Wading into pond design and maintenance

Well-known co-housing community, LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) in Leeds, has a pond at its heart (pretty much both physically and metaphorically), tended by, among others,  member, Amanda Crossfield, who describes how it came about and is maintained 

IT has been truly remarkable. When we established our pond, from the beginning of the build process at LILAC, we held back introducing from any species into it, except for a planting scheme. And, somehow, the wildlife has managed to find us, and in some considerable abundance.

We get lots of frogs, and perhaps have had newts too. Ducks regularly visit and we occasionally have a heron swing by, until it realises there are no fish to feast on.

Twice, the pond has run dry, on both occasions during the middle of a drought – though, if it happens again, we’ll be checking the lining to see whether there is a tear in it.

If you don’t manage the bulrushes, they can take over a pond. If it’s a reed bed you want, they can be perfect, but we want a pond with bulrushes helping shape its edge. We might have been too vigorous, in the past, yanking out the bulrushes (to keep them under control), potentially damaging the lining in the process.

It’s a pond that was part of our initial build, as we were setting up LILAC, with the builders digging out the depression in the ground and also constructing a seating deck.

We commissioned a planting scheme from a landscape architect for the whole of our site, including the pond. From the beginning, we decided against fencing off the pond, and – on the advice of our landscape architect – have used a combination of planting and steep banking to provide the necessary visual clues to keep people – particularly children – safe.

Our youngest child at LILAC is now two years-old, one of 14 young people here.

There is a wooden walkway at one side of the pond, with a gate, which can be locked, allowing access to a small ‘dipping platform’, which enables folk of all ages to get up close and personal with the pond residents – tadpoles, water snails, pond skaters and various other creatures.

The pond water comprises entirely of rainwater and rainwater run-off from the site and the roofs of our homes.

We built our pond for several reasons: to provide a beautiful central focus to our site, to encourage biodiversity (which is important for demonstrating our ‘environmental-friendliness’) and to reduce the volume and speed at which rainwater leaves our site and enters the drainage/sewer network. 

There was also a planning condition set by Yorkshire Water, which applies to the whole of the region, intended to slow the flow of water into the network, to prevent it becoming overwhelmed and backing up.

So-called ‘Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems’ (SuDS) are an increasingly popular alternative to concrete water tanks and storm water drains, as concern increases about climate change, and those major rainfall events which we seem to be experiencing on a increasingly regular basis.

For Scotland, there is helpful reading, here: https://www.susdrain.org/delivering-suds/using-suds/legislation-and-regulation/scotland.html

LILAC is about a hectare in size and is the site of a former primary school, to the north-west of Leeds city centre. Its houses are grouped around the pond. We first moved into our homes seven years ago.

On those occasions when the pond threatens to become too full, there is an overflow, into the drainage/ sewer system, but designed to slow the flow of the water entering it.

I was involved in the early design of LILAC, including the commissioning of the pond, and I am now a member of the site’s maintenance team, as part of my volunteer commitment to LILAC.

I have discovered that ponds take a while to settle down, but that they eventually do reach an equilibrium. At first, our pond was covered in bright green algae but this soon disappeared as other aquatic plants established themselves. Now, it pretty much looks after itself, with a little bit of help from us, including the thinning of the bulrushes and weeding the planted-up banking.

The banking has various shrubs, with some ‘under-planting’ to provide ground cover. The planting is a mixture of native UK species suited to the damp margins of a pond – things like yellow rattle, purple loosestrife and yellow flag irises, along with a useful edible species such as artichoke, redcurrent bushes, and pear, quince and apple trees.

Water coming off the roofs first goes into water butts, via downpipes, where the water can be used for our gardens. When a butt fills up, its excess water is channelled, by gravity, underground, into the pond. It’s not at all high-tech.

From a development point of view, I am not sure of the relative costs, between installing a concrete water tank and storm water drains and, instead, establishing a pond. But I can’t imagine there being much between them.

Given the choice, I know exactly what I and everyone else at LILAC would much prefer.

Amanda Crossfield is a member of LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) in Leeds, one of the best-known cohousing and environmentally-conscious housing developments in the UK. She is a volunteer member of the LILAC maintenance team.

Photo courtesy of LILAC