How to Build a Wildlife Pond in your Garden | Top Tips

Building a Wildlife Pond in your garden is extremely easy and you can do it too and no beautiful garden will ever be complete without one. Wildlife ponds are not only a haven for lots of creatures great and small, but they are also a lot of fun. A garden pond is a great aquatic attraction and I have spent hours relaxing and just watching the eco-system in full swing, from plants and flowers to larger more mobile visitors like hedgehogs and foxes, where there is water, there is life!

Small or large, a garden pond full of wildlife is also fantastic way to teach your little ones about the diversity of life and how the natural world works. Your children will be able to watch and learn about different creatures and their life cycles without even disturbing their natural habitat you have created for them.

Keep on reading to find out how to build a wildlife pond in your garden. Just dig a hole and add water? Well, it is not quite that simple, but you are not too far off.

Why Build a Wildlife Pond

It is estimated that in the past 50 years or so, over 30% of ponds have disappeared. This has massively affected native populations of aquatic wildlife, particularly amphibians. Amphibians such as toads, frogs and newts are dependent on ponds for breeding and if ponds disappear, eventually so will they.

Ponds also provide homes for a whole variety other wildlife too. There are all sorts of bugs and insects such as dragonflies and water boatmen that will frequent your pond and if there is a bush or some flowers nearby, you will have bee’s come to see you too.

There is nothing more pleasing than when you see your first your first frogs swimming in their lush new pool or the water boatmen in the sunshine surfing across the tiny waves.

What Types of Garden Pond are There?

There are 2 main types of pond for your garden and they are wildlife ponds, fishponds, or a combination of both and they are relatively built in the same way. Although all types of pond are built the same way, there are some variations that you may need to consider if you are building a pond specifically for a certain breed of fish, like koi for example.

Pre-formed Ponds

Pre-formed ponds (amazon link – opens in a new tab) can be found in many places and they are usually made from plastic or fibreglass. Pre-formed ponds are well-known to be long lasting (my Grandad had his for 30 years) and they are often made for housing ornamental fish.

When a pond is pre-formed for ornamental fish, the downside is that you lose all chance of creativity. There is often no slope or access to the water for the other wildlife to reach although, you may be able to build some access points with some well-placed pebbles or rocks.

Liner Ponds

Lining a pond with a durable and flexible material gives you your creative licence back, allowing you to build your wildlife pond exactly how you want to.

Many pre-formed ponds come in simple kidney shaped designs but when you are building a wildlife pond in your garden, you may want something a little more spectacular and using a liner will help you get the look that you desire.

There are a few different materials that you can use to line your pond and they are all capable of helping you get the result you want.

HDPE

HDPE liners have all the qualities you need and are durable and flexible enough to make a great wildlife garden pond. HDPE liners come in different grades and the prices do vary but it can be bought off the roll in the size you need.

PVC

PVC is the cheapest option for a pond liner to go for although it is not as strong as rubber. If you are using PVC, you will need to be more careful and we recommend that you use underlay and remove all stones and rocks from the hole before lining to try and prevent tearing.

Clay

This is our personal favourite type of pond liner, not because it looks better or does a better job but because it is all natural. Clay can be difficult to install however and is more expensive so if you are not too confident, you may need a professional if you want to go down this route.

How much does it cost to Build a Wildlife Pond?

A garden nature pond can be built for as much or as little as you want, and you can spend just £5 or you can spend £500. The price of building a pond is your choice. As with anything, there are obvious benefits to spending a little more money, but you are still able to get great results even on a low budget.

1. Pond Liner

The pond liner is an essential expense that you will have at the start of building your pond.  As we mentioned earlier there are all sorts of different materials you can use, depending on what you go for they can be affordable and are available to suit whatever budget you may have.

Pre-formed

Pre-formed ponds are okay, and they are made to last. They are made from strong plastics or fibreglass and come in a range of shapes ready to go into the ground.

Pros
  • Ready-made shape
  • Easy to Install
Cons
  • Lack of creativity
  • Non-flexible

HDPE

HDPE rubber materials are known for their high strength to density ratio and are ideal for using as a garden pond liner. This is a great way to retain your creativity.

Pros
  • Flexible
  • Durable
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  •  Can be a lot of work

Clay

Clay is a fantastic natural pond liner that will recreate natural conditions without the need for any man-made materials.

