Wildlife ponds in your garden

Many freshwater species in the UK are in decline, struggling with pollution, habitat loss/fragmentation and changing land use. For instance, in the last 30 years over 200,000 ponds/lakes have been lost from farm land alone! Due to these changes, species such as frogs, toads and newts are all facing declining populations. Luckily you can help out this year simply by creating a pond for wildlife in your garden. Even a small pond around 1 metre in diameter can attract, home and feed many freshwater species & insects, whilst creating an attractive feature within your garden.

Toad in a wildlife pondWhile the best time to start construction of ponds is in autumn/winter it is not to late in spring or even summer to start planning and constructing your pond which can be a cheap/simple home project or you can get experts in to construct a wildlife pond for you. Firstly pick your spot and choose the size/shape of your new wildlife pond, the location should be located in a secluded, sunny position, ideally away from too many trees/shrubs so as to avoid swamping the water with leaves which will create extra maintenance tasks in autumn/winter. Positioning long grasses and similar plants around a pond will help to attract amphibians, who like to use grass to hide.

When you start digging your pond it is important to consider the contours of your pond, which should have shallow sides in order to allow wildlife to easily enter/exit your pond along with a deep centre section, at least 60 cm deep which will ensure hibernating wildlife has a safe area over winter which will not freeze over. You can line your pond with butyl or polythene pond liners which are fast, cheap and simple or choose to use a more traditional method and line your pond with clay.

Filling your new pond sounds like a simple task, and it is, yet many people make the mistake of using tap water to fill your pond. Tap water is much higher in nutrients compared to rain water and contains all manner of additives, which can cause your pond to become swamped with blanket weed. So when possible, collect rainwater to fill your pond. However, if you have to use tap water then let it stand for 3-4 days before adding it to your new pond.

Wildlife pond

Keeping water in your new pond oxygenated is important for vegetation and wildlife and does not require expensive pumps or elaborate water features, instead it comes down to your selection of plants within the pond. Choosing native plants is best for your floating, emergent and marginal plants. With selections such as Ceratophyllum demersum (Hornwort), Callitriche hermaphroditica (Water Starwort), Hottonia palustris (Water Violet), Hydrocotyle vulgaris (Marsh Pennywort), Myriophyllum spicatum (Spiked Water Milfoil) and Ranunculus aquatilis (Water Crowfoot). Your selection of plants and the quantity used is important to help reduce the risk of algal blooms forming, which will damage the balance of your pond. Algal blooms form when excessive amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen flood the pond. This can be prevented by using enough plants in your pond to absorb excess nutrients. Ideally around two thirds of your pond should be covered with floating plants such as water lilies.

Ponds naturally turn into bogs, marshland, or wetlands (succession) over time, as plants grow taking over and ruining your beautiful wildlife pond, as such maintaining your new wildlife pond is an important maintenance task, but can be a simple process requiring minimal effort. One of the key tasks include the removal of blanket/duck weed by hand to ensure it does not overrun your pond. Once you remove weeds be sure to leave them at the side of the pond so any invertebrates living in the weeds have a chance to get back into your pond. In autumn remove some of the vegetation and leaves in order to reduce nutrient build up and avoid your pond becoming overrun. Using chemicals to control blanket/duck weed and similar ‘invasive’ plants such as Myriophyllum aquaticum (Parrots-feather) or Hydrocotyle ranunculoides (Floating Pennywort), should be avoided at all costs due to the detrimental effect such chemicals have on wildlife living within your pond.

Bog gardens are great to pair up with a pond, greatly increasing the habitat for amphibians visiting your pond, we will cover the benefits of creating bog gardens in march 2017, in the meantime you can read more about bog gardens over at the Royal horticultural society.

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