One of the best ways of attracting wildlife to your garden is to put in a pond, and autumn is the best time of year to do it. Brighton & Hove Wildlife Forum share with us their top tips for creating a pond.
In nature, ponds come in all different shapes and sizes, so even an old washing up bowl or discarded sink can become a rich pond ecosystem, humming with water fleas, pond snails, pond skaters and water boatmen, and draw in all sorts of other creatures that will stop by from time to time for a drink or a bathe. Your pond doesn’t even need to hold water all year round. In fact, many of our favourite pond species, such as Common Frogs, prefer ‘vernal’ ponds which dry out in the summer to breed in, as they tend to have fewer apex pond predators, like fish and dragonfly larvae.
Your wildlife pond should be located where it will get full sun for about half the day in summer, and away from overhanging trees. Other things to think about are safety if pets or small children will be sharing the space, ease of access for maintenance and, importantly, finding a place where you can sit and watch the comings and goings to behold the fruits of your hard work. For larger ponds, preformed plastic moulds or butyl/PVC liners are most commonly used nowadays, each with their own pros and cons. If making a large pond you want to create a range of depths, starting with gently sloping sides at the margins which lead on to shelves at 15cm, 20cm and a maximum depth of 60cm-75cm. However, most pond life lives in a matchbox depth of water so your focus should be on creating a broad “drawdown zone” which maximises the extent of this depth as the water level drops over summer. Ideally, rainwater should be used to fill and top up your pond and, if you choose to, native pond plants of local origin can be added, although plants will find their own way and quickly establish. Once established, wildlife ponds require very minimal maintenance. Simply clearing out about 1/3 of the vegetation each autumn is all that is required to keep them healthy.
For wildlife, easy access into and out of the pond is really key, especially for hedgehogs, so ramps and steps should be built from wood and bricks where gently sloping sides aren’t an option. Areas of long grass and shrubbery around the pond which connect to other ‘wild’ areas of the garden and features such as hedgerows and compost heaps are important too, as they will allow your pond life to safely move between your pond and the surrounding landscape.
The ephemeral nature of pond ecosystems means that pond life has evolved to be mobile and on the lookout for new opportunities, so you will be surprised by how quickly your local amphibians, damselflies, dragonflies and water beetles turn up. Ponds are such fantastic environments to create and enjoy. They are ever changing and marry the calming, gentle stillness of being close to water with the endless busy-ness and drama of the natural world. I now have three wildlife ponds in my small front garden alone, which attract a whole host of passers by, both wildlife and human. A number of people have said that they intentionally take the long route home from work ao that they can have a look at what’s going on in the ponds and surrounding meadow, and many of my neighbours’ children insist on dragging their parents to our house daily throughout spring and summer, so they can stand on our front wall and watch the tadpoles develop.