A wildlife pond is a shimmering oasis that beckons life. From the gentle hum of insects to the melodious calls of amphibians, it’s a symphony of nature in your very own garden. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, a pond plays a pivotal role in local biodiversity, offering a sanctuary for various species. This article will provide a detailed overview of how to build a wildlife pond in your garden.
Why Build a Wildlife Pond?
Making a wildlife pond is more than just adding a beautiful water feature to your garden. It’s about reaping the numerous benefits it brings to both the environment and our own well-being.
For the Local Wildlife
- Amphibians: Frogs, toads, and newts find both food and refuge in ponds. They lay their eggs in water, making ponds essential for their lifecycle.
- Birds: From robins taking a quick dip to herons hunting for a meal, ponds attract a variety of birds, adding to the garden’s auditory charm.
- Insects: Dragonflies, damselflies, and even butterflies are drawn to ponds, not just for hydration but also for breeding.
Aesthetic and Therapeutic Benefits
- Visual Appeal: The reflective surface of the water, the dance of light on ripples, and the vibrant aquatic plants elevate the garden’s beauty.
- Therapeutic Value: The sound of water has a calming effect, making the pond area a perfect relaxation spot.
- Ecosystem Balance: Ponds support insect populations vital for pollination, ensuring a balanced garden ecosystem.
- Water Conservation: Ponds act as a reservoir, reducing the need for artificial watering of nearby plants.
How to Choose the Right Location for a Wildlife Pond?
Before choosing the location of your new wildlife pond, there are a few considerations that you will need to make.
A pond requires a balance of sunlight and shade. Aim for a location that receives 4-6 hours of sunlight daily. This ensures aquatic plants thrive without promoting excessive algae growth.
While the dappled shade of a tree can be picturesque, it’s essential to ensure the pond isn’t directly under heavy tree cover. Falling leaves can decay in the water, affecting its quality and potentially harming aquatic life.
Proximity to Other Structures
Place the pond at a safe distance from structures like sheds or patios. This ensures easy access for maintenance and reduces the risk of structural damage from water seepage.
- Children: If your household or neighbourhood has children, consider a fence or mesh around the pond. It ensures they can enjoy the pond’s beauty without any risks.
- Pets: Dogs and cats might be intrigued by the pond. Designing the pond with sloping sides ensures that even if pets venture close, they can easily get out if they fall in.
- Wildlife Safety: Gentle slopes and strategically placed stones can act as exit points for smaller creatures, ensuring they don’t get trapped.
How to Design Your Wildlife Pond
Taking a little time to design your wildlife pond at the beginning can save you a lot of time hassle and even money later if you are unprepared. It is a good idea to think about:
Determining the Size and Shape
- Natural Look: Aim for a shape that mimics natural ponds. Irregular, curved edges blend seamlessly with the garden and look more organic.
- Size Matters: The size of your pond should be in proportion to your garden. While larger ponds can support a greater variety of wildlife, even a small pond can be a biodiversity hotspot.
Depth Variations for Diverse Habitats
- Shallow Margins: These are crucial for amphibians during breeding seasons. Shallow areas warm up quickly, benefiting creatures like frogs during spring.
- Deeper Zones: A deeper section (about 60-80 cm) ensures the pond doesn’t freeze entirely in winter, providing a refuge for overwintering aquatic life.
- Varied Depths: Different depths cater to different species and plant types, enhancing the pond’s biodiversity.
Incorporating Features for Wildlife
- Shelving: Create shelves or ledges beneath the water. These can support marginal plants and offer resting spots for creatures.
- Islands: If space allows, a small island can be a safe haven for birds, away from ground predators.
- Basking Spots: Stones or logs protruding from the water offer basking spots for creatures like turtles or dragonflies.
Water Circulation and Aeration
- Fountains and Waterfalls: While not essential, moving water can deter mosquitoes from laying eggs. The sound of trickling water is also a soothing addition.
- Oxygenating Plants: These plants release oxygen into the water, vital for fish and other aquatic creatures. Examples include hornwort and water crowfoot.
Safety and Accessibility
- Access Points: Ensure there are areas where you can approach the pond for maintenance without damaging surrounding plants.
- Escape Routes: Gentle slopes, mesh ramps, or strategically placed stones can act as exit points for creatures, ensuring they can leave the pond if needed.