Pros
  • Looks great
  • Natural
Cons
  • Difficult to install properly
  • Expensive

PVC

PVC is a cheaper alternative to using HDPE although it is not nearly as reliable. PVC can be prone to tearing and the cost saving is negligible.

Pros
  • Cheap
  • Easy to come by
Cons
  • Prone to tearing
  • Lacks strength

2. Pump

A pump can be expensive, and they are usually used for koi ponds and are not really needed when you are building a pond for wildlife. Pumps are good for keeping the water clean and oxygenated but for this, we recommend letting nature take care of it.

3. Plants

Natures oxygenator! Plants are far more inexpensive than a pump and plants do not have any additional running costs. Individual plants may be just a couple of pounds each and planting the right plants in your pond can help make your eco-system thrive. You will need to be careful on what plants that you get though as some will require more management than others as with the right growing conditions they can take over!

4. Fish

Fish can be expensive depending on the breed however we do not recommend adding fish to a wildlife garden. Fish can be too dominant in a small pond and they will eat plants and other wildlife. Fish are better kept in fishponds that are specifically designed for them. Fish can also foul up a pond meaning that you may have to embark on a cleaning mission or invest in a pump.

How to Build a Wildlife Pond in your Garden

For this article, we are building our wildlife pond using HDPE which is the most cost-effective option and is suitable for ponds of any shape and size. HDPE pond liners can be bought here (amazon link – opens in a new tab).

Step 1 – Design your Pond

Start off by making a simple sketch of how you want your nature pond to look, you can draw a cross-section too to show depth in different areas and where you want your access point or points to be.

Before you grab your spade and start digging a big hole in your garden, you will want to be aware of what space you have available for your pond and the amount of sunlight that the area will get throughout the day. Remember, perpetual shade is no good for your plants or your wildlife.

Step 2 – Get Digging

For this step, we recommend marking your area using a length of rope. Lay your rope down as per the design that you have drawn, and this will form your pond.

All the way around the pond, we recommend that you skim off an inch of soil approx. 30 cm wide and put aside for later. This area will be where the excess pond liner will eventually be hidden to give your pond that natural authentic look.

Step 3 – Place your Pond Liner

Lay your length of pond liner over your freshly dug hole ensuring that any rocks and sharp objects are removed. If the area that you have dug is particularly bad and full of sharp rocks, you can use some pond liner underlay or some old carpet to save your liner from becoming damaged.

Press your pond liner into shape and weigh down the above ground edges with some bricks. Do not spend too much time trying to get the liner into the hole perfectly as when you are filling the pond with water, the liner will pull itself into place.

Remember that when laying your liner, you will want at least 30 cm minimum that will be above ground when the pond is full.

Step 4 – Adding Water and Securing the Liner

You will now want to begin filling your pond with water, it is best to use captured rainwater if possible but tap water will be fine if you treat it.

You will notice that the weight of the water will begin to pull your liner into place, and it will begin to mould to the shape that you have dug in the ground.

Once you have enough water and the excess liner above ground is unlikely to move any more, you should dig a small trench 2-inches deep about 10cm in from the outer edge.

Now push the liner into the trench and weigh down with stones or rocks.

Step 5 – Finishing Touches

Now the liner is in place and secure, you can replace the 1 inch of soil/ grass that we skimmed earlier to give the pond that natural look. Continue to fill with water and then you should leave the pond for around 10-14 days to let the water settle. Then you will be able to add some plants to start your little eco-system.

How to Look After your Pond

Once you have planted your nature pond, your garden is ready to start receiving wildlife. This will come naturally as garden amphibians and insects will seek out and find their new home on their own. You should not take frogspawn or tadpoles from elsewhere, but you do not need to, your pond will soon start to attract a variety of animals and insects.

Ponds with the right vegetation are relatively low maintenance but you may have to scoop out a bit of weed here and there as some varieties do grow awfully quickly. Below is a small guide of the maintenance that you may have to do through the year.

Spring

Spring marks the arrival of frogspawn and there is usually quite a lot of it. Do not worry if the pond starts to look a little full, frogs will intentionally lay too much spawn as sadly, little of it will survive.

The Spring also marks the start of the growing season and with that, blooming weeds! Duckweed and blanket weed are extremely fast growing and will not take long to smother your pond if you are not careful. If you are starting to see too much weed, you should remove it and set it next to the pond (to let any wildlife escape that may be caught) and then add the weed to your healthy compost bin.

