With natural lakes and wetlands disappearing from the countryside at an alarming rate – over 70 per cent of the UK’s ponds have disappeared in the last hundred years or so – it is small wonder that the garden pond can quickly become a haven for all manner of wildlife.
For the back-garden naturalist, a water feature can be a sure fire way of seeing many of Britain’s shyer and less common creatures and providing a few essential amenities can often be all the encouragement they need to visit in their droves.
Although it is obviously best to plan for wildlife from the outset, even a well established or inherited pond can be made irresistible, with a little bit of time and effort.
The Physical Landscape and wildlife suitability
The hard landscaping element of the pond is one of the most important in determining its suitability for wildlife. Obviously for a new construction, you have a blank canvas, but if you have inherited a pond from the previous owners of the house, or have used a pre-formed type of liner, then many of the decisions have already been made for you with regard to the profile and depth.
Ideally, the pond should have a variety of depths, ranging from a gently sloping edge, to a depth of two feet or more, with a series of shelves conveniently placed to allow planting. Many pre-formed designs incorporate these features, but if yours does not, all is not lost. A strategically placed pile of bricks can produce a platform to support plants and a securely attached old log or piece of slate can provide an escape route for any hedgehogs that blunder in, or baby frogs when the time comes for them to leave. Wildlife makes no distinction between the natural and the artificial – it only matters that they can do what they need to.
It is also important to give the area surrounding the pond some thought. Many animals which will be drawn to the pond do not spend their whole lives in it and so need somewhere to shelter on dry land. Building a rockery with lots of crevices, piling a few old logs beside the pond or half-sinking old terracotta plant pots or pies into the ground will provide frogs and toads with places to hide. It is also a good idea not to be too keen to prune the plants growing around the edges, as many small creatures will naturally tend to use the cover they provide.
Plants and Planting for wildlife
While some people advocate leaving your wildlife pond to be naturally colonised by plants, although this can take place faster than might be supposed, never-the-less for most of us it is both a little slow and rather too hap-hazard. Choosing the plants yourself also gives you a measure of control over what the finished feature looks like, rather than simply accepting pot-luck on what happens to arrive under its own steam.
Wherever possible, native species should be used – such as curled pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) and water soldier (Stratiotes aloides) in preference to the likes of the similar looking Canadian pond weed (Elodea canadensis) or Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes).
While Elodea has a well deserved reputation for being invasive, it is not alone. The list to avoid includes fairy moss (Azolla filiculoides), floating pennywort ( Hydrocotyle ranunculoides), parrot’s feather, (Myriophyllum aquaticum) and New Zealand pigmy-weed (Crassula helmsii) – sometimes called Australian swamp stonecrop and incorrectly labelled Tillaea helmsii. Many suppliers can advise on suitable plants – and the good news is that native does not mean boring; the likes of the small white water lily (Nymphaea alba), marsh marigold (Caltha paulustris) or yellow flag (Iris pseudocorus) should prove showy enough for most gardens.
These plants are far more than a pretty backdrop, however. Oxygenating plants will keep the water full of oxygen, plants with leaves that cover the surface give shade and shelter, while marginals at the edge offer another place to hide as well as providing emerging damsel fly and dragonfly nymphs with an exit route.
There are ways to speed up the arrival of animals to the pond, such as obtaining frogspawn from another wildlife enthusiast who perhaps has too much, but fish are the one thing you should never introduce. The two things simply do not mix – fish are far too good at making meals out of precisely the things you were hoping to encourage. Beyond that, if you have done your landscaping and planting properly, you should be able to sit back and wait for a variety of invertebrates, amphibians and birds to crawl, hop and fly their way to make use of your wildlife oasis – even if it is little bigger than your kitchen table!
For many people, the chance to bring some wildlife into the garden is half the reason for building a pond in the first place. While simply adding a pond will help encourage a range of native species to visit, if you really want to provide a successful wildlife habitat then getting the design, planting and general environment right, is critical.
Britain’s wetlands have been disappearing at a truly incredible rate – with something in the region of 70 per cent of the country’s natural ponds and lakes having vanished in little more than a century. Against this kind of background, it’s hardly surprising that garden ponds have become such an important safety-net for so many of the UK’s plant and animal species.
