a fantastic way to introduce children to wildlife. Who doesn’t remember being amazed by pond skaters' ability to walk on water? And what child doesn’t love the living slime that is frogspawn?!

    I decided to create a mini pond from an old butlers sink and below I share with you the simple steps to creating your own mini pond.

    Step 1: Find A Container
    Look to repurpose something that you or a friend/neighbour already have lying around; an old plastic gardening bucket with broken handles, a washing up bowl or butlers sink. Skips always seem to be full of plastic trugs, perfect for water-tight ponds! Old pots can also be used, but you will need to make watertight with plastic liner.

    I used an old butlers sink donated by a friend and used over the years for various vegetables and herbs. The brambles had taken hold over winter, so I dug these out and replanted them around the side of the office, as brambles are fantastic for wildlife. 

    I then sealed up the plug hole with silicon. Brandishing the silicon tube with nozzle was very satisfying and left me feeling very capable and ‘handy’. You should leave to dry for 12 hours, which admittedly I was too impatient to do, much to my husband chagrin! Luckily for me the silicon held when I filled it up the pond with water less than an hour later...but if you can exercise more patience, then please do.

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    Step 2: Choose The Ideal Position
    Place in a spot that gets a decent amount of sun, but not too much direct sunlight. The relatively small amount of water in a mini pond will warm up very quickly, giving the creatures living in it an unwelcome hot tub if you're not careful.

    You can either dig a hole in the ground and sink your pond, or sit on the top of the ground. This may depend on the attractiveness of your selected pond vessel! If you do sink your pond, leave a lip of 1cm proud of the surface so that ground dwelling insects don’t fall in. 

    If you have young children, place somewhere that is safe for them either out of reach or if you do place low, look to invest in some pond safety netting for the top.

    I found a spot of dappled shade and hefted the very heavy sink into the correct position (whilst being sure to engage my core). I used an old piece of concrete slab underneath to make sure that the sink was level-ish.

    Step 3: Line The Base Of Your Pond
    Add some gravel, rocks or ideally a combination of both to the base of your mini pond. This provides a both a hiding place and a place to lay eggs for the creatures that will soon be inhabiting your pond.

    Before you waste money buying a whole bag of gravel from the Garden Centre, ask around to see if anyone has some left from previous building works. I posted a message on FB and low and behold ended up with plentiful stones, so much so that they were used in the pond, around the pond, and on a new stony bed round the side of the house!

    We also had an old bag of shells, some fossil stones collected in Devon on a holiday when the kids were young, and various large pebbles around the garden. These were all grouped together at the bottom of the pond. I took great satisfaction from the de-clutter coupled with putting the items to good use.

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    Step 4: Fill With Water
    The fun bit! If you can, use rainwater. Tap water contains too many chemicals. I also made the mistake of using a bucket which had a bit of soil left in the bottom, so my pond water is murky and most likely will need to be replaced (soil can cause algae blooms). Find a clean bucket and take water from your water butt (or wait for it to fill from the next few showers!).

    Please note that the water will be cloudy for the first few weeks and months, but that the clever creatures attracted to the water will help to clear it, along with the pond weed that you will add.

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    Step 5: Add Plants
    Oxygenating plants like water-milfoil and hornwort can be dropped in, alongside small rushes or plants like marsh marigold and rushes. This gives creatures somewhere to climb up and down, hide and lay their eggs. It also gives flying insects a place to rest and a platform to drink from. Not forgetting it will give your pond serious style.

    The only pennies spent were on a few plants for our mini pond; bought from the local aquatic centre. Do take care to check the labels - I got a bit confused as to which plants could be completely submerged and which needed to sit closer to the surface. You also need to choose those suitable for a small pond. Around 3-4 plants is plenty for a smaller space. You may find this article helpful and you can also order online from here.

    Step 6: Add Logs, Sticks & Maybe Bricks
    You’ll need to provide a ramp and perch for wildlife to be able to get into and out of your mini pond. On your next walk in the park look out for some decent branches and logs, so that you can prop them both inside, across, and on the outside of your pond. You can also use old bricks as steps.

    Handily, we have a rotting wood pile in the corner of the garden from which I selected a few good specimens! I also added a flat piece of wood as a ramp on the advice of a friend, who told me that hedgehogs are at risk of drowning at this time of year. They emerge from hibernation very thirsty, and thus find their way into ponds and then struggle to climb out. A ramp is just the ticket!

