Ponds and water features
The most effective way to make your garden more attractive to wildlife is to add some water.
All animals require access to water. Some animals, for example daphnia and water snails, complete their whole life-cycles in water; while others, like damselflies and frogs, spend part of their lives in it. But even animals which do not live in water are irresistibly drawn to it; birds, for instance, must have regular access to water for drinking and bathing.
Frogs, toads and newts feed on a wide range of insects and other small invertebrates including many garden pests. As long as the water is deep enough (at least 60cm/25in), these creatures don’t need a large pond to breed in. Most ponds will have pond skaters, water boatmen, water beetles, snails, mayflies, caddis flies, damselflies and dragonflies and larger ponds may attract mallards, moorhens and coots, as well as swallows and house martins which pick off insects from above the water surface and collect muddy soil for nest building.
In your garden
- Ponds are easy to make – and any size will attract wildlife. Generally speaking, the bigger, the better.
- It is important to have at least one side of the pool that gradually slopes up to dry land. This enables young amphibians to leave the water in mid-summer once the tadpole stage is over as well as allowing access to the water for birds and small mammals. If the pond has steep sides, fit a ramp covered in chicken wire in one corner.
- Sitting a new pond in semi-shade will help reduce algae, and nearby trees and shrubs provide shelter for wildlife, especially to hibernate in over winter.
- Ponds that are full of vegetation with little open water are really valuable to small invertebrates that need plenty of cover.
- Diversity of shape and depth is the key to providing an inviting environment. A depth of 20-60cm (8-25in) varied across a pond will suit most pond flora and fauna. Creating a range of different sized ponds instead one big one is also more wildlife-friendly.
- One of the most important factors for a wildlife pond is that the water is clean. If it is to be filled from natural groundwater, try to site it away from sources that may pollute the water. Ideally use rainwater when filling a new pond.
- A low-lying boggy area, where the water table is quite high, is often the perfect spot for a pond. Dig a small hole 60cm (25in) deep and see if it fills up and retains water. If so, excavate a pond-shaped hole (remembering the shallow slope) and wait for it to fill naturally.
- There are all sorts of synthetic pond liners on the market which are easy to use. Your garden centre or DIY store will have a good selection.
You don’t actually have to plant up your pond as natural colonisation by plants and wildlife will happen quite quickly, especially if there are other ponds nearby. If you do put plants in, you will have more control of its appearance. Aim for a mixture of different types of marginal plants, submerged planting (oxygenators) and floating plants which should provide roughly 65-75 percent surface coverage. Use native plants where possible, avoiding known invasive species.
A small, cheap pond may be created by sinking some sort of container like an old trough or sink into the ground, flush with the surface, partially filling it with rocks and stones to form shallow ‘beaches’ and adding some marginals and floating plants.
- Too much algae and duckweed will obstruct light and oxygen entering the water, which will harm other plants, but a small amount is a good thing, providing homes for some smaller creatures. To help control algae, float pads of barley in the pond from spring to late summer, increase shade, avoid fertiliser use in or near the pond and keep fish stocks to a minimum.
- Remove duckweed along with other excess vegetation annually. Try to retain around 65-75 percent cover with the beneficial plants. Remember to leave the waste at the water’s edge for a few days so any creatures lurking within can escape.
- Sometimes it is necessary to clear some of the silt from the bottom of the pond. This makes really good, nutritious mulch for your flowerbeds and vegetable garden.
- Unless you have a very large pond, fish are generally not good for wildlife