How to Create a Wildlife Pond

Water features add character and a special ambiance to any garden. They can also act as wonderful focal points for your outside space. Whilst some features are costly to install and difficult to maintain there are fabulous options which won't cost the earth and in fact could help to save it! Well at least some of our British wildlife anyway!

A wildlife pond can be accommodated in many gardens, even those of a modest size, and will attract a variety of interesting wildlife. This will certainly enhance your garden but will also play an important role in wildlife conservation. In the last hundred years a terrifying 70% of all natural ponds in Britain have disappeared, largely because of human activity. Creating new wildlife habitats is now more important than ever.

Constructing and maintaining a wildlife pond does not require any special skills, elaborate equipment, the constant use of electricity or even running water. So how do you do it?

Wildlife pond example
Wildlife pond example close up

Positioning Your Pond

Your wildlife pond is best situated in a sunny position away from overhanging trees. Try not to build it too close to deciduous trees as their leaves may fill the pond in autumn. Rotting leaves use up oxygen and so can cause the pond to stagnate.

If possible, link your pond site to other features in your garden like areas of long grass, bushes, rocks or log piles. This will create a patchwork of habitats that creatures can move through and will provide shady areas for when they are needed.

Constructing Your Pond

Any area of water will attract wildlife but it is best to create a pond with a surface area of at least 4 square metres. The larger the pond, the more wildlife you will encourage to move in! Decide on a rough shape for your pond. The best wildlife ponds have natural, undulating shapes with at least one long edge. Start your project by marking out the shape of the pond with string, sand or lengths of hose pipe.

Next you must excavate the pond area. Dig out your marked area to a depth of 60cm - 100cm. Save any turf that you remove to reposition along the edges of the pond and retain the excavated earth. You should use some of this to form an undulating profile as it helps wildlife if you create shallower areas using mounds of earth. Building mounds will also ensure that you have suitable sites to place a variety of plants. Use more of your retained earth to fashion a shallow slope along a portion of the edge to allow animals to get into and out of the water easily. Create at least one area of shallows that is less 30cm deep to encourage frogs to spawn in what will become warmer water. Ideally you should also create a boggy area at the edge of the pond for creatures to migrate into.

When you have finished excavating the pond, remove any roots or debris from the hole and firm down the soil. Cover the entire area with a layer of builder's sand and then lay down an under liner. This could be a polyester sheet or an old carpet.

Lining Your Pond

There are a variety of ways to line a pond including the use of clay, concrete and pre-formed liners. However, pre-formed liners will usually have sides which are too steep for wildlife. It is best to use a flexible lining fashioned from polythene, PVC or butyl rubber. The latter is the most expensive but also the most durable.

Line the pond by starting at one edge and then unrolling the liner across the pond. The liner should overlap the edges of your excavated area by around 30cm. Cut away any excess and then secure and conceal the edges of the liner with different materials including rocks, turf, stones and logs. Ideally create a pebble beach on a least a portion of the shallow sloping edge that you constructed.

If you have any rainwater saved in a butt then empty this into your pond. If not then allow the pond to fill up naturally when it rains and collect extra water in a butt to supplement this. Your new pond is now well on the way to becoming a wildlife habitat.

Planting

Spring and early summer are the best times to plant your new pond. The water will have warmed up and the plants will have commenced their growth and so will establish themselves more easily. If you plant your pond well then you will create something which is at once visually appealing and wildlife friendly. Native species are usually the best options but exotic ornamentals are also appropriate as long as you avoid invasive species. To establish a good environment you will need to feature the following groups of plants

  • Oxygenators are submerged plants which must feature in your pond. Some species do not prosper if the water quality is poor. Tolerant varieties that you should consider are rigid hornwort (ceratophyllum demersum), spiked water-millfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis), common water starwort (Callitriche stagnails) and water violet (Hottonia palustris).
  • Floating plants whose leaves float on the surface of the water should also be included. Some plants may be rooted, others will float freely. Here the leaves shade the water below and reduce the build-up of algae. The leaves also act as platforms for insects to court and mate. Good choices include amphibious bistort (Polygonum amphibium), frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae), yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) and white water lily (Nymphaea alba).
  • Emergent plants which stand erect and emerge from beneath the surface of the water are also important. This is where those mounds you built will come in handy for planting. Emergent plants are great for dragonfly nymphs who use them to crawl on before become adult flying insects. Suitable species include bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata), greater spearwort (Ranunculus lingua), flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus) and yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus).
  • Marginal plants that grow at the shallow margins of the pond should feature. Investigate the requirements of any plants that you are considering carefully as some will not tolerate being waterlogged. Ideal choices include arrowhead (Sagittaria sagittfolia), brocklime (Veronica beccabunga), marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), water mint (Mentha aquatica) and water plantain (Alisma plantago-aquatica).
  • Marsh or bog plants that grow near the water's edge are the final group of plants to consider. Again do your research before purchasing these plants as some will not tolerate waterlogged soil. Plants to consider here include creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus), marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) and ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi).

Maintaining Your Pond

Once your pond is established it will require surprisingly little attention. There are, however, a few things you should do to ensure that it prospers. Firstly avoid introducing amphibians from other ponds into your new habitat as this can spread disease and introduce invasive plants to your pond. Don't stock your pond with fish either as these will eat the wildlife you are trying to encourage to inhabit the pond.

To prevent the pond freezing over completely in the winter months, float a tennis ball on the surface rather than adding chemicals to the water. In the autumn thin out any plants which have become too abundant. Before discarding these leave them on the pond's banks for a few days so that any small creatures can escape back into the pond. Many creatures prefer water which features a maze of plants beneath the surface in which they can hide, hunt and feed so don't be too keen to clear the plants in the water. Optimum conditions are 30% open water.

If excessive algae develops then use natural preventative measures if possible like floating a mesh bag of barley straw. You can also use liquid barley straw extract. Alternatively twirl the algae around a cane to remove it. Do not be tempted to change the water as you will destroy the valuable habitat that you have created.

Sediment may also build up in the pond but this is natural and can favour wildlife. If the sediment becomes excessive then remove only a portion of it to avoid destroying all of the mud dwelling creatures which may have populated it.

In the winter, if part of the pond does freeze then keep the ice on the surface free of snow to allow light to reach the water below.

It is natural for pond water to evaporate during the summer months and the resulting muddy margins enable some species to lay their eggs. If the water level gets too low then top it up with rainwater that you have collected but introduce this little and often to avoid a sudden reduction in the water temperature of the pond.

The Wildlife

Water is essential for wildlife and will quickly attract a variety of species to your garden. Frogs, toads and newts require only small bodies of water to breed. Caddis flies, dragonflies, mayflies, damselflies, pond skaters and water beetles may also breed in your pond. The pond will also attract birds including house martins and swallows which will feed on the insects and nest near the water. Herons will visit even small ponds in search of amphibians to eat and larger ponds may also attract ducks, moorhens and coots. You could even see grass snakes visiting your pond.

Dragonfly

Your wildlife pond could be an exciting new adventure that adds great interest to your garden whilst promoting native wildlife. A pond provides a valuable habitat for a host of species and a wonderful feature that you can enjoy for many years to come. If you would like to create a wildlife pond in your garden then don't forget that many of the things you will need are available here at Romsey World of Water. Happy digging!