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    Step 7: Get Carried Away & Redesign The Whole Area Surrounding Your Pond (Optional :-)).
    The more cover and interest around your pond, the more interesting wildlife you will attract to it. Plant a combination of insect-friendly plants (read my Gardening For Nature post for more tips on what to plant). You could create a mini wildlife meadow adjacent to your pond by clearing grass, digging over soil and planting some seed. Or just allow the patch of grass closest to your pond to grow out - you will be surprised at the diversity of grasses that grow.

    I have gotten as far as digging out and extending the flowerbed leaving me with an unattractive area of bare soil that I need to plant up - my next project!

    ‘Build it and they shall come’ (or words to that effect :-D). Keep your eyes peeled for frogs, newts, dragonflies, damselflies, birds and a myriad of small pond creatures. What could be simpler or more heartwarming than that?

  2. Most of us have an inner rebel (mine's called ‘The Rowe’) - a voice that wants to stand up for what we believe in, and a bravery to do so despite what other people might think and say. We’re seeing inspirational young people like Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, using their voices to powerful effect to drive change.

    My passion is the environment and conservation, and even though I use my platform with The Wise House to talk about the subject, I’m not yet brave enough to brandish a placade, or become more actively involved in a group like Greenpeace. I was once invited onto BBC Radio 5 Live, but came out in a cold sweat at the thought of talking on live radio and bottled out!

    However, one thing I do know is that you are never too old to learn, to become something of 'an expert'. You then have the power to challenge the status quo and influence other people. The youth of today are leading the way, forming groups like the UK Student Climate Network. We should take a leaf out of their book, sit up and start questioning the world around us. With so much information at our fingertips, we too can become activists (even if it is of the armchair variety!).

    Read All About It.
    Remember the further reading you were required to do when studying? To become an expert, you need to do a bit more than just scan the headlines of your daily newspaper. Seek out books, magazines, news features and read, read, read! Here are my personal finds;

    Books (I have Read)

    • Wilding - By Isabella Tree
      My top pick, everyone should read it. Knepp Estate in Sussex was transformed from an intensive farm, to a completely wild space where nature was given free reign. The results are incredible, and you will learn facts about things like oak trees, funghi and rivers that will amaze you. Even my hubby read it (he of the lesser non fiction book reading variety) and declared it to be very interesting.

    • Meadowland, The Running Hare, The Woods - All By John Lewis-Stempel
      As well as being a beautiful observational nature writer, Stempel is incredibly funny and has made me LOL on many occasions.

    • Ivory, Apes & Peacocks: Animals, adventure and discovery in the wild places of Africa - By Alan Root. 
      I picked up this book from our local second hand book store and loved it from page one. Root was the first producer to make real wildlife documentaries, looking in detail (by living with them for a year or more) at how animals - from termites to hippos - really live. A very moving, funny yet often shocking, story of his life and times in Africa. It gives a real sense of how drastically altered the natural world has become within a short passage of time.

    Books (I plan to read)

    • The Future We Choose: Surviving The Climate Crisis - Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. Written by two climate change scientists who are also lead negotiators of the Paris climate agreement. They lay out two scenarios - one where we do nothing and another where we adapt and act. Definitely a must-read.

    • Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life - George Monbiot

    • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate - Naomi Klein

    • The Great Derangement (Brilliant Title!) - Amitav Ghosh

    • A Wood of One's Own -  Ruth Pavey

    • Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet - Mark Lynas

    • Merchants of Doubt - Eric Conway and Naomi Oreskes 

    • Staying Alive In Toxic Times - Dr Jenny Goodman

    News/ Magazines/ Journalists
    Mainstream news is very selective as to what it reports on, but not all news providers are created equal - here are my top picks for honest, up to date news on the environment.

    • The Guardian - best all-round provider of news on climate change and the environment. Sign up for their weekly Green Light Email, which gives the latest stories and developments from around the world, including a much-needed good news feature. They include an interesting summary of Co2 levels compared to the previous year and safe levels (not so good news). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/19/sign-up-to-the-green-light-email

    • World Economic Forum - I follow WEF on Instagram for their excellent videos, and they also have some very informative ‘global perspective’ features on their website.

    • Evening Standard (for London dwellers) - an increasing amount of column inches given over to issues around the environment, with good examples of innovation and inspirational stories. A good one for discovering community projects and ethical businesses and products.

    • The Conversation -  an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community. It covers a range of topics, with an excellent Environment & Energy section. 

