Aquatic life

Having a pond in your garden, however small it is, gives you a great opportunity to introduce even more wildlife into your patch. It also means that you can enjoy aquatic and waterside plants which you couldn’t grow otherwise.

There are a few things to remember when setting up a pond to welcome wildlife:

  • A pond can be any size. Get a plastic bucket, fill it with tap water and leave it outside for a few weeks – you’ll be amazed how many creatures suddenly make it their home! OK, most of them might not be visible to the naked eye, but you’ll get a few animals you can see plus plenty of algae and plant life. And the longer you leave it the more you’ll get.
  • Having said that ponds can be of any size, bigger is always better. The larger the area of water (in depth and diameter) the greater variety of wildlife you’ll attract.
  • Ponds shouldn’t be sited in shade and shouldn’t be under trees where the leaf litter will build up and stagnate the water.
  • If possible the water should be sheltered from prevailing winds, perhaps by a wall, fence or hedging.
  • Ensure you have easy access to maintain the pond and to check out who’s visiting it. You need to keep an eye on the growth of plants and algae in the pond, so you can remove excessive growth which might be stifling wildlife or other plantlife growth.
  • Make sure your pond has plenty of shallow parts and sloping (not sheer) edges, so it appeals to a wider range of creatures and so that visitors like frogs can easily get in and out of the pond.
  • Make sure that there is plenty, and a good variety, of vegetation around the pond. This gives shelter to creatures entering and leaving the pond and is an attractive feature which provides some continuity between the pond and the rest of your garden. Some examples you could use include:
    • Water plantain (Alisma spp.)
    • Water mint (Mentha aquatica)
    • Bog bean (Menyanthes trifoliata)
    • Sedges (Carex spp)
    • Irises
    • Marsh marigolds (Caltha spp.)
    • Water arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
  • Ensure that you also have plants growing in the pond; floating ones to provide some shade (some of which are anchored by roots to the bottom of the pond, others are completely floating) and oxygenators to help keep the pond clean. Here are a few examples you could use:
    • Floating – water lilies (Nymphaea spp), water soldier (Stratiotes aloides) and frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae).
    • Oxygenators – Canadian pond weed (Elodea canadensis) and water milfoil (Myriophyllum spp.).
  • Don’t banish algae and blanketweed from your pond entirely, just ensure you keep it under control (eg by keeping a bale of barleystraw in the water). Algaes in manageable quantities are a benefit for ponds and part of their ecosystem – they oxygenate the water and provide a food source for some pond life.
  • Put a few logs and large stones around the edges of the pond, to provide shelter and hibernating spots for creatures such as toads and some newts, which hibernate out of the water. If you want to try attracting slow worms then you will need a larger area of loose soil, organic matter and large rocks, ideally with brambles growing over it, though some broken branches will do instead, with coarse grass growing around it.
  • Don’t allow the water to freeze over completely as this will deprive underwater creatures of oxygen and ‘over-water’ creatures access to your pond. Floating devices are available which should keep the water surface moving and prevent it from freezing completely. If your pond does freeze, use hot water to melt a sizable hole in the ice – don’t attempt to crack it as this will disturb your wildlife underwater. Alternatively, for smaller ponds, electronic, thermostatically controlled heaters can be used to prevent freezing.

Once you have your pond in place, here are some of the things you might find in and around it:

  • Worms of all kinds will be wiggling around in the sediment, including flat worms, ribbon worms, round worms, horse hair worms and segmented worms.
  • Slow worms (which are actually lizards).
  • Mosquito eggs floating on the surface which hatch into larvae, which hang from the surface and dive underwater in a flash if they’re disturbed. And not all mosquitoes seek out human victims to suck on!
  • Pond ‘bugs’ including pond skaters, water boatmen, water scorpions, water spiders, water crickets, fresh water shrimps, great diving beetles, caddie fly larvae and water lice.
  • Pond snails, most of which tend to be introduced to ponds on aquatic plants, on which they lay their eggs.
  • Dragonflies and dragonfly nymphs (you can introduce larvae from another pond, just make sure that their original home is roughly the same in terms of geographical location, depth and vegetation as the pond you’re moving them to).
  • Newts.
  • Tadpoles, frogs and toads.
  • Birds stopping for a drink or a quick wash in the shallower parts.