Ponds and wetlands

Ponds and wetlands, regardless of size, are very important wildlife habitats and can support large numbers birds, fish, dragonflies, amphibians and wild flowers. Water is life, and many terrestrial animals will come to a pond to drink.

Almost 70% of the UK’s ponds have been lost over the last 100 years, many to agricultural improvement by draining and infilling but neglect can also be a problem. Natural processes lead to silt build-up and eventually the open water disappears. Other plant communities, such as woodlands, take over and dry the site still further. Retention of these precious habitats therefore relies on management to remove excessive plant growth and silt. This is often an on-going process but they are delicate habitats and professional advice should be sought before any initial work is undertaken. Certainly, no attempt should be made to clean out an entire pond in one go.

Community action

Creating a pond can provide a focus for villages, schools and communities as well as added wildlife interest. Following the dramatic loss of ponds over the last 100 years the building of new ponds has never been more important. Garden ponds are especially important -they can be as small as half a barrel and still provide some wildlife benefit. Seek advice on location, construction, suitable linings and how to establish the pond before you undertake the project. Here are a few ideas to start you off:

  • Avoid creating ponds under trees as they soon fill with rotten leaves.
  • Small ponds are as valuable as large ponds but may need more management to keep them healthy and clear of vegetation.
  • Ponds that are fed by a water source are less likely to dry up in the summer. You may, however, need to remove silt more often as it will be washed in during the winter months. You may also need consent from the Environment Agency, as this may be a form of abstraction.
  • For community ponds create access to the edge of the pond so that people can look into the water or do some pond dipping whilst ensuring there are also areas where creatures can hide from view.
  • Do not introduce any plants or animals from a local pond or waterway. They (especially animals) will arrive on their own when the conditions are right. Unless you are a confident botanist, introducing plants from a local waterway runs the risk of contaminating your pond with invasive alien plants, of which there are many.  Particularly avoid introducing fish as they eat the larvae of insects such as damselflies as well as tadpoles and other small creatures.
  • Ensure that your pond has both deep (1 m) and shallow areas (15-30 cm). Keep the edges shallow to reduce the possibility of accidents and of drowning inquisitive animals such as hedgehogs. The warm, shallow edges of a pond are also important zones for wildlife, so give your pond lots of curves to increase the area of edge. Avoid straight lines!
  • Provide log or rock piles and areas of long vegetation for frog, toads and newts to hide in.
  • Aim for a diversity of plants around the edges so that you have some tall and some trimmed to attract different animals. Within the water a mix of plants that float, are submerged and those that break the surface of the water gives a wide diversity of habitats for insects and other small creatures.
  • Big ponds can have islands to provide a safe refuge for nesting birds such as mallards. It is probably best not to plant a weeping willow on the island, however.
  • Avoid spraying pesticides within 10m of a pond, especially if it is windy.
  • When clearing out silt and excess plant growth from within the pond, drag it out onto the bank and leave overnight so that small creatures can return to the pond, then dispose of the material elsewhere, if desired, the next day.