Getting started with your wildlife pond
If you’re creating a new pond, follow our step-by-step guide to pond construction. Autumn and winter are ideal times to do this.
Building a new pond for wildlife
Shape is crucial: try to incorporate at least one side of the pond with a long, shallow slope. This allows easy access for wildlife and, when water levels fluctuate, creates a damp habitat vital for many beetles, bugs and flies. If you are making a container pond which isn’t sunk into the ground, be sure to fix a ramp of some sort on the outside of the container, as well as the inside.
Wildlife makes no distinction between natural and man-made ponds provided they are accessible. Butyl liners are the easiest way to create a natural-shaped pond; pre-formed plastic or fibreglass ponds without this feature are best avoided. For larger, natural ponds consider liners of ‘puddled’ clay or sodium bentonite.
In general, the larger the pond the more wildlife you can expect to attract. A depth of 20-60cm (8in-2ft) varied across the pond will suit the majority of pond flora and fauna. But don’t despair if you only have a small space: even a mini pond in a pot will provide a habitat and water source for garden wildlife.
Shade over part of the pond helps reduce problems with algae and is tolerated by many pond plants and animals. However, ponds with too much shade are not good for wildlife so ensure at least part of the pond is in full sun. This will ensure the water warms quickly in spring, making it more attractive to spawning frogs and toads.
Here are step-by-step guides on building a wildlife friendly container or rain-fed pond:
Adapting an existing pond for wildlife
Existing ponds not specifically designed for wildlife can be adapted. Autumn is the least damaging time for making changes, after the height of the breeding season but before amphibians go into hibernation.
Fish are top predators in a garden pond and will also contribute to nutrient levels, making the pond prone to algae and blanketweed. So if you have inherited a pond with lots of fish, see if you can find them a new home in a fish pond or, if that’s not possible, why not make a new pond elsewhere in the garden which you can design more for wildlife in mind.
Pumps and filters
If your pond had fish in, chances are it would also have had a pump and filter system to help keep the water clear. A wildlife pond does not need a filter but you may still wish to keep the pump to run a cascade or fountain, for instance. Check to see if your pump has a ‘wildlife protection system’ to prevent casualties from tadpoles, newts and other pondlife being sucked up into it.
If the pond has steep sides, one option is to build up stones or pebbles on at least one side of the pond to allow creatures easy access. Another solution is to fit a wooden ramp at one edge, cut with grooves or covered in chicken wire for grip. Or, for a more natural look, part submerge a large branch or log. This may need weighting down to keep one end below the water line.
Other general tips
Drinking spot for big and small
A layer of gravel, mud or large flat stones on the sloping side will create a perfect habitat for amphibians and insects. It also allows birds, hedgehogs and smaller insects such as honeybees and hornets to drink without risk of falling in the water.
Hiding a liner and softening edges
The water line in a wildlife pond will naturally fluctuate but as it drops this can expose an unsightly pond liner. One way to overcome this is to use gravel or pebbles as described above. But an alternative is to buy a ‘stone liner’ which has a layer of gravel embedded in the top. This can be bonded to the pond line around the perimeter to help disguise it.
Another method is to butt turf up to and over the edge of the pond rim. This can look very natural but it doesn’t take long for the grass and grass roots to grow right into the water. The wicking action can draw water out of the pond at a surprising rate, especially in hot weather. For this reason it is sensible to stop the turf short of the edge and use an alternative liner cover. Or keep it regularly trimmed back from the water’s edge.
A pond doesn’t just work in isolation – it is part of a network of habitats around your garden. Help wildlife move between these areas by letting grass grow along one edge of the pond (tall grass gives perfect cover for young toads and frogs leaving the pond at the end of the season), growing some denser shrubs at one side (so birds can approach the pond safely with cover from predators such as sparrow hawks) and keeping at least one section of the pond perimeter open and sunny to allow for basking reptiles such as grass snakes.