Making a Wildlife Pond Katie, a passionate conservationist, crafter and writer, who loves to try new things, has volunteered to write a few blog posts for our members to help during this period of isolation. She has to self-isolate for 12 weeks too, so she appreciates what this means. This one is all about the steps she took to make a wildlife pond in her new garden. How to create a wildlife pond STEP 1 Firstly you need to decide where you're happy for your pond to go. Consider topography, as sloping ground will mean digging down deeper, and existing structures such as buildings, paths and underground pipes. A pond can be any size, from the tiny to the huge. Just keep in mind a smaller pond is more likely to dry up in the summer and a larger pond will result in large amounts of spoil, which will need to be removed and dealt with. Before starting our garden was almost entirely paved over, meaning our first job was the removal of concrete paving slabs (see right). Ideally you want a pond shape with lots of curves and wiggles. This creates more diversity of niches for different species. You can make a more geometrical shape such as a circle, oblong or square, but be aware that it will not look as natural and does not have the added wildlife benefits of a more randomised shape. An easy way to test out what shape you would like is to get a long piece of string and lay it on the ground, you can then manipulate it into the shape that suits your garden. Keep in mind that if digging near a building you might hit foundations, making it difficult to reach the required depth. STEP 2 Dig a big hole. Essentially you can have a pond at any depth, but the shallower it is the more quickly it will dry up. Shallower ponds are also liable to freeze solid in winter, which will kill anything still in it. This doesn’t mean it won’t still have benefits to wildlife but it will probably not get as busy and interesting over the years as a deeper pond. Two feet is often recommended to avoid this issue, however this doesn’t mean you need the whole pond to be this depth, only that a small part of it should be to allow insects and amphibians to get down nice and low. For maximum wildlife benefits you actually want you pond to vary in depth with some deeper and some shallower sections. Ensure as well that at least one edge is gently sloping. This will allow any wildlife to escape back out if it falls in! For planting it can be easier to create some shelves within your pond, so that planters can stand flat on them. The soil which you’ve dug out will need to go somewhere. Depending how much it is you can lose it on a flowerbed, or order a skip to take it away. If you have a big garden you could create a beetle bank (a raised mound of earth in a sunny spot great for solitary bees and beetles). We used ours to build up one corner of our garden and plant a shady woodland section. Under no circumstances should you dump your soil anywhere outside of your garden such as in hedgerows, woodlands or meadows. This soil can contain the roots of all kinds of non-native garden plants, which can take root in natural environments and cause large-scale devastation to native species. STEP 3 Hurray you’ve made a big hole in the ground… now what? Well if you have a high clay content you may be able to leave it at that and let the rain slowly fill it. For the majority of us though we will need to bring in a liner. Preformed liners are available, but very expensive and you then can’t design your own shape. Alternatively you can by a plastic sheet liner. There are several online calculators which can help you work out the size you need. Once you have your liner you need to press it down into the shape you have made. First place down something to protect the liner from any sharp stone. You can by fabrics for this very purpose but old carpets can be a cheaper option if available. It’s not easy getting your liner in place, and might take a bit of fiddling around, but be patient and it will get there. Remember that you can trim excess but you need a good amount going beyond the edge of the pond to ensure you are water tight. Once it is in place you can fill your pond. Ideally you want to use rainwater as tap water contains chemicals that pond wildlife wont enjoy. If you have a water butt you can use this to fill it, or alternatively you can wait for the rain. If neither of these appeal you can use tap water, but may need to use chemical additives to purify the water. STEP 4 Once your pond is full it’s time to make it pretty. This will involve hiding the lining. The two most commonly used methods are to place turf on top of the lining or stones. Beyond the immediate edge you will then want to bury the end of your liner in the ground. This should mean that no liner is visible outside of your pond. STEP 5 Planting up your pond. The simplest way to plant up your pond is to place baskets or pots into the water with your various water plants. Once they have expanded the pots should not be visible. Alternatively you can put some soil and stone in the base of your pond and plant into this, but this is a more laborious process. Ideally you want some substrate in the bottom of your pond anyway for invertebrates to live in, but it doesn’t need to be much. It is important when choosing plants to consider what depth they like to be at. Your shelves should help you place them at a suitable depth. You will also want to ensure you have a good mixture of oxygenating plants and emergent plants. The oxygenating plants will ensure your water doesn’t become stagnant, whilst emergent plants are great for insects to rest on and hide in. You want a good cover of greenery in and around your pond but remember not to completely smother the open water, as some species will need this as well! Native plants can be the best choice for a wildlife pond, as they are likely to support a large number of native insects, and are more likely to thrive in our climate. Some attractive options are: large iris, fringe water lily, purple loosestrife, gypsywort, water violet, water mint, bog bean, water forget-me-not and pendulous sedge, just to name a few. There are several pond plant suppliers which specialise in native species, or you can ask around your friends and family to see if anyone has any which they can divide for your or let you take some cuttings. You may find at the start of your pond's life you get a flush of algae, this is perfectly normal and partly due to high nutrient levels from disturbed sediment or tap water. In time this should settle down, but if it doesn’t you can try adding some barley straw to speed up the process. Additional steps… Your pond is complete and lovely as it is, however if you want to keep adding to it there are ways to do so. Firstly you could create a bog garden around its edge or nearby. You do this by digging out a shallow area and lining it with pond liner. this time though you can stab holes in the liner. Then fill the soil back in and hide the liner as before. In time this area will become water logged and you can plant it with marsh and bog species such as marsh marigold, marsh cinquefoil and common skullcap. If you want to get fancy you can even have your pond overflow into this area when it is too full. Our newly planted bog garden (to the right of the pond) will eventually compliment the plants within the pond itself (see right). Since putting our pond in we have found that birds queue up to go down and have a drink or a wash. At first they struggled a bit with the water depth so we have put in several large stones for them to comfortably stand on and have a wash. At this time of year we get to see all the sparrow, starling and blackbird chicks learning how to have a good bath from their parents. You may also find that insects like bees like having stones to land on. Another good wildlife addition is to plant up around the pond. In most garden ponds we think only of what we might plant in the water, but planting around the edge can provide additional shelter for wildlife and shade your pond so as to prevent it from heating up too much in the sun. Now your pond is finished all you need to do is sit back and wait. It is fascinating to see what turns up and how quickly this isolated water body is used. Birds will probably be your first visitors, but you’ll be amazed how quickly water boatmen, water skater and even water snails turn up. Some of these species have adults which fly, searching out new territory, whilst others hitch-hike on bird’s from pond to pond. In the summer expect visits from plenty of hoverflies and dragonflies, and eventually even frogs and newts if all goes well. Remember as well that different species like ponds at different stages, some like them when they are being newly created, whilst others like a well established pond. If something doesn’t turn up or disappears it isn’t necessarily down to anything you are doing, it may just be the pond developing, or the fact that this particular species has no way to reach you. Remember to give wildlife the best chance by allowing holes in your fence and providing plenty of sheltered routes to and from your pond. And most of all remember to take some time to sit and enjoy your pond. As much as it is for wildlife it is also for you to enjoy and connect with the creatures that share your garden.