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  Making Wildlife Ponds

If someone told you that there was a wonderfully easy way to increase the amount of wildlife in your garden,  both in terms of quantity and the number of different species you would see, you would probably be very keen to find out all about it.  Not only would this one simple change encourage birds and mammals you hadn’t seen before to visit your garden, but many new creatures could be tempted to set up home and breed there also.  Sounds interesting?  Well there certainly is an easy way to make your garden an absolute wildlife paradise, and that is to create a wildlife pond.  There are many measures we can take to encourage invertebrates which are the backbone of any wildlife garden.  But we shouldn't ignore the importance of water to wildlife of all kinds – mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and those vital invertebrates.  The knock-on effect of having all these extra creatures that are attracted specifically to water, especially the invertebrates, is tremendous.  For example, if swallows and martins are seen only infrequently over your garden, a wildlife pond will soon provide the insect food they need in the form of thousands of tiny winged creatures.  These will create the vital link in the food chain that makes your garden a special habitat, plus you will have the joy of watching these wonderful birds feeding over your garden. 

Creating a wildlife pond can be a major undertaking and not all of us have sufficient space for a substantial pool, but here’s the good news.  Water of any sort will bring wildlife to your garden.  I have even had two grey wagtails bobbing about in a tiny barrel pond outside my back door, searching for insects amongst the floating plants which practically fill it up (and plants are a crucial part of any watery habitat you may be considering).  They were so delighted with this tiny wetland that they visited every day for a couple of weeks, sitting on the house roof and then paddling in my mini-pond on their way to and fro from who knows where.  Other birds use this barrel for drinking and bathing daily, from tiny blue tits and wrens to larger species such as blackbirds and even woodpeckers.  So clearly water is vital, but there doesn’t have to be masses of it for it to be an effective resource. If you do have the space for a larger pond you may have to first think about the safety aspects of open water in your garden.  Ponds with mesh covers, designed to make them safe when there are small children around, are not good for wildlife, as these covers restrict access to birds, mammals and amphibians. 

If you are concerned about safety, you could create your pond in an area that can be securely fenced.  Make use of the added shelter by covering your fence with native climbers such as hops, honeysuckle and ivy, or wildlife-friendly non-native wall shrubs.  Cotoneaster will provide berries for birds, Ceonothus and open centred climbing roses are good insect attractants and in milder districts an ornamental grape could provide food and nest sites for birds.    Supervise your young visitors when they are near the water but don’t deny them the pleasure of pond dipping. Choosing the right spot for your pond is important.  Full sun is recommended by many books, but my preference is always to choose a spot with a little shade, either from a building or shrubs that do not have a heavy leaf fall.  A few leaves in a wildlife pond will do no harm, in fact they help to create a layer of humus in the bottom into which oxygenators and other plants can root, and this muddy layer houses aquatic creatures of all kinds. A pond in full sun is always likely to have problems with blanket weed, as strong sunlight and warm water encourage the growth of algae of all kinds. 

If a very sunny spot is your only option, make sure that you include plenty of aquatic plants for the deep water, especially water lilies.  The large leaves of these plants help to shade the water and reduce the amount of heat and light reaching it.  A sunny spot will attract plenty of dragonflies and damselflies but the key to a well balanced pond is to find a place that is light, but not in direct sunshine all day long. Once you have chosen your pond location you can get digging!  If you have turf to remove, set it aside as it will be useful later.  Define your preferred shape with coloured string, or even a hosepipe to get a feel for how it will look in relation to other features round about.  Go for a simple outline – an oval or kidney form is easier to line than a more complicated shape, plus it will look more natural. 

A maximum depth of about a metre is good and the majority of the pond can be less than this.  I include ledges around most of the edge as these are good places to plant marginal species to give a natural appearance.  Bear in mind that a pond with a ‘natural' saucer shape will lose water if you have turf up to the edge.  Water will be constantly drawn out of the pond into the surrounding soil and you will forever be topping it up. Ledges help to prevent this wicking effect.  One gently sloping edge is essential to allow wildlife to reach the water safely.  Hedgehogs and foxes will visit to drink and birds will bathe if the water is shallow and accessible.  Once you are happy with the shape, measure up for the liner.  I use a flexible tape and run it from one edge across to the opposite side, making sure it lays on the bottom and sides of the hole. Do the same in the other direction, add a bit extra for the edges and you have your liner size.  Go for the best liner you can afford, but even a less expensive woven polythene one will make a wonderful pond.  Several companies do good mail order liners but bear in mind that the larger the pond the heavier the liner – you may need friends to help you!

Lining the pond is common sense.  Use an underlay to protect the liner from any sharp stones in your soil, place the liner into the hole without dragging if you can, and then use the turf you have saved - upside-down, or stone free garden soil, to cover as much of the liner as possible.  This will provide a substrate into which your plants can be pushed especially on the ledges, once the water is in.  Lilies and oxygenators should be in the deeper water – you could use baskets for these if you wish.  Choose as many native plants as you can, but non-natives are fine if these are all that are available to you.  The key to a really good wildlife pond is to have plenty of plants of all types - marginals, oxygenators, plants with floating leaves like lilies plus spiky emergent plants, will all add to your watery habitat.  Variety is more important than sticking rigidly to natives if these are not readily available.  Do though, at all costs, avoid the invasive species that are causing so many problems in our countryside, especially New Zealand Stonecrop (Crassula helmsii).  Water is the next priority.  Tap water is likely to be your only resource but making a pond in early spring when rainwater may fill it naturally, is a real advantage.

Once you have your basic pond, there is much to find out about maintaining and improving it.  A book on the subject, or information from the internet will give you the confidence to forge ahead.  Your local wildlife will benefit immensely from your provision of just about the best wildlife habitat you can for them.  Frogs, toads, newts, birds, bats, hedgehogs, grass snakes, dragonflies and a host of other creatures, may all be appearing in your garden in the near future. 

You can buy Making Wildlife Ponds by Jenny Steel here

 Related Topics...


* Encouraging Dragonflies your Garden * Making the Most of a Wet Garden
* Growing Wildflowers * Wildlife Pond Maintenance

* Make a Wildlife Mini-pond

* Making a Wild Corner for Wildlife

* Wildlife Watering Holes

* Growing the Wild Mints for Wildlife
* Growing Wild Loosestrife and Willowherbs * Your Winter Wildlife Pond


© Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017