All illustrations by Stuart Jackson Carter
“Garden ponds are vital for wildlife,” says Kathryn Walker of the Freshwater Habitats Trust. “They act as stepping-stones in areas that have lost other bodies of water in the landscape and can be particularly useful for species such as frogs and newts, providing links within an increasingly fragmented habitat.”
There are thought to be approximately 478,000 ponds in the British countryside, but many of them are threatened by pollution, drainage and development. Nevertheless, British gardeners have added an estimated two to three million garden ponds, which together provide significant habitat.
Creating a wildlife pond only takes a weekend, yet can deliver results very quickly. “Build a pond, fill it with rainwater and within a few hours wildlife in the form of flying insects will start arriving,” says Kathryn. “Plant it with native plants found close to home to make sure you’re providing the best natural habitat for local species, and within a year or two you’ll have an established wildlife pond. And having a pond will also bring more birds, mammals and invertebrates to your garden.”
Here’s how you do it
Pick a slightly shaded area of the garden away from overhanging trees. Mark an outline and then dig no deeper than 30cm. Include sloping edges and flat shelves for planting.
Use a spirit level resting on a plank to make sure that both sides of the pond are level. This means that once the pool is full, all of the liner will be submerged and protected from the sun.
Remove sharp stones and create a protective underlay using old carpets, towels or sand. Cut your liner to size, allowing plenty of room for depth. Rubber liners are tough and flexible.
Cover the topside of the liner with turf or stones. Add a layer of clean sand or gravel in which plants can take root and fill it using rainwater from a water butt.
Marginal and floating-leaved plants are best added as small-rooted plants pushed into the sediment. Submerged plants need good water quality.
Planting your pond – six top tips
1. Offering a mix of long grass, log piles and rocks will encourage frogs to stay all year and provide stopping-off points for dispersing froglets. Slabs or strips of timber will shelter newts and frogs.
2. Most creatures and plants live in the shallow water at the edges, so create a pond that is 25–30cm deep with gently sloping edges to provide the best habitat for amphibians and invertebrates.
3. Think like a pond creature. These animals want dense vegetation that offers a place to hide and encourages other creatures that are a vital food source.
4. Allow grasses and plants to trail over the edge of the pond. This will provide great habitat for water beetles.
5. Garden centres stock native water plants. Look for the ‘Be Plant Wise’ logo, which indicates that they have been sourced responsibly.
6. Get species that already grow in the area, so try freshwater sources within 30km of your home (make sure you ask the landowner’s permission if necessary). You can let plants populate naturally, but this process can take a few years.
Do ponds attract mosquitoes to houses?
Ponds are incredibly important for insect life. Many species, such as hoverflies, craneflies and non-biting midges, use garden ponds as nursery grounds for their larvae and provide food for a variety of important predators, such as newts, dragonflies and water beetles.
Less welcome visitors are the culicine mosquitoes a clutch of species particularly common in new ponds. Most females, once hatched, need a blood meal to provide an energetic kick for their developing eggs, and nearby human habitations can prove tempting. If your new pond is located near a window, it might be wise to keep it closed at night during late spring and summer, or consider investing in a screen.
Troublesome though they can be, at least half of all mosquito hatchlings are harmless, nectar-feeding males that play an important role in pollination. In addition, without mosquitoes, there would be far fewer bats. With this in mind, close your windows, not your hearts, to these maligned insects. Our neighbourhood wildlife would suffer if they weren’t around.
By Jules Howard, zoologist and author.