Ponds are defined by ecologists as both man-made and natural water bodies between 1m2 and 2 hectares in surface area, which hold water for at least 4 months of the year. Ponds are considered a really important freshwater habitat for numerous species. In fact a recent study found ponds have the same importance as rivers and lakes in supporting aquatic biodiversity! Research such as this has led to a growing awareness in Britain as well as the rest of world regarding the importance of pond conservation, and an increasing understanding of their contribution to biodiversity. Research has shown that ponds are so important to biodiversity that they support populations of over two thirds of Britain’s freshwater plant and animal species!
I cringe to admit it, but as a child I was annoyingly given the nickname ‘Pond Boy’ by my next door neighbours, due to my habit of almost constantly sitting by and looking in, or more often than not getting in, one of the two ponds that my Dad was hassled into building in our back garden! Now as an adult I’m pleased to announced nothing much has changed and a pond or any stretch of water still tickles my interest, the sense of wonder about what alien creatures could be lurking just under the water s surface still fills me with wonder!
A body of water is a great draw for wildlife for any area, and I feel, when done right can be a really aesthetically pleasing addition as well. Over the last century, due to factors such as land drainage, pollution, agricultural and urban development, many ponds have disappeared. So how can we overcome this downward trend in pond numbers and help our pond wildlife? I know! Everyone should build a pond in their back garden! So read on, this article will hopefully help you do this:
The first thing you need to think about when designing a pond is its location. If you place it in direct sunlight you are likely to gain an infestation of thick unsightly blanket algae, that can inhibit biodiversity in no time, place it in the shade of a tree and you will spend hours removing the leaves in Autumn to stop them rotting in the water. Creating a successful haven for wildlife is all about striking a balance, locating your pond in an area where it can get shade, but where it will also get sunlight, as amphibians prefer warm water to spawn in, will mean you have the best of both worlds.
A pond requires a hole in the ground, so this will require digging and lots of it! Once the pond has been dug, and a suitable waterproof liner inserted you’re ready to start filling. The traditional and probably best way to line a pond was with clay paddled to produce a waterproof impermeable layer; in general most people no longer use this technique as it is very labour intensive. Many different types of pond liner are available from garden centres and online. Those from the latter are usually the cheapest, but sometimes it’s better to see the thickness and quality of a liner before you buy. Butyl liners last for many years, but are expensive compared to polythene liners, which are effective and reasonably long lasting. Concrete is rarely used for lining ponds now, and preformed fibre glass liners are, in general, not suitable for wildlife ponds, due to their inappropriate shapes. Follow the individual manufacturer’s instructions with whatever liner you do choose. Still the choice is up to you. You could even recycle some unwanted household item to make your wildlife pond, I have seen some really effective ponds created from old bath, kitchen sinks, sunken plastic paddling pools and old wooden wine barrels. I’m quietly confident the frogs didn’t mind their home was recycled!
Once the liner is in place, it is best to leave the pond to fill naturally with rain water or use water from a water butt or similar. If you don’t have the patience to wait for the rain you can use tap water, but the chemicals (Chloamines) in the water needed to be treated so as not to harm species such as amphibians, these treatment products can be bought fairly cheaply online or ay your local garden or pond centre.
It goes without saying that with any venture safety should be your first thought, children and pets can have issues around ponds, especially those with deep water. Therefore the building of a fence or the positioning of a hard protective grill over the pond may be a good idea to prevent any accidents.
Size and Shape
Any sized pond, from a bucket sunk in the ground to a mini garden lake is beneficial to local wildlife, so put in whatever size pond you can fit in your space, it should be said though that amphibians prefer ponds over 1-2 metres in diameter. The overall shape of the pond is not important; just choose a shape that works well in your garden or you think looks good. Round or kidney shaped ponds tend to look more natural than square or rectangular ones though. The pond’s profile, however, is very important. There should be at least one gently sloping slide to enable birds, amphibians and mammals to reach the water in safety. Many hedgehogs drown in garden ponds as a result of slipping in whilst drinking. Once in the water they find it impossible to scramble out if all the sides are steep. If you have inherited a pond with steep dangerous sides, perhaps think about installing a ‘animal escape route’, an angled slate stone, for example, to help them out.
Having a gently sloping edge to your pond will also give you the opportunity to grow plants that prefer to live in just a few inches of water. A shallow shelf (around 6 to 9 inches below the surface of the water) will also allow you to grow marginal plants. Try to have at least one area of the pond between two and three feet deep for water lilies and other plants requiring deeper water. This will also provide a safe place for some aquatic animals, such as frogs, to spend the winter during poor or frosty weather. I would always try and pick plants native to your area; this will help your local flora as well as fauna, as well as look more natural and in keeping with the area.
Remember your wildlife pond, it is a haven for animals and should not be squeaky clean. The water will cloud over from time to time and you will get over invasive plants which seem to come from nowhere. I would suggest gentle editing is required to keep the balance right and stop any invasive plant species from creating a monoculture of your wildlife pond. Filters and pumps are really the remit for those with ornamental fish ponds, and aren’t really necessarily or useful in a wildlife pond.
As I have said, I would always try and pick plants native to your area; this will help your local flora as well as fauna, as well as look more natural and in keeping with the area. The plants you choose depend on the size of your pond, some can be invasive and fast growing and therefore not suitable for small ponds, as well as the depth of the water in the area you want to plant up. A list of a few plant species suitable for British ponds is given below:
European White Water Lily (Nymphaea alba)
Large growing native lily. Water depth 45-110cms
Common Water Starwort (Callitriche stagnalis)
Bright green star shaped leaves floating on the water surface.
Water depth 30-90cms
Greater Pond Sedge (Carex riparia)
Bluish green leaves, Drooping heads of black flowers.
Water depth 0-15cms
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Bright green heart shaped leaves. Bright yellow flowers.
Water depth 0-10cms
Research into what pond plant species are native in your area will pay off in a good looking pond which wildlife love!
Fish or No Fish that is the Question
The best wildlife ponds generally have no ornamental fish, such as Goldfish, in them. This is because they can quickly dominate a ponds ecosystem, eating much of the other pond life and limiting the variety of wildlife in your pond. Some newt species will not frequent ponds with fish for example. Their excretion can also quickly pollute a pond, making it a harsher environment for many species to live. If you must have ornamental fish in your garden, if you have the room, why not build two ponds? One for the wildlife and one for the fish, then everybody is happy – well apart from the person doing the digging!
Moving material from the wild into your pond can spread disease as well as being harmful to the place it is scavenged from so it is best to allow animals to colonise a pond naturally. Amphibians often find their way to a pond, and the larvae of other species such as boatman and pond snails have a surprising ability to find their way to ponds, hitching a ride on more mobile species, such as birds.
So after the digging is done, sit back and be patient; your pond will become a wildlife haven and within a surprisingly short period of time you will notice that everything will arrive from pond skaters to diving beetles plus frog spawn.
So off you go and build your ponds, ‘Pond Boy’ over and out!