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Creating a wildlife pond is a great way to provide a habitat for various types of plants and animals. A water element in the garden encourages insects, amphibians, birds and other fauna. Here we look over the basics of creating a wildlife pond, what special requirements are needed and what new residents to look out for.

Building a wildlife pond

First thing to consider is a suitable location. Look for a spot in your garden that gets plenty of sunlight and is relatively flat. Avoid placing the pond under trees as they can drop leaves and shade the pond. Many water plants such as waterlilies need a good amount of sunlight to thrive. Also, consider the proximity to a water source and the potential for flooding. Wildlife ponds are generally at ground level for easy access for animals but water run off can cause water quality issues. Be very careful when using fertilisers and pesticides near and around ponds as most are extremely toxic to aquatic life.

A wildlife pond can be made using pond liner or a preformed plastic shell. If using pond liner and choosing your own shape, consider shallow, sloped edges to allow wildlife easy access to the water. Many pond plants are marginal and like to grow in shallow water (approximately 10-15cm). The deepest level should be at least 50-60cm deep to prevent the whole pond from freezing in winter. The coldest layers of a pond are at the surface during the cooler months, so hibernating wildlife will go as deep as they can.

Once your chosen shape is dug, line the hole with a suitable underlay to prevent any sharp objects piercing the liner. Add a few centimetres of water to allow the liners creases to find their way in to the edges of the hole. Slowly then fill the rest of the pond with water, giving the ground a few days to settle before finalising the edging.

An easier option for creating a wildlife pond is purchasing one of many pre-formed, hard plastic ponds. Many of these include shallow ledges, and a deeper centre. The hardest part of a preformed shape is digging the hole! It can be tricky to dig the hole to match the contour of the shape and ledges. Start with tracing out the outer edge, and look at how deep and wide the ledges are. Another way is to dig out a slightly larger hole and backfill with builders sand. An unsupported pond shell will buckle and misshape when filled with water. Always fill slowly and use the ledges as stop zones to see if the plastic 'pinches' when it's being filled.

When filling the pond with tap water, ensure you use a suitable dechlorinator to make the water safe. NT Labs Pond Tap Water Chlorine Remover will neutralise chlorine, chloramine and heavy metals that are toxic to water using wildlife.

Water loving wildlife

After creating a wet wildlife haven in your garden, what critters and creatures will you expect to welcome?

Insects

Probably the first creatures that will inhabit the new pond are members of the insect family. Many species of insects need water as part of their breeding cycle, including midges/mosquitoes, mayflies, damselflies and dragonflies. Many will spend all their time near water, not just for breeding. Dragonflies are undoubtably the most interesting water loving insect. They spend their first years as a nymph larvae underwater, preying on smaller insects and tadpoles. Once they undergo  etamorphosis and become a free flying dragonfly, they still spend a great deal of time near water. Their voracious appetite for other insects doesn’t slow down once they are an adult and help keep populations down of other flying insects around the garden. Water beetles and even water spiders may also take up refuge in your wildlife pond!

Amphibians

Frogs, toads and newts are all native species of amphibians that will frequent wildlife ponds. They generally prefer most of their time near but not in water, except for breeding season. Amphibians need water for their eggs and offspring to develop and grow. Tadpoles in spring are a common occurrence. They will spend their first few months slowly developing in to miniatures of their parents. As tadpoles, they help keep down algae and prey on small insect larvae. As adults, they are a gardeners best friend, eating moths, slugs and snails, offering a ‘natural pesticide’ to protect your plants!

Birds

A birdbath is a common feature in a garden. Water is essential for birds as a drinking source, as well as somewhere to wash dust out of their feathers. Birds will use a wildlife pond in a similar fashion! If the wildlife pond is big enough, you may even be lucky enough to attract water birds such as ducks and herons. Birds in the garden will also help with insect control, and some bird species also provide pollination for flowering plants.

Encouraging wildlife to your pond

Whilst water loving wildlife will find its own way, creating an attractive habitat will encourage a greater variety of fauna into the garden. Aquatic plants are the greatest way to improve a wildlife pond. There are a great variety of pond plants available at your local aquatic pond store that suit all areas of the pond. Marginal and bog plants thrive on the outermost edges of the pond, whilst deep water plants like water lilies suit the deeper centre. Pond oxygenating plants are generally grown loose in the water at any level. Many pond ponds are labelled with symbols indicating whether the plant is a native species, and also if they are wildlife encouraging. Three stand out flowering marginal pond plants include the irises, marsh marigolds, and water violet. All encourage wildlife and are native species. Water lilies are a fantastic showpiece for the middle of the pond. They create shade on the water surface to reduce algae, and provide shelter for wildlife. In summer, with enough sunlight, they can produce large and beautiful flowers. Heavily planting the wildlife pond should help keep the water in good condition and reduce the propensity of algae outbreaks.

Edging the pond with rocks and logs will create a natural boundary and help provide access for wildlife and also shelter. Amphibians (newts, frogs, toads) spend most of their time under logs and rocks near the waters edge before venturing out at night. Natural edging will also help blend the pond in to its surroundings, looking less artificial in its environment.

Maintenance of a wildlife pond

A wildlife pond is fairly self sufficient, unlike most fish ponds, but they do still require some maintenance. Water quality can be an issue in a wildlife pond as pumps and filters are generally not used. A small pump with a protective pre-filter attached can be used to generate some water movement. The pre-filter should stop the pump sucking up small invertebrates and tadpoles. Most pond pumps need an electricity source and this can provide difficulties for some gardens. Solar pumps are a good alternative in this situation, with the pre-filter still recommended.

During the summer months water will evaporate quicker due to increased temperatures and rapid growth of pond plants. When topping up using a garden hose, remember to use NT Labs Pond Tap Water Chlorine Remover. Overtime, detritus will build up on the bottom of the pond. To prevent too much disturbance in a wildlife pond it is recommended to use a sludge destroyer such as NT Labs Pond Sludge Remover. This wildlife friendly product digests the organic build up at the bottom of the pond, helping keep the water quality healthy. It is a less intrusive way of reducing sludge than using a pond vacuum which would likely remove a lot of wildlife.

Testing the pond water on a regular basis can help prevent major water quality issues arising. The acidity of water often increases over time as detritus builds up and carbonates decrease. Organic build up can also increase levels of ammonia and nitrite which is toxic to water using wildlife. The NT Labs Pond - Pond Water Mini Test allows all three of these parameters to be tested to ensure any potential issues can be rectified before they reach dangerous levels.

Lastly, if algae becomes an issue in a wildlife pond, it’s important to check any algaecide product whether it is wildlife friendly. Many are suitable for fish ponds only but can be very harmful to invertebrates and water using wildlife. Barley straw is a well used product to help prevent and reduce algae problems in a pond. NT Labs offers a couple of barley straw products - either in pelleted form (Barley Straw Pellets) or in bales (Barley Straw Pouch). Both are a completely natural and safe treatment for algae in wildlife ponds. Good planting of a wildlife pond should mitigate most algae problems. Just remember to keep plants in check and trim back when necessary to prevent overgrowth.

Tagged in: Outdoor

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