Say the words “pond safety” and most people will instantly call to mind the likes of the awful statistics of drowned children or the dangers of electricity. It’s not very often we look at the issue of safety from the pond-life’s point of view – but perhaps we should. After all, our ponds and water gardens are created environments; we made them and the confines of these artificial eco-systems pose dangers to plants, fish and wildlife that they would seldom encounter in a more natural setting.
Some of the potential threats to the pond’s inhabitants are the same ones we face. Electrocution is one conspicuous example but since we tend to take that prospect fairly seriously for our own health and well-being, it does not often pose much of a problem for pond-life. However, many of the dangers that do are not necessarily quite so obvious.
Garden chemicals are one of the biggest potential threats to a range of aquatic pond plants such as pond lilies and creatures and while nobody would willingly set out to dose their pond with pesticides, it is surprising how easily they can find their way into the water. The routine use of weed-killers, fertilizers and insecticides even some distance away from the water can ultimately lead to a heady cocktail of various toxins and by-products accumulating in the pond – and often to the detriment of its residents.
Spraying on windy days – or a bit too close to the water’s edge – can account for some of the problem, so if there really is no alternative to using artificial chemicals, it is important to pick a still day and even then, don’t get too close to the pond. The possibility of run-off is another thing to watch out for, especially if your garden tends to naturally drain towards your pond. If rain washes fertilisers and lawn feeds off the surface of the ground and into the water, it can fuel a huge algal growth spurt – and when the algae eventually use up the available nutrients and die, as the dead matter decomposes it can deplete the water of oxygen. This phenomenon – known as “eutrophication” – is a common problem for pools and waterways in agricultural land, but it can be just as serious for garden ponds too.
Fortunately with a little thought most of these problems can be avoided. Hand-weeding and natural control methods can help get around much of the need for many herbicides and pesticides and with an awareness of the possible dangers, those you do use can be applied more safely. It is particularly important to read the labels carefully since a surprisingly large number of common garden chemicals carry the warning “particularly hazardous to aquatic life.” Use and dispose of these products accordingly and your pond should stay a safe place.
Predators and Pests
Predators are always a source of danger to water life, but in a garden pond they can sometimes pose more of a threat than they otherwise might, largely because the typical pond is relatively shallow and the surrounding often neatly clipped. This can make it difficult for fish or frogs to seek their natural refuge of deep water and denies any creature lurking around the margins good places to hide. Herons are a particular nuisance in this respect, but don’t forget the problems cats or foxes can cause. A pond in a suburban garden can all too easily become a fast-food outlet for all manner of furred or feathered carnivores – and the old expression about shooting fish in a barrel has never rung more true. Fortunately there are ways to protect your pond-life from predators – ranging from nets and plastic herons to high-tech cat scarers, so with a bit of research you should soon be able to even the odds up a bit.
Pests are often more difficult and again the problem is that the average ornamental pond has a lot of good things to eat in a comparatively small space – making it a very popular potential home for a whole host of hungry bugs you really could do without. A wholesale blitz with pesticides is clearly out of the question, but even so it should be possible to control the numbers of unwelcome guests – although you may have to be a little imaginative in your approach. On the positive side, however, natural control methods can often bring surprisingly good results.
Building a pond – however small – brings a whole new dimension to the garden and for many people a large part of the enjoyment comes from watching the different types of pond-life it holds, whether that means valuable koi, itinerant frogs or slow-moving snails. Having made it, the least we can do is try to make it safe for them too.