Only when it rains

Cat-n-Dog-001©Mary Holden

Wren Wildlife Group member Nick Croft shares his experience of breathing life back into Cat and Dog Pond on Wanstead Flats. Additional words by Tony Morrison. Photo by Mary Holden

Sometimes you see it, sometimes you don’t, but if you walk across Lake House Road from Jubilee Pond, or take the rough route over the ant hills in that same direction, you may discover a small, semi-permanent pond that goes by the curious name of Cat and Dog Pond. The site presumably gets its name from the fact that it’s only visible when it’s been raining ‘cats and dogs’.

First shown in an 1863 map as a body of water with a course going towards Harrow Lane (now Harrow Road), it was possibly a sluice to help drain the road. Another line on the map shows a ditch or water course running toward an area of the Flats known as the Brickfield. Early reports, when the area was used for mining clay and gravel for brickmaking, mention a water course there.

If you’re lucky enough, you will see the pond filled with water, and then next time you visit, it’s gone, choked by undergrowth and lost from view.

It may have come to your attention that a few of us have being doing a bit of work at this old, neglected site over the past few years. The pond was in danger of drying out and becoming scrubbed over, threatening the amphibians, invertebrates and water birds that depend on it. In an effort to reverse this onslaught and restore this historic landscape, channels have been dug around the pond to form a network of ditches – a Wanstead Flats Wetlands – with tall rushes rising around the edge of the waterscape and birds fleeting between the reeds and bushes. 

Getting permission from the authorities to go ahead with the project was, I assumed, going to be the hardest part. That naive assumption was put to bed the first day of diving into the reeds. Get a fork in, dig out the reeds, plant them further down the ditches – easy. Not!

So, here we are, three years on, seven pairs of wellingtons, one broken fork, one spade, six pairs of trousers, many gloves, three buckets, a visit to A&E and the unavoidable conclusion that I hadn’t a clue as to what I was doing.

It did look quite impressive over that first winter as the rain filled the pond. Water actually remained throughout the first summer, bringing in the butterflies, damsels, dragonflies and, of course, frogs and newts. 

Last year, the weather turned against us and warned of what’s coming down the line as the climate catastrophe takes hold. The frogs managed to get out before the pond dried up, but I’m not sure the newts were so lucky. The drought also clobbered the planting we’d done around the site and, at one point, it looked like we lost most of the 200-plus trees and shrubs we had put in. Come the rain in August and September, we were pleased to see many bouncing back. Not that you’ll see many of them this year as the grass has swamped everything and – with the help of burrowing critters – has made it a bit dangerous to guess where the paths are, so take care!

We will be back (once the autumn migration is over in October) as this is a job that keeps on giving! Thanks to all my team of volunteers, especially Mark Thomas, Sean K, Sean T (aka JF), Tony Abbott and not forgetting Trevor ‘The Mole’.

For more information on the Wren Wildlife Group, visit wnstd.com/wren

Author: Editor