    • Positive News - ‘Positive News is the first media organisation in the world that is dedicated to quality, independent reporting about what’s going right.’ Only just heard about this one, looks like some great articles on their website and there is also a quarterly magazine and a weekly email.

    • Lucy Siegle - a journalist who also presents on The One Show and writes a weekly ethical column for The Observer. I’ve always enjoyed her writing, which is direct and humorous.

    • Sophie Pavs - a young nature writer on Instagram. Brimming with positivity and very funny, she is helping to make nature cool!

    Watch And Learn On The Gogglebox.
    Terrestrial TV has finally upped its game over the last 18 months, with established programmes like Spring/Autumn Watch, Countryfile and even Gardeners World confronting climate change. Other programmes available on I-Player are;

    • War On Plastic - Hugh F- W and Anita Rani

    • Drowning In Plastic - Liz Bonin

    • Stacey Dooley Investigates - Fashions Dirty Secrets & The Whale Hunters

    • Simon Reeve - any of his travel series. I’ve just finished watching Simon Reeve In The Indian Ocean. He is a great presenter, really getting to grips with the realities of life for individual people in each country he visits, and the effect that issues like overfishing and deforestation are having on both people and wildlife. You’ll discover so much more about tourist destinations like the Seychelles and Mauritius; where the former has focussed on conservation with great success, and the latter has been ruined by commercial farming and fishing.

    Netflix

    • Our Planet - ‘Attenborough weaves the realities of ecocide, environmental collapse and climate breakdown into the glorious imagery. Finally, we are hearing both sides of the story – and it can’t come soon enough.’

    • True North - 16 x 11 minute episodes reporting from remote Arctic locates in order to ascertain how climate change is affecting local populations and ecosystems

    • Virunga

    • Sustainable

    • Chasing Coral

    • Frozen Planet

    • Naledi - A Baby Elephant’s Tale

    • Mission Blue

    You Tube

    • An Inconvenient Truth - Al Gore

    • 11th Hour & Before The Flood - Leonardo Di Caprio

    • More Than Honey

    There are trailers available for all of above, if you want to get the gist before you watch. Also, look out for small pictures on the big screens or special showings. We went to see The Biggest Little Farm and A Plastic Ocean and I spotted this one upcoming; 

    Podcasts

    • Everyday Ethical with Bethany Austin

    • Desert Island Discs with Isabella Tree (of aforementioned Wilding fame. A good way to get the gist of the Wilding project before reading the book!).

    • Mothers of Invention

    Be Charitable (But You May Have To Leave Your Sofa).
    Hands-On
    If you are interested in hands-on volunteering in your local area, look for ‘Friends’ groups and/or local conservation groups. The best place to find them is on Facebook, as they usually share the most content on their Facebook pages.

    I am currently in talks with the Council and South West London Environment Network, with a view to restarting a Friends Group for our local park. A few emails have led to interesting talks and an upcoming recce of the park, with a view to making plans for improvements. All it took was the effort to start a conversation.

    There are 100s of charities, here are the UK based charities on my radar;

    • Look for your local wildlife trust(s). For fellow Londoners - London Wildlife Trust. Look for specific groups for your area and/or things like bees, bats etc. For example Ealing Wildlife Group has a very active community; bat walks, dawn walks, talks and photography competitions.

    • The Conservation Volunteers - a voluntary organisation who recently re-built the boardwalk in our park, and who run Green Gyms across the country.

    • Surfers Against Sewage

    • Tree For Cities

    • RSPB

    • Bumblebee Conservation Trust

    • Wetland Trust

    • Greenpeace - regular emails encouraging easy sign-up to support a number of cause, which are quick and easy to complete and share, e.g. I completed one today to lobby local MP for ocean protection around the UK.

    • Ecocide - Probably one of the most important international activist charities and movements, as they work to make Ecocide, the mass destruction of natural areas like the Amazon by national and international businesses, a crime in the court of law. You can donate, become an earth protector, petition, and keep up to date with a newsletter.

    • Good Gifts is a charity whereby you buy people a gift that donates to a cause that they might support; for example A Bag of Footballs For Orphans In Africa, Send Warm Clothes To Refugee Camps and Plant 10 Metres of Hedgerow. There is a wide choice for different budgets and interests.

    Take A Free Online Course
    This is something I am looking into doing soon, with the possibility of studying for a qualification;

    I have only scratched the surface of the wealth of information available to us, if we only make the effort to look for it. We can show the youth that we are open-minded, ready to learn...and who knows, maybe ready to act!

    Do please leave any suggestions you have for further resources in the comments section below.