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
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
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!