Pond dipping has become something of a puzzle to me. On the whole, pond dipping only seems to occur as ‘official’ sessions with responsible leaders, but when these events are run for children they are often just as popular with the adults present! They requires nothing more than a net and a tub!, yet it seems we don’t all have these in our sheds and garages anymore. How has it become so rare? Here are some tips for enjoying it, whatever your age.

Pond biodiversity is linked to the water quality. The better the water quality, the more things you’re likely to find – but there’s always something there. Avoid stirring up the mud and resist the temptation to lean too far out – check the pond margins instead, as many creatures shelter among the safety of the plants there.

Other than falling in, which can be very serious, there are few things to worry about. Many creatures may look strange and alarming, but remember that in Cumbria only one, rare leech sucks blood; most worms only eat mud and most flies don’t bite.

Get used to looking for tiny signs of life: what first appears to be an empty net, once rinsed in your dipping tray (ice cream tubs and cat litter trays work well – especially white ones), will reveal worms, beetles, arachnids, larvae, snails, amphibians and more. Don’t worry if you can’t find any fish – in smaller ponds, they’d eat a great deal of pond life so it’s no bad thing if they’re not around.

Look for tiny wiggling, swimming or crawling movements as well as spotting more obvious, larger finds. Creatures may range from 1–3cm in size and appear magnified while in the water.

Pond life includes peaceful grazing creatures and fierce predators, as well as the essential detritivores that hoover up rotting organic matter such as fallen leaves. By noticing these in the small confines of your tray, it may help you to work out who’s who in the complex food web of the pond. Here are some species to look out for.

The cased caddisfly, a master of disguise, shrouds itself with leaves, shell or stone for best camouflage. A careful look will reveal it peeping out from its case.

Water boatmen are relatively easy to spot as they ‘row’ around the pond, but the common back-swimmer species can bite! Their red eyes give them away on closer inspection too.

You’ll find young insects as nymphs which resemble their adult stage, such as damselflies and dragonflies. They predate on smaller pond animals. If you’re not sure what you’ve caught, and it’s got legs, count them but also count the varied number of tails – three long tails could denote a young mayfly. Mayflies live in the water for several months, feeding on microscopic algae.

We should remind ourselves that the unfortunately named rat-tailed maggot, a snorkel-using creature, becomes a beautiful honey bee mimic. Finally, newts – they’re much more active at night so why not try shining a torch instead of dipping your net one evening to see what’s happening then?

Happy dipping!