Materials and Tools Needed to Make a Wildlife Pond
When Making a Wildlife Pond, there are a few things you will need:
There are several types of pond liners available:
- 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 they 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.
- Pre-formed Liners: 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.
- 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.
- Underlay: Before placing the liner, an underlay (like old carpet or specialised pond underlay) should be laid to protect the liner from sharp objects in the soil.
Tools for Excavation and Shaping
- Spade and Shovel: For digging the pond.
- Trowel: Useful for refining the pond’s edges and creating shelves.
- Spirit Level: To ensure the pond’s edges are level, especially if you plan to have a raised edge or coping.
- Wheelbarrow: For removing excavated soil.
- Rainwater: The best choice for filling your pond as it’s free from chemicals.
- Tap Water: If using tap water, let it stand for a few days before introducing aquatic plants and animals, allowing chlorine to evaporate.
- Stones and Pebbles: For natural edging and creating habitats within the pond.
- Pond Plants: Choose a mix of oxygenators, marginals, and floating plants.
- Pond Netting: Useful to prevent leaves from falling into the pond in autumn and to protect against predators if you plan to have fish.
- Gloves: To protect your hands during excavation and when handling the liner.
- Protective Footwear: Especially if the ground is rocky or if you’re handling heavy materials.
How to Build Your Wildlife Pond: A Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Plan Your Pond
- Sketch the Design: Draw a rough sketch of your pond’s shape, marking areas for different depths and features.
- Mark the Ground: Using a garden hose or rope, outline the pond’s shape on the ground.
Step 2: Excavate the Area
- Dig the Centre: Start digging from the centre of your marked area, working your way outwards.
- Form Shelves: As you dig, carve out shelves around the edges for marginal plants. These should be about 20-30 cm deep.
- Create a Deep Zone: Ensure there’s a deeper section in the middle, which will be crucial for wildlife during colder months.
Step 3: Prepare the Pond Base
- Remove Sharp Objects: Thoroughly check the excavated area and remove any sharp stones or roots.
- Lay the Underlay: Spread the underlay across the dug-out area to protect the pond liner.
Step 4: Install the Pond Liner
- Position the Liner: Place the liner over the pond, ensuring it covers the entire dug-out area with some overlap on all sides.
- Press and Shape: Gently press the liner into the pond’s shape, ensuring it fits into all corners and shelves.
- Secure the Liner: Use stones or bricks to temporarily hold the liner in place around the edges.
Step 5: Fill the Pond
- Use Rainwater: Ideally, fill your pond with collected rainwater.
- If Using Tap Water: Fill the pond and allow it to stand for several days to let any chlorine evaporate.
Step 6: Create a Natural Edge
- Place Stones and Pebbles: Arrange them around the pond’s edge for a natural look and to secure the liner.
- Trim Excess Liner: Once your edging is in place, cut away any visible excess liner.
Step 7: Introduce Aquatic Plants
- Oxygenating Plants: Essential for maintaining water quality. Examples include hornwort and water crowfoot. Plant these in the submerged shelf zone.
- Marginal Plants: These thrive in shallow water. Examples are marsh marigold, water mint, and iris. Plant these on the marginal shelf.
- Deep Water Plants: Such as water lilies, which provide shade and reduce algae growth. Plant these in the deep water zone.
- Bog Plants: For areas around the pond that retain moisture. Examples include astilbe and lobelia.
Step 8: Allow Wildlife to Arrive
- Wait and Watch: Instead of introducing wildlife, let them discover your pond naturally.
- If Introducing Species: Consider adding creatures like tadpoles or water snails, but avoid fish to maintain a balanced ecosystem.
Step 9: Maintain Your Pond
- Regular Monitoring: Check your pond often for signs of damage or invasive species.
- Seasonal Upkeep: Use a net in the fall to keep leaves out, and in spring, thin out any overgrown plants.
How to Attract and Support Wildlife in Your Nature Pond
The key to having a wildlife pond is wildlife. If you take the right care, it won’t be long before your pond is teeming with life. A few things you can do to help your wildlife pond grow are:
Create a Welcoming Environment
- Varied Depths: Ensure your pond has different depths, providing habitats suitable for various species.
- Plant Diversity: A mix of aquatic plants offers food and shelter to a range of creatures.