The nearer you can replicate the conditions our beleaguered wildlife needs in your own back garden, the more useful your pond will be as a habitat – and the more of our native flora and fauna you’re likely to see.
How can I design my pond to attract wildlife?
The key is to provide as varied a habitat in and around the pond as you can. The pond needs to be quite deep at its deepest – around 60cm (2ft) or more – with a range of shelves to facilitate planting. At least part of it should consist of a fairly gently sloping edge to help creatures find their way in and out easily, while a fixed log or submerged rocks will help wildlife which doesn’t really belong in the pond, such as hedgehogs and mice, escape drowning if they should happen to fall in. It’ll also be a welcome feature when your tadpoles decide to metamorphose and the baby frogs are looking for a way out.
What about where the pond is sited?
If you’re trying to encourage wildlife, you need to find a site in the garden where any wild visitors are not going to be constantly disturbed and ideally where you can leave the plants to grow a little more freely than you might be happy with elsewhere.
Try to provide suitable hiding places around the pond itself for the newts and frogs that will hopefully be making their homes in your wildlife area. An informal – but securely built – rockery or log piles will be ideal – especially if they’re incorporated into a bog garden and you aren’t too enthusiastic in cutting back the neighbouring foliage, since many of the smaller and more shy creatures will appreciate the cover.
What plants should I have?
It’s important to have all the usual types of pond plant – oxygenators, floaters, deep water aquatics and marginals – and you may want to have a water lily or two and ideally a bog garden as well to provide an ideal living environment.
If the main focus of the pond is as a wildlife habitat, then the plants chosen should really be British species, where possible and there are some wonderful varieties to pick from – including native water lilies – so you needn’t feel that your choice is too restricted.
On the other hand, for ponds which are fundamentally ornamental, with encouraging wildlife forming more of a secondary goal, any suitable kind of plant can be successfully used, so you can allow yourself more of a free rein.
How can I stop herons eating everything?
Sometimes you can have rather too much of a good thing and unfortunately herons – beautiful though they are – can prove to be rather too successful as predators and quickly cause havoc in a small wildlife pond, able to eat their way through 350g (10oz) or more of wildlife a day!
Although they’re not the most attractive of solutions, grills and nets over the water seem to help and they may be the only way to keep a really determined heron at bay. Some people swear by the time-honoured scare-crow, while others use bird scarers or more modern deterrents such as recordings of the heron distress call – though these are unlikely to make you popular if you have nearby neighbours!
One thing that everyone seems to agree on is that, whatever else you do, you shouldn’t use a plastic heron in the belief it will keep others off its ‘territory’. It’s much more likely to attract two or three real ones to see what the fishing’s like!
Can you mix fish and wildlife?
Generally the answer has to be no, since many of the creatures you’ll be hoping to attract will make very good meals for your fish – especially if there are relatively large numbers of fish in a typically small garden pond. However, if you have a particularly big pond with a few fish in it, they may be able to co-exist, though you are certain to lose some of your tadpoles to hungry fish.
A wildlife pond is a valuable addition to any garden; the key to success lies in good planning and planting – and then letting nature do the rest.
Pond Biodiversity FAQ
Are ponds good for biodiversity?
Ponds are vital habitats for many different species, including rare and endangered ones. Ponds are known to contain an impressive array of biodiversity, often housing more species per unit area than larger bodies of water, such as rivers or lakes. The presence of different plant and animal species within ponds also means that they are often considered to be significant indicators of the overall health of the local environment.
Are ponds environmentally friendly?
Ponds are incredibly environmentally friendly, as they operate within a natural ecosystem that helps to maintain a healthy balance between living organisms and their environment. This ecosystem ensures that the water is naturally filtered, reducing harmful algae and pollutants. Additionally, fish in the pond help to keep plants and algae in check, while their waste provides a vital source of nutrients for the plants to grow.
How do ponds benefit wildlife?
Ponds are an important source of drinking and bathing water for birds, mammals, and other wildlife. By providing a diverse range of plant species around the edge of the pond, you can encourage an even greater diversity of wildlife to visit and take up residence. These habitats are incredibly important, particularly in urban areas, where green spaces are often limited.
