A Wildlife Pond Is Perfect For Your Garden
We yearn for contact with nature and to be close to the natural world. This is less about garden style, but more about fulfilling a need. We have come so far from our roots as living beings within a natural environment we find it difficult to relate to any other animals in the natural world. Meanwhile, we drag nature to our doorsteps, no further, that would be too close. Dogs and cats are allowed into our homes, they have always been chums of ours.
Birds and fish, and rabbits and mice are kept as pets too but for many of us this is not enough. With the added concern for the decimation of wildlife habitats, many of us want to share our gardens with real indigenous wildlife, and to do that we have to encourage it to arrive of its own accord. We cannot force it to come and we cannot force it to stay.
Any Wildlife Pond can be dedicated to wildlife as long as it has the right number and types of plants and there is plenty of cover for wildlife approaching your wildlife pond.
A Wildlife Pond in the garden could mean hedgehogs, bats, badgers, foxes even deer in some gardens, not forgetting the vast array of bird life and insects from bumble bees to butterflies. Then there are the frogs, toads, newts, slow worms, and grass snakes too. But it also means the vast array of unsexy animals that are all part of the whole picture and not the least food for higher animals. Some gardens are made for it, being attached to a wildlife corridor that is a safe cover of trees, shrubs, hedges, and ground cover all linked to a wildlife haven down which wildlife can travel without fear of predators. Other gardens depend upon their neighbors for some continuity of cover. Those neighbors from hell who have just left their garden to get completely overgrown with brambles have indirectly provided better wildlife cover than could have been contrived in any other way for a Wildlife Pond.
A POND IS A CLARION CALL TO WILDLIFE
Now we are not just content to be part of a to-ing and fro-ing. Even the most barren garden has the occasional fox or badger come through every now and then. We want wildlife to come to a Wildlife Pond to stay, so how do we get a party invitation organized for wildlife to come and have a wild time in a way that gets delivered by the biological equivalent of a megaphone? The best way of doing that is to BUILD A POND. If you already have a pond then you will have to get rid of the non-indigenous fish and bulk up the plants. Also, make sure it is really easy for animals to get in and out.
CREATING A WILDLIFE POND
Building a Wildlife Pond for wildlife can be easy. It is certainly the easiest style of pond or water garden to build.
All you need is some digging device like a spade or a mini-digger. With a long straight edge, a good spirit level, and a number of stout pegs that are longer than you propose the pool will be deep.
The Wildlife Pond needs to be built on fairly level ground and is usually a flexible liner. Keep the shape as simple as possible. The inside pool or deep water area must be more than 2ft (600mm) deep and less than 3.2ft (1 meter). The sides can slope in at anything between 35 and 45 degrees and the edge of the main part of the excavation needs to be level and this will be just below the water level (approximately 2 in – 5cm).
You can make sure you get this right by hammering in a series of level pegs that give you the final water level. Leave enough room beyond the outside edge to cut a groove roughly 12in (300mm) deep and 24in (600mm) wide. The new outside edge, which is the outside edge of your groove, needs to be well above the inside edge of the groove which is the water level.
LINER – The liner then will need to be big enough to line this groove as well as the main excavation coming well up the outside edge of the groove. This is going to be the marginal planting area that also holds the liner in place. You can also make it a beach area if you want by filling it with river-washed pebbles of mixed size. The odd boulder here and there gives it extra credibility.
Lay in a 1 in (25mm) layer of sand and or a textile membrane to line the excavation that will protect the liner against the intrusion of stones from below. Then the liner is laid and the creases collected up into folds and tucked into place. On top of the liner goes another protective membrane to protect the liner from above.
It used to be the practice that the whole thing was then lined with 4in (10cm) of heavy subsoil, but since that only has to come out at the first big clear out, and detritus and a build of sediment on top of the protective membrane seems pretty instantaneous anyway, the groove is just filled with a heavy washed sharp sand as a planting medium. This can be topped off with pea gravel to keep it in place if necessary.