Add Features for Shelter and Breeding
- Stones and Logs: Partially submerged rocks and logs can serve as basking spots for amphibians and insects.
- Islands: If your pond is large enough, small islands can offer safe nesting sites for birds and basking spots for turtles.
Ensure Clean Water
- Avoid Chemicals: Refrain from using pesticides or fertilisers near your pond. They can harm aquatic life.
- Natural Filtration: Plants like watercress can help filter and purify the water.
Provide Access Points
- Gentle Slopes: Sloping sides allow creatures like hedgehogs and birds to access the water without the risk of getting trapped.
- Stepping Stones: These can act as perches for birds to drink or bathe.
Encourage Insect Life
- Night Lighting: Installing a soft light source can attract nocturnal insects, which in turn can attract bats and other night predators.
- Native Plants: Planting native flora around your pond can attract local insect species.
- Natural Colonisation: Rather than introducing species, allow wildlife to discover your pond naturally. This ensures a balanced ecosystem.
- Monitor: Keep an eye on the species that visit. Over time, you’ll see an increase in diversity.
Protect the Pond from Predators
- Netting: A loose net over the pond can deter birds like herons from preying on fish or amphibians.
- Plant Cover: Dense planting can offer hiding spots for fish and other creatures.
Ensuring Safety Around Your Wildlife Pond
Safety is key and these are a few considerations you should make before making a wildlife pond.
Child and Pet Safety
One of the primary concerns for many pond owners is the safety of children and pets. Consider installing a fence or barrier around the pond, ensuring it’s both sturdy and blends with the garden’s aesthetics. For added safety, use self-closing gates with childproof latches.
The area around the pond can become slippery, especially after rain or due to algae growth. Opt for slip-resistant materials like textured stones or tiles for the pond’s edging. Regularly cleaning the surrounding area can also reduce slip hazards.
While the pond is meant to attract wildlife, it’s essential to ensure their safety. Gentle slopes or ramps can help creatures like hedgehogs easily exit the pond if they accidentally fall in. Additionally, mesh or netting can protect fish and other aquatic life from predators like herons.
If your pond has electrical components like pumps, filters, or lights, ensure they’re specifically designed for outdoor and aquatic use. Regularly check for any signs of wear or damage to cables. Always use a residual current device (RCD) to protect against electric shocks.
Stagnant or polluted water can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Regularly check the water quality, ensuring it’s clean and has a balanced pH. Oxygenating plants and regular water circulation can help maintain good water quality.
Safe Use of Chemicals
If you need to treat your pond for algae or other issues, always choose wildlife-safe products. Store chemicals out of reach of children and pets, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Always have an emergency plan in place. Ensure that family members know basic first aid, especially CPR, and have emergency contact numbers easily accessible. It’s also a good idea to have a lifebuoy or rope nearby.
Seasonal Care for Your Wildlife Pond
As the seasons change, so will the pond. Plants will grow and die, animals will come and go.
Spring: Awakening and Growth
- Check Equipment: After winter before the pond comes alive again, inspect pumps, filters, and other equipment for any damage and give the pond a clean if needed.
- Introduce Plants: As temperatures rise, it’s an ideal time to introduce new aquatic plants.
- Monitor Wildlife: Spring is the breeding season for many pond creatures. Look out for frogspawn, tadpoles, and other signs of new life.
- Remove Winter Debris: Clear any fallen leaves or twigs that accumulated over the winter months.
Summer: Peak Activity
- Maintain Water Levels: Summer heat can lead to water evaporation. Regularly top up your pond with rainwater.
- Algae Control: Warm temperatures can spur algae growth. Introduce oxygenating plants or use safe algae treatments if necessary.
- Provide Shade: Use floating plants like water lilies to offer shade, reducing water temperature and protecting aquatic life.
- Watch for Wildlife: Summer sees increased activity from dragonflies, birds, and other creatures. Enjoy the display but ensure they have safe access in and out of the pond.
Autumn: Preparing for Dormancy
- Netting: As leaves begin to fall, place a net over your pond to catch them, preventing decay in the water.
- Prune Plants: Trim back overgrown aquatic plants and remove any that show signs of disease or decay.
- Prepare Fish: If you have fish, reduce feeding as their metabolism slows down in cooler temperatures.