What can survive in a pond ecosystem?
Ponds are full of life, and surprisingly, many species can survive in a pond ecosystem. Some of the most common species include pond-skaters, water snails, leeches, and worms, as well as water beetles and water boatmen. Additionally, freshwater mussels and various larvae, such as caddisfly, alderfly, dragonfly, and damselfly, can also survive in a pond ecosystem. The combination of aquatic plants, insects, and fish creates a delicate balance in a pond ecosystem that supports a diverse range of species.
How do you increase biodiversity in a pond?
Increasing biodiversity in a pond can be achieved by digging clean water ponds in the countryside. Studies have shown that creating ponds can significantly boost wetland plant diversity and increase the number of rare species. Additionally, planting a range of plant species around the pond’s edge can help increase the diversity of wildlife attracted to the pond. The plants provide essential habitats and food sources for the creatures living in the pond. Building rock piles in the pond or surrounding areas, adding logs or branches to the water, and installing nest boxes for birds and bats can also help increase biodiversity.
How do I encourage wildlife in my pond?
Creating a pond with a range of shallow areas is essential to encourage wildlife. Around 2-3cm of shallow water is perfect for the lifecycles of frogs, dragonflies, and water beetles. Additionally, it makes it easier for creatures like hedgehogs and birds to bathe. The pond should also be surrounded by a range of plant species, creating essential habitats and food sources for the creatures living in and around the pond. Providing hiding places, such as rocks or logs, will also encourage wildlife to visit and make the pond their home. Lastly, avoid using chemicals or pesticides near the pond, as these can harm the wildlife and damage the pond’s ecosystem.
Why is my pond not attracting wildlife?
If your pond is not attracting wildlife, it may be out of balance. There may be too much algae, which can deter wildlife and harm pond plants. One way to help restore balance is to add barley straw to the pond. This natural product decomposes and releases chemicals that can suppress algal growth. You may also need to add plants that provide shelter and food for different types of wildlife. When you create a balanced ecosystem in your pond, it can provide a habitat for a diverse range of wildlife.
How do you give wildlife access to a raised pond?
If you have a raised pond, you can create access points for wildlife by building a large area of rocks and wood both in and out of the pond. This allows wildlife to safely and easily access the water. Alternatively, you can install a ramp that leads from the ground to the edge of the pond. This makes it easier for animals like frogs and toads to enter and exit the pond. It’s important to create easy access points for wildlife to ensure that they can safely use your pond as a habitat.
How long does it take for a wildlife pond to establish?
After completing the construction of your wildlife pond, it is important to let it settle for a few weeks before adding any plants or animals. During this time, the pond’s natural ecosystem will begin to develop, and beneficial bacteria will colonize the pond. This process can take a few weeks to several months, depending on the size of the pond and the local ecosystem. If you want to establish a diverse plant community in your pond, you can introduce native plant species once the pond has stabilized. However, you should be prepared to wait for several growing seasons to see the full effect of the plants in the pond.
Will a container pond attract wildlife?
Yes, a container pond can attract wildlife as long as it is well-maintained and contains appropriate plant and animal life. The size and depth of the container pond will determine what types of creatures will inhabit it, but even small container ponds can attract a variety of wildlife. The key to attracting wildlife to a container pond is to ensure that the water is clean and well-oxygenated, and that the surrounding environment provides shelter and food for wildlife. Adding a variety of native plant species around the container pond can also help to attract a diverse range of wildlife, such as dragonflies, damselflies, and water beetles.
Why are ponds important in the UK?
Ponds are important in the UK because they support a wide range of freshwater wildlife and provide valuable ecosystem services. Ponds are a key component of the UK’s freshwater habitats, and even small ponds can support a wealth of species, including rare and threatened species such as the great crested newt. Ponds also provide important services to people, such as water storage and flood prevention, and they can act as carbon sinks, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. Despite their importance, many ponds in the UK have been lost or degraded due to land use changes, pollution, and other factors. Conservation efforts are underway to restore and create new ponds to support freshwater biodiversity in the UK.Last Modified: April 6, 2023