Summer

The Summer is when a pond really comes to life and marks the coming of age for some of your wildlife, many of your animals and insects will now be emerging as young adults and walking or flying for the first time.

As with Spring, pond plants may need to be controlled but be careful not to mess about too much as you do not want to disturb the habitat too much. 

We recommend doing your weeding a little and often, again leaving any removed weed by the side of the pond for a day or 2.

Autumn

The Autumn sees the weather get a colder and pond life becomes calmer and a lot quieter. Much of the wildlife will have died or moved on and this is a great time to give the pond a good clean (be careful if removing silt as this will often contain eggs and larvae of some mini beasts).

Autumn also sees fallen leaves fall into the pond and this can be a nuisance as the additional organic matter can leave too many nutrients in the water leading to an Algae explosion in the Spring. It is best to remove leaves, daily if possible and add them straight into your compost pile.

Winter

Wintertime. This is the quietest time of year for your wildlife pond. Much of the wildlife will be gone although there are a few animals that may stick around. Frogs for example will retreat to the deepest parts of your small pond and lay mostly dormant although on one of those rare warm winter days, you may see them stirring.

Severe frost and ice are a major contributor to ponds failing in the winter. To prevent a pond from fully freezing over, you will want to ensure that you leave a small floating ball in the ice overnight, so when it is removed in the morning there will be a hole.

Conclusion

Now we have shown you how to build a wildlife pond in your garden, the rest is up to you. Garden ponds are a great source of entertainment and even education for young children and it is nice just to relax and watch nature buzzing around and doing its thing. At the garden doctor, we do not think that any garden is ever fully complete without one and remember, let the animals come to you. Where there is water, there is life!

Garden Doctor Trev

Garden Doctor Pond Safety Tips

“Not only do nature ponds attract wildlife, but they also attract children! Young children should never be left unsupervised around garden ponds!”

“When building a pond, consider building a fence around it so young children cannot get too close! Remember to leave enough openings for your wildlife to come and go!”

“Pond safety grating is also a good idea for families with young children, this will prevent children from being able to fall in!”

Frequently Asked Questions

Does a wildlife pond need a pump?

No, the best wildlife ponds do not have pumps as they will have plants that will be able to clean and oxygenate the water. Pumps are more beneficial for fishponds, not nature ponds.

How deep should a wildlife pond be?

A wildlife pond should be no less than 60cm deep. At this depth, the wildlife will have a place to hide from extreme weather. Having a pond at this depth will increase the chance of frogs staying all year around rather than finding somewhere else to stay for the winter.

What should I put in the bottom of my wildlife pond?

Rounded or tumbled stones are a great idea to have in the bottom of your pond. They provide lots of small hidey holes for animals to lay their eggs and they are also great for anchoring plants into position.

Where should I put a wildlife pond?

A wildlife pond should be in the sun for at least 75% of the day. This sunlight gives the plant life what they need to grow and produce oxygen in the water. Plants in ponds that are in perpetual shade will not thrive decreasing the ability to oxygenate the water which is needed to keep a nature pond healthy.

Should wildlife ponds be sun or shade?

Primarily wildlife ponds should be in the sunshine throughout the day although they will tolerate a bit of shade. We like to keep our pond in the sun for as long as possible, but we would not advise having a pond in the shade for more than 25% of the day.

Best Place for a Wildlife Pond?

The best place for a wildlife pond is a place that will get the sun for at least 75% of the day. Wildlife Ponds will still thrive in areas with a little shade but to create your little eco-system you will need to have some plants that will oxygenate the water. Your pond will not do well in perpetual shade as without direct sunlight, the oxygenating plants in the water will not be able to grow, leaving the water stagnant.

How Deep Should a Wildlife Pond be?

At the deepest point, we recommend that a wildlife pond should have a depth at least 60cm. This may sound a lot, but this will give your wildlife a place to go and avoid extreme weather conditions, especially in the winter when the temperatures can plummet to well below freezing.

What Shape Should a Wildlife Pond be?

If you are building your wildlife pond yourself and not using a pre-formed pond liner, you can make the shape whatever you want it to be. That is the beauty of building your own garden pond, it is up to you.

We do however recommend that you do not go for a simple square or a shape with too many straight edges. It is better to add curved edges which themselves will make smaller microhabitats which will aid in attracting more wildlife.

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