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Water for Wildlife: Backyard Ponds

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One of the most important features to include in any wild-life friendly garden is a pond. Well-designed and maintained ponds create a haven for all sorts of plants, birds and animals, and a huge variety of species depend on them. They provide the perfect place to reconnect with nature, containing a complex ecosystem of algae and plants, scavengers and predators, herbivores, decomposers and parasites. You can sit on the edge and watch everything from bats to birds come down to bathe and drink. Plant the right variety of plant species around the edge, and you’ll discover a wider diversity of wildlife than you could have imagined

Make the Most of Your Garden

Britain’s ponds form an incredibly important and much needed network of wetland habitats in urban areas. Around 1 in 10 homes has one. Out of all the habitats you can create to aid wildlife, ponds are perhaps the most helpful. As well as benefitting the wildlife which lives in and around them, they also provide a clean water supply and an area of interest to passing birds and mammals.

The bigger the pond is, the better for wildlife, as habitats increase in direct correlation to pond size. It is important for sustainability and the provision of the right type of environment to make sure that the site you choose is suitable for the wildlife you want to attract. Ponds in sunny sites attract the widest range of creatures, though even shady ponds have their uses, making good habitats for newts. In fact, shady spots are better for small ponds, which are prone to drying up and should be positioned in a sheltered location. Shallow ponds should also be kept out of the sun; otherwise they are subject to excessive evaporation and algal blooms.

For a naturalistic effect, ponds should be constructed with an informal curved outline. However, those who like straight lines and uniformity can still build a pond to benefit wildlife, as straight edges in and outside of the pond can be softened with plants.

When building your pond, you should aim to attract the wildest possible range of wildlife, which means incorporating shallow and deep areas. Shallows areas (around 2-3cm deep) are essential for the lifecycle of frogs, dragonflies and water beetles, and also make it easier for creatures like hedgehogs and birds to bathe. Areas around 1m deep should also be included if possible to allow frogs to overwinter in the muddy depths, breathing through their skin.

It is important that you don’t introduce goldfish to your pond, as they eat frog and toad spawn.

The Best Plants for Your Pond

The greater the variety of plants in your pond, the greater the range of wildlife, so it is advisable to grow a diversity of species and take care to control the more vigorous ones. Pond plants are easy to buy from businesses such as All Pond Solutions. You might even be able to get hold of some of the more vigorous species free from friends when they do their annual pull.

The first thing to look for is oxygenators. Oxygenators are submerged plants that act to oxygenate the water. They are a fundamental food source and habitat for aquatic life. Curled pondweed, mare’s tail, water milford and water-stalwort are all good for ponds, and yellow water lilies are ideal as their submerged leaves provide oxygen whilst their surface leaves offer shade.

Your pond will also need some marginals: plants which grow around the edge of the pond and flower above the water, providing food and perches for hoverflies and bees. Plant bur, flowering rush and great spearwort are some of the best varieties. Yellow flag are also recommended, as iris sawfly larvae eat the leaves.

Try to get hold of some bog plants too. These are plants that grow in wet ground. Particular varieties will attract particular wildlife: fleabane attracts insects; greater bird’s foot-trefoil is irresistible to bees; hemp agrimony is a favourite of butterflies; lady’s smock is the food-plant of orange tip butterfly larvae; and purple loosestrife is beloved of hoverflies.

Try to avoid invasive alien plants such as Australian swamp stonecrop, Nuttall’s pondweed and parrot’s feather, all of which are sold in garden centres. You should also steer clear of floating plants such as water fern, as these choke the surface and reduce light and oxygen levels, limiting diversity.

Even a small pond will make a big difference to your garden, attracting a wide range of creatures. Let wildlife find your pond naturally and it will soon become a thriving habitat for everything from mayflies to hedgehogs, bats to butterflies.