A boardwalk out to the Wildlife Pond centre now seems a good idea, in fact where this style of building a water garden is most popular in Germany, building a decking overhang is generally common practice.
Fill your Wildlife Pond with water and you are ready for biological lift off.
If there is any true inspiration that is directly caused by the Wildlife Pond, it is in the natural or wildlife garden. A scene in nature with the water garden as the focal point, has all the plants crowding around it, lured closer by their dependence upon essential ingredient of life. The Wildlife Pond provides at least a microclimate, at the very least a local humidity that helps sustain certain plants. The water itself is surrounded by the marginals that can tolerate having their feet wet all the time, close behind are the bog plants in the moist surrounding soil and further back are those that just like the humid air and the company of other plants.
To encourage wildlife to arrive as quickly as possible to your Wildlife Pond, there needs to be that link with substantial cover to the plants at the side of the pond. Perhaps through a bog garden backdrop to a grove of Cornus mixed with evergreens. Once the stage is properly set, everything usually goes according to plan. The skill for the wildlife/natural gardener is in restraining nature once it has got a hold without showing the hand of man has caused the interference.
PLANTING THE WILDLIFE POND
To speed up the establishment of your water garden world you need to add plants, otherwise you will just be cultivating algae. You can add your choice of wild indigenous plants, but if the pool is small, do this with care. The main thing is to get in representatives of all various types plant in any water garden, submerged oxygenating plants, deep-water plants, floaters and marginal plants.
The ultimate aim is to have two thirds of your Wildlife Pond covered from plant life and that will guarantee that the visible water will remain clear. This will be because this bulk of plant life starves out the algae and deprives it to a certain extent of its source of essential light. You don’t want to get rid of algae altogether because it an essential (nutritional rich) keystone to the fabric of Wildlife Pond life.
Most important are the oxygenators like water milfoil, Myriophyllum spicatum or Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum . These provide oxygen during the daylight hours to the fauna of the pool and for the essential bacteria that develop in the bottom of the Wildlife Pond digesting all the muck that falls down there. (Myriophyllum spicatum and Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum are good native oxygenators)
Deep-water plants like the lily, Nymphaea alba or the yellow Nuphar luteam (Nuphar Luteum or Brandy Bottle) are a little rampant and small pool owners may be happier with the South African water hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos).
Floaters can be the water soldier, Stratiotes aloides and Frog bit, Hydrocharis morsus-ranae. Avoid the duckweeds and Fairy moss, Azolla unless you are contemplating having ducks.
The marginals are going to be planted in groups or swathes in the sand in your groove. Though many of the indigenous varieties can seem a little over zealous, seeming only intent in turning your pond into little more than a bog, there are often small, tame varieties of some of the more rampant species of water plant that will do. The wildlife will not notice the difference. The Reedmace family is an example of a very vigorous species of water plant whereas the Typha minima is a much more reserved foreign cousin.
HERE ARE SOME RELATIVELY TAME NATIVE MARGINALS SUITABLE FOR WILDLIFE PONDS
- Acorus calamus Scented Rush
- Alisma plantago Water Plantain
- Butomus umbellatus Flowering Rush
- Caltha palustris Marsh Marigold
- yperus longus Sweet Galingale
- Eriophorum angustifolium Cotton Grass
- Iris pseudacorus Yellow Flag
- Lysimachia nummularia Creeping Jenny
- Mimul;us guttatus luteus Monkey Musk
- Myosotis palustris Forget me Not
- Veronica beccabunga Brooklime
But between you and me, nothing is going to mind if you mix in a few of the more interesting flowers like the Irises, small Lythrums or the Lobelias.
ADDING OTHER INGREDIENTS
Frogs, toads and newts will get a sniff of your pond in the air and within three or four years there should a representative cross section of whatever exists in your area making your pond their home. If you are keen to introduce some frog spawn beware that there is not the deadly disease of Red leg in your area. It is triggered by the collapse of the frog immune system and seems to be spreading unabated partly because of spawn being moved from pond to pond. It is particularly bad in the South East of the UK.
