We first went pond dipping as a family last Summer, and the kids loved it, so when we had the opportunity to go on a home ed trip to a local outdoor education centre to do both pond and river dipping, we jumped at the chance! Nanny was visiting too, so she came and joined in while Daddy (aka Martin) worked.

What is Pond and River Dipping?

Pond or river dipping is so much fun for all the family and you can do it as part of an organised group (like we did), in your pond at home, in a stream or rockpool – there are so many great places to explore! You need a net, and a tray which you need to fill with water from the pond or stream – this is where you will empty your net and see all the intriguing creatures that live in the water! You also need wellies if it is boggy, muddy or if you are paddling in a stream!

We started off at a pond, and put in our nets, moving them around in a figure of 8 motion to catch whatever was in our path. We had to pull out our net, and turn it inside out in the water we had put in the tray so that all the creatures would float out and not be harmed. We found some great leeches, caddisfly larvae, great water beetles, and damselfly nymphs!

As we were part of an organised group, we used the nets, trays and also microscopes the centre supplied… but you could easily use an empty icecream tub, buy or make your own net and take a magnifying glass too! We loved having the plastic spoon too that helped us to scoop up different creatures to have a closer look.

I am always seriously fascinated by the caddisfly larvae, that take sticks, stones, leaves and anything else they can get hold of, and make a little house for itself, to protect it from being eaten by predators in the pond. You have to look really carefully though, because you will probably miss it if you don’t know what you are looking for! I just look for clumps of matter, and sometimes you can see it moving or the caddisfly larva moving slightly. Can you spot it here? (Yes, that green clump is the home it made, and you can just see its head on the far right sticking out!)


Two of the big surprises of the day were finding a Great Water Beetle (it was huge and we had to keep it separate in case it started eating all the other creatures we had found), and also finding a small leech! I had no idea that we would find a leech. In all the pond dipping we have done, it hasn’t even been on the identifcation sheets we have used, so yes, that was a surprise!

One of the creatures that wasn’t a surprise was finding a Damselfly nymph. We find those all the time, and also the larger Dragonfly nymphs. This one was a beauty, and posed for an excellent photo in the spoon!


We also looked at it through the microscope, but it was very wriggly and was tricky to find. But we did manage it eventually, even if it wasn’t long before it wiggled out again! 

We also tried river dipping. This takes a different technique. We had to use a stronger net, and stand it up in the stream. To get creatures to go into the net, we had to face it with the opening up-stream (so the water flowed into it) and then we had to kick up the stones and mud to agitate it in the hope that some river-dwelling creatures would be found. But alas, we didn’t have much luck in the stream this time.

Final thoughts…

Pond dipping for us is a really fun activity that we weave into our nature studies. It is fun to do it with friends too! We love to know what we are finding, and normally we have a field guide that helps us to identify the pond life we see. We are doing the RSPB’s Wild Challenge, and we found this is a good starting identification sheet. The Woodland Trust also has a great pond dipping activity sheet, and Twinkl had some great resources too that we used when we got home!

Verdict: Amazing activity, we will definitely do this again!