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.