As the pond matures different sorts of insects will be attracted to it at different stages of development. Your first visitor will be the pond skaters small beetles including boatmen and backswimmers and larvae of various sorts.
It is not until you get some cover around the edge and on the surface that the damsel flies :
Two common Damsels without colour prejudice) and dragonflies will pay any attention. They need somewhere to land to lay their eggs and then emerge out onto as mature nymphs ready to metamorphose.
When the pond is totally choked it forms an equally valuable habitat and becomes home to another range of animals like the pea mussel and the bladder snail.
Fish? It depends on what and how many. The general rule is, do not introduce species from the wild. Also remember that a fish is a huge drain on the resources of a small pool environment and will always be a detriment to the diversity of wildlife in the pond, for instance some breeds like tench will decimate the caddis fly population. Others like carp and catfish constantly stir up the bottom. Some like roach breed to such an extent that they ultimately consume all the resources of the pond. The fish population at the very maximum should not exceed 2 in (5cm) of fish per square foot of surface area. This translates to 16.5in (42cm) per 10 sq ft (1 square metre). So perhaps forget fish for this particular bit of the garden.
ROUGH GUIDE TO NON-POND FISH … SOME FISH OFFERED FOR SALE FOR PONDS THAT ARE NOT NECESSARILY SUITABLE.
At best these need special consideration if not total rejection.
- Barbel: may be predatory and they need plenty of oxygen.
- Bitterling: although a member of the Carp family, they are only suitable for deep ponds with a low pH 7-7.5. They need the fresh water mussel to breed as they lay their eggs in the gill cavity of the mollusc; in turn the mollusc lays its egg in the gill of the fish. This hatches into a weird shell-less alien creature that is parasitic on the fish until it has grown enough to be self-sufficient as a shellfish.(I hope you didnt try to read that bit aloud)
- Bream: these are bottom feeders and constantly stir up detritus making the water cloudy.
- Carp: make water cloudy in small ponds. Keep them separate from Bream.
- Catfish: hard as nails. Tolerates pollution, shrugs off parasites. Grows to an enormous size and will eat anything including all other fish; the sort of fish that ends up very lonely.
- Chubb: very predatory
- Grass Carp: Eats everything you dont want them to. They especially do not eat algae or blanket weed and have a nasty habit of jumping out.
- Gudgeon or Stone Loach: need a fine gravel substrata and plenty of oxygen. They bully small fish especially minnows.
- Minnows: get eaten by virtually everything else that eats live food They need to shoal for their own protection. They also need plenty of oxygen.
- Perch: carnivorous, aggressive and very upsetting. They will soon decimate those minnows.
- Pike: may be a way of getting rid of that Perch you accidentally introduced. A Pike, the perfect tool for removing unwanted fish from the pond)
- Sterlet sometimes referred to as Sturgeon: Need clean substrate to sift through on the bottom of the pool. They like a lot of room, depth and cool water. High protein sinking food or live food is essential for them.
- Sticklebacks: will harass and damage much larger fish than themselves. They are aggressive to anything red. Prone to whitespot disease and prefers live food. They are dangerous to other fish if eaten and males are dangerous to each other if there are more than two in a pond.
- Tench, the Doctor fish: they are said to have healing powers for other fish, possibly because they are so slimey and it has been seen that other fish sidle along side them possibly to pick up on this slime which is really just a thick mucous layer with some to spare. This mucous layer is every fishs only barrier to disease and is easily depleted in stressful conditions. If the Tench is the green one, take a good look at it before you put it in because it will be the last time you see it until it’s time to clear the pond out. You will know it is there because the mud will always be stirred up, living on the bottom, it will be going around consuming all the useful caddisfly and bottom dwelling grubs. It therefore needs needs to be in a large pool.
- Trout: need masses of oxygen and a gravel bottom. Visual feeders so the water needs to perfectly clear. They need 2mtrs depth and should never be mixed with Carp.