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Wildlife pond - Water in the Wildlife Garden

The addition of a wildlife pond or permanent water to the garden adds instant wildlife value, whether it be puddle-sized or a lake. Ponds are used for drinking and bathing by birds and mammals, and of course in their own right as breeding and feeding places for all sorts of pond life from insects through to frogs and newts and even waterfowl. Certain designs, however, are proven to benefit wildlife more than others.

Any water-feature obviously has to be designed with safety in mind, especially if there are small children around.

The Bird Bath

Very useful for birds, not only in hot weather, but it is just as important in winter if the bird bath is kept clear of ice. Replace the water regularly, and do disinfect with boiling water. And never defrost a bird bath with salt, as if birds then drink the salt water, they can become very dehydrated.

The Wildlife Pond

Careful planning is essential for a successful wildlife pond. You will need to decide:

  • What wildlife would you like to attract? If you want to attract dragonflies, only sunny ponds which have a surface area of at least 4m2 and often much larger are likely to be used. Frogs will breed in small ponds, but toads will need much bigger water bodies. A water depth of 60cm or more will be needed if you intend to keep fish without them suffering during periods of frost – wildlife ponds are often kept free from fish, however, due to their tendency to eat the other pond wildlife and stir up the sediments.
  • Where to put the pond? Sunny ponds, open to the south and away from overhanging trees, are often best for wildlife. If such a position is not possible, do not be deterred from having a pond but be prepared for it attracted fewer creatures and to work hard removing leaves. Don’t always put the pond in the wettest corner of the garden as this may have its own value for wildlife already.

How to make the pond

Ponds can be bought either as prefabricated rigid shapes, or you can design your own shape and use a butyl rubber lining. Some ponds however are lined with clay or concrete. A pond is not cheap – expect even a small garden pond to cost a couple of hundred pounds to build and stock with plants properly.

Butyl liners are perhaps those most regularly used these days. They allow you to put a pond where you want of the size you want. The butyl is easily punctured, however, so every care must be taken to clear rocks and roots from the hole, which is lined with carpet, sand, newspaper or commercially-available padding before the liner is laid over the top.

Pond design

The key to a good wildlife pond is gently-shelving margins. These warm shallows and muddy margins are invaluable for birds bathing, frogs spawning etc and mean that any wildlife that falls in has a better chance of climbing out. Making the edges of the pond wavy can double the length of margin.


What to put in your pond

Much of a pond’s wildlife will make its own way there, although not always as quickly as some might suggest! Given patience, however, frogs, newts and insects should arrive under their own steam. It is often preferable to introduce the plants you want rather than wait! Many readily-available non-native water plants have proved to be highly efficient at spreading through our countryside at the expense of native wildlife, so it is best to only buy native species.

You will need plants that live submerged (and often oxygenate the water), plants that have their roots under the water but emerge from the surface, and those plants that can float in deeper water.

Examples of native pond plants:

  • Floating: white water lily (large ponds only), yellow water lily (large ponds only), fringed water lily, ivy-leaved duckweed, broad-leaved pondweed
  • Emergent and marginal: yellow iris, lesser spearwort, water mint, native rushes and sedges, water forget-me-not, brooklime, bogbean, flowering rush, marsh marigold, meadowsweet, ladysmock, creeping jenny, water avens
  • Submerged: whorled water-milfoil, curled pondweed, hornwort
    Plants to avoid: Canadian pondweed, parrot’s-feather, New Zealand stonecrop, water fern

Deterring herons

Large ponds in open situations can attract what is, for some, the unwelcome attention of herons. Because herons usually land near to a pond and then walk up to the edge, if a barrier of a couple of strands of wire can be strung around the margins, it can often present enough of a barrier to deter them. If that fails, then this may be the one case where steeply-shelving margins (with some ‘escape ladder’ for hedgehogs and even frogs to use) may be the answer


Bird tables

Bird tables can provide a wonderful focal point for bird activity in your garden, and can hugely increase the total number of birds, and the number of species, that visit. But be careful that your kindness is combined with care: bird tables if badly situated or dirty can put birds at risk.

And remember a bird table can be as successful on a window box or window sill, so don’t imagine they are only for big gardens!

The right place for your bird table

  • Place your bird table somewhere where you can see it clearly
  • But where it is not regularly disturbed by passers-by
  • Make sure birds have a good view from the table so that they can see approaching danger
  • But with a retreat such as a bush not too far away that they can dash into or use as a ‘staging post’ when approaching the table
  • Don’t position near a fence or any structure from which a cat could pounce
  • And move the position of the table occasionally if possible to reduce the risk of disease. Free-standing tables make this easier.


'Information supplied by RSPB, August 2002'



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