- Clean and Store: Remove, clean, and store any non-essential equipment that won’t be needed during winter.
Winter: Protection and Rest
- Prevent Freezing: Use a floating ball to keep a section of the pond from freezing, ensuring gas exchange for aquatic life. Letting a pond freeze over completely is a common mistake made by many.
- Limit Disturbances: Many pond creatures hibernate or become less active. Avoid any major pond work to prevent disturbances.
- Check Ice: Ensure that any ice forming on the pond is not entirely sealing it off, trapping toxic gases.
- Winter Wildlife: Birds might use the pond for drinking. Keep a small area ice-free for them and other wildlife.
How to Make a Wildlife Pond Look Better?
Some people prefer to leave their pond to be completely natural-looking, and some like to add some décor, what you do is completely up to you.
- Choose Native Plants: Opt for plants native to your region. Not only do they thrive better, but they also blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape.
- Rocks and Boulders: Incorporate natural stones around the pond’s edge and within, mimicking natural water bodies and providing additional habitats.
- Waterfalls: A small waterfall can add movement, sound, and increased oxygen levels to your pond.
- Fountains: These can serve as both a decorative element and a way to keep water circulating, reducing stagnation.
- Solar Lights: Position solar-powered lights around the pond’s perimeter for a gentle glow during the evening.
- Underwater Lighting: Submersible LED lights can illuminate the pond from below, highlighting its features and inhabitants.
Paths and Viewing Areas
- Stepping Stones: Create a path of stepping stones around or even across one section of the pond, allowing closer access.
- Benches and Seating: Set up a bench or seating area nearby, offering a place to relax and enjoy the pond’s tranquillity.
- Sculptures: Introduce garden sculptures or statues that complement the pond’s theme.
- Decorative Bridges: Especially for larger ponds, a decorative bridge can add an element of charm and functionality.
- Floating Plants: Species like water hyacinth or duckweed can add texture and colour to the water’s surface.
- Flowering Aquatics: Plants like water lilies or lotus not only provide essential shade but also introduce vibrant blooms.
- Bird Baths: Set up a bird bath or shallow ledge near the pond, attracting birds for a drink or a splash.
- Insect Hotels: Create or purchase structures that provide shelter for beneficial insects, enhancing the pond’s ecosystem.
- Autumn: Consider adding ornamental gourds or pumpkins near the pond’s edge for a festive touch.
- Winter: String up soft fairy lights on surrounding plants or trees for a magical winter glow.
My Wildlife Pond Journey
As an experienced gardener, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of creating a space that not only adds beauty to my garden but also contributes to local biodiversity. So, one sunny morning, I decided to embark on the journey of building a wildlife pond. Armed with my trusty shovel, a vision, and years of gardening experience, I began the process. The soil was cooperative, and my enthusiasm was unwavering. Hours seemed to fly by, and by sunset, I had managed to dig out the pond’s foundation. Exhausted but satisfied, I laid out the pond liner, ensuring it snugly fit into every nook and cranny. The transformation of that patch of garden into a potential haven for wildlife in just a day was nothing short of magical.
To my astonishment, the very next morning, I noticed the first signs of life. Tiny insects skated across the water’s surface, and dragonflies hovered, their iridescent wings catching the sunlight. It was a sight to behold, how quickly nature had started to claim this new habitat. Months rolled by, and the pond began to evolve. Plants grew lush and tall, providing shelter and food sources. About eight months in, I spotted the first significant sign of animal life. A pair of newts had made their home in the pond, gliding gracefully among the plants. Their arrival was a testament to the pond’s growing ecosystem. However, the most astonishing revelation came after 18 months. One morning, while admiring the pond’s reflection, I noticed a flash of silver beneath the water’s surface. Fish! But how? I hadn’t introduced any.
The most plausible explanation was that they had been brought over by a bird, perhaps as eggs attached to their feet or feathers. Nature truly has its mysterious ways. Today, as I sit by my wildlife pond, teeming with life, I’m reminded of the wonders of nature and the incredible journey from that first shovel of dirt to this thriving ecosystem. It’s a testament to the adage: “Build it, and they will come.” And indeed, they did. – Geoff, Somerset, UK
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 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 round 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 at 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 in the 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 ecosystem 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 of 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 preformed 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.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.