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Garden Ponds for Wildlife

During lockdown many of us have been outdoors with time on our hands and have found ourselves thinking that a pond would be a great addition to the garden. The UK has lost around 70% of its rural ponds over the last century so garden ponds are of increasing importance for the wildlife that live in, and visit, them. In fact, some amphibians such as frogs may be more common in garden ponds than in the countryside. Digging a pond can be hard work, it’s true, but it will give you pleasure and enjoyment for years to come and will be a little haven for wildlife. Ponds can be large or small to suit any size garden and you will be surprised at how quickly wildlife will find them. Dig the pond, and the wildlife will come!

My newly installed pond. It's very early days but I've already seen a newt, large red damselfly and a female blue-tailed damselfly. Wood pigeons and bees drink from the pond, a spider lives in the stone crevices and water beetles and flies live in and on the water.

So, what creatures could you expect to find in and around your pond? Frogs, toads and newts will live in long grass and breed in the pond. Insects such as damselflies, dragonflies, pond skaters and mayflies will attract birds who feed on them. A larger pond may support ducks or moorhens and if you’re really lucky you may have a grass snake as a visitor. Ponds are also an important water source for birds, mammals and bees.

Many modern homes come with tiny gardens but the good news is that even a mini-pond will attract wildlife. An old sink, a washing-up bowl or an old trough will do the job and you might be able to get one for free on social media. If you do have enough space for a pond you can make it as large as you like. A bog garden is another idea for a small space or you can dig one next to your pond as another habitat. You can install your pond at any time of the year although autumn or winter is best. Planting is best done mid-spring to early summer.

Pre-formed ponds of various descriptions are available online and from garden centres. Make sure that there is at least one shallow sloping side in the design so that creatures can get out if they fall in. I had a pre-formed pond for a while but took it out because the sides were like sheer cliffs. Installation tips can be found here. The other option is to dig a hole the size and shape that you want and use a pond liner. Again, various liners are available but butyl liner is the strongest (mine came with a 15 year guarantee). You will also need an underlay which you can buy specially or use some old carpet (people are often giving away offcuts for free). There are many instructions online for building a pond but the basics are:

  • avoid areas under trees because of leaf fall in autumn

  • choose a warm sunny area as tadpoles and dragonflies will like the warmth

  • some shade is OK as this will help reduce algae

  • have a variety of depths ranging from shallows to 50cm

  • make sure there is a shallow slope for access in and out and for wildlife to bask and drink

  • if you have children think safety first!

Ideally, your pond will be filled with rainwater as tap water is chlorinated and can be high in nitrates. Here in Worcester we had barely any rain for weeks this spring so I had to use tap water. You can run the tap water into containers and leave it for 24 hours so the chlorine dissipates but in dry spells you may just want to run the hose into the pond. Ponds do naturally dry out in summer so you don’t have to keep it continually topped up to the maximum level. Do not be tempted to fill your pond from an existing pond as there is a risk of transferring disease and unwanted pests and plants.

So, you have dug your pond, lined it and filled it. Now you can start planting! I found this a challenge as there are so many options. There are different types of aquatic plants:

  • Floating - e.g. water lilies and frogbit - aim for 50-65% surface coverage

  • Submerged - e.g. hornwort - great oxygenators

  • Emergent or marginal - e.g. iris and water mint - for the edges of the pond

Aim for a variety of plants and go for native varieties. There are some invasive non-natives that should be avoided. A good list of plants to buy and avoid can be found here. Remember that you will need aquatic plant pots or baskets that come with holes in them, pot liners (ready made or cut from hessian) and aquatic compost. You may also need pebbles or small stones to weigh the pots down.

Fish are best avoided in wildlife ponds. They can overwhelm a small pond, pollute the water unless you have filters, and will eat the tadpoles of frogs and newts.

All that remains is to watch your pond develop and see what comes to visit. My garden is in an urban area but a newt turned up shortly after installing the pond, closely followed by some beautiful damselflies.

More information on wildlife ponds can be found in the following places:

The WEG would also be happy to discuss our experience of installing a mini-pond, pre-formed pond and lined pond so you can avoid the mistakes we made! We can give onsite advice and maybe even find volunteers willing to help with the installation.

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