Learn how to build and care for your wildlife pond with our expert guide, including best pond plants to grow each season and how to attract more visitors to your pond.
Pond wildlife to spot each season
Wildlife to attract in summer
- Ponds attract flocks of birds, such as starlings, to bathe, foxes to drink, and sparrows and pipistrelle bats to feed on their abundant insects.
- Damselflies/dragonflies will lay their eggs on aquatic plants or drop them onto the surface of a pond throughout the summer.
- Common pondskaters are bugs that live on the surface of a pond, where they grab and eat the insects that fall into the water.
- Common backswimmers fly at night and are one of the first species to colonise a pond. They are voracious predators of other aquatic life.
- Daphnia waterfleas are eaten by adult and larval newts, as well as other aquatic insects. They filter algae from the water and thereby help to keep a pond clear.
Winter pond wildlife
- A few common (smooth) newts will overwinter in a pond, as will frogs and any tadpoles that did not emerge the previous summer.
- Great pond snails are less active in the winter and are generally found in the deeper parts of a pond. In the summer, they are often seen at the surface, gulping in air.
- Dragonfly nymphs spend three or four years in a pond before emerging as adults; they do not pupate. They feed on other invertebrates and larger nymphs hunt tadpoles.
- Water hog-lice (Asellus spp) are extremely abundant in the detritus at the bottom of ponds, and eat rotting vegetation. They resemble, and are close relatives of, wood lice.
What will I find if I go pond dipping in winter?
You can find plenty of wildlife says zoologist Jules Howard. Dragonfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs, a host of water beetles, water boatmen, backswimmers, water hog-lice, leeches, mayfly nymphs, caddis fly nymphs – all of these creatures overwinter in ponds, and are active and easily visible on even the coldest days.
In fact, for many aquatic invertebrates winter is an important time for growth in preparation for their crucial breeding endeavours in spring. There’s even an argument that pond food-webs become re-energised in winter, aided by the increased oxygen content (cold water retains more oxygen) and the influx of dead leaves in autumn on which detritivores flourish.
Some ponds may also contain overwintering tadpoles, a phenomenon that might be more common than we imagine. In particularly mild winters adult amphibians continue to be active too – I have seen newts hunting in the water in mid-December.
However, during colder wintry spells frogs may retreat to the depths where they sit motionless, breathing through their skins. So if you do go dipping, take care not to disturb them.
See how to make an underwater viewer to marvel at your pond wildlife with this easy guide from our friends BBC Countryfile Magazine.
What are the best plants for your wildlife pond?
How to create a thriving wildlife pond
Care for your wildlife pond throughout the year
It’s best to dig a pond in the autumn when the ground is soft, then let it fill up with rainwater and leave it to settle over winter. Clean it out in late autumn/early winter, but search through the removed vegetation to release trapped animals, or spread it around the pond’s edges so they can creep back into the water.
Design your own wildlife pond
Preformed ponds are easier to install than those with butyl rubber liners, but a liner will enable you to design a more varied pond, with shallow sloping sides and a variety of depths. A maximum depth of at least 75cm will ensure that your pond does not completely freeze over during a hard winter.
Remove plants that clog up the pond
Blanketweed and green algae tend to be a problem in new ponds and those with a large amount of water in direct sunlight. Remove blanketweed by hand and position plants at the pond margins to provide shade and so reduce water temperature.
Let the water rise and fall through the year
Let the water level drop in the summer; damp mud is a good habitat for invertebrates. Even if the pond needs topping up, never do it with tap water (if tap water is the only option available, leave the water to stand in a bucket or water can for 24 hours before adding to the pond).
Use mesh to child-proof your pond
If you have small children, either surround your pond with a fence or install a metal mesh or plastic grid just above the water surface that will support the weight of a child. Plants will grow through, and the mesh will also help to reduce the amount of debris that blows into the pond in the autumn.
Add invertebrates that won’t colonise otherwise
Most insects and amphibians will colonise your pond naturally, but you will need to add water snails (both ramshorn and great pond snails), and species such as freshwater shrimp, waterlouse and freshwater (swan) mussels.