wildlife pond

What Is A Wildlife Pond? Things To Consider Before Building One.

A wildlife pond is a body of water in your garden, large or small, which is created to encourage natural plants and wildlife to flourish in the space.

These ponds are an alternative option to the standard goldfish or Koi pond. They are natural ponds that can add a beautiful and different dimension to your yard.

What Is A Wildlife Pond?

A pond in your yard, even if it is all self-contained, brings with it the atmosphere of flowing water. Moving and bubbling water is found by many, to have calming and restorative powers, bringing feelings of peace and harmony to your space.

A garden pond sounds so idyllic and even the planning part is enjoyable. If you have been thinking about building a pond in your backyard there are a few decisions you need to make before getting started.

There are a few different kinds of ponds, each one with their own benefits and their own special features. Each one brings its own challenges and its own joys.

wildlife pond
This is a perfect example of a wildlife pond using a rigid pond liner

What Are The Different Kinds Of Ponds?

If you like the idea of a lovely water feature in your garden, there are several different ways you can accomplish this. There are three main kinds of pond:- in-ground ponds, container ponds and wildlife ponds.

An in-ground pond or container pond are both self-contained, in that the water is treated and the plants and fish are looked after as a separate environment to the rest of the yard. These kinds of ponds will sit beautifully within your garden but are still separate entities of their own.

You can use chemicals in these kinds of ponds, and house plants and fish in them that wouldn’t normally fit in with your natural local environment. If your aim is to create an ornamental fish pond, a self-contained pond is the best way to go.

A wildlife pond is built to blend naturally in with its local environment. It doesn’t have to be naturally formed – you can make a man-made wildlife pond, and we will chat more about how further on. But it does have to be created to fuse naturally with the plants and fauna around it.

What Is The Purpose Of A Wildlife Pond?

The purpose of a wildlife pond is to encourage the plants and animals of your native environment to flourish in your yard.

The water is treated naturally to encourage wildlife, and the plants used will be those which aren’t pests locally to other vegetation or other animals in the waterways.

frog in a pond
Frogs are just one creature that will be attracted to your wildlife pond

The idea of a wildlife pond is to help the wildlife in your area. Wildlife ponds in the UK for instance, can invite frogs and toads, birds, and even the odd hedgehog or newt.

Creatures encouraged into your garden by wildlife ponds can include:

  • Toads and frogs and their eggs and tadpoles
  • Newts
  • Grass snakes
  • Waterbirds such as herons and kingfishers
  • Thirsty mammals like hedgehogs and foxes
  • Water dwellers like pond snails, dragonfly larvae and water boatmen

As many as one-third of native ponds across the countryside have disappeared over the last fifty years due to climate change, pollution and commercial and residential development. Frogs, toads and newts would reportedly not be able to continue to spawn and flourish if it weren’t for backyard ponds.

Can You Keep Fish In Wildlife Ponds?

While you don’t have to keep fish in your wildlife pond, many people do. If you keep fish, make sure that they are native to your area, and that they don’t dominate the pond ecosystem, eating up all the plants, insects and spawn.

If you want to keep fish, you may wish to consider two separate ponds so that the fish don’t take over. Or, create areas of your pond that the fish can’t get to and that have lots of plants for amphibians to hide and spawn, away from the fishy predators.

dragonfly
Dragonflies are attracted to wildlife ponds

You may need to decide if you want to favor fish or wildlife because it can be difficult to manage a nice balance of both in this kind of pond (especially if it is small).

Things To Consider When Building A Wildlife Pond 

There aren’t too many restrictions when you are building a wildlife pond apart from keeping things as natural as possible. You can make them as big or small as you like for the animals, but you do need to make the space safe for humans in the vicinity.

Depending on where you live in the world there will likely be regulations to adhere to which keep children safe from bodies of water. In the UK you are advised to drain or fence any ponds if you have children under the age of six, and in Australia and the US, you have to have a fence around any body of water deeper than 30cm (18 inches).

In terms of what will encourage wildlife, however, you don’t need a certain size, shape or even depth really. Anything from a meter wide to around at least 60cm deep in one part is enough to encourage growth and wildlife.

You can submerge a large bucket or half-barrel into the ground and create the same effect as digging a huge pond. The larger it is, the more likely you will encourage wildlife, however.

Find That Natural Eco-Balance

Wildlife ponds tend to work better in natural gardens and spaces that aren’t perfectly manicured and controlled. You will need to let your pond go a little, giving it the freedom to develop the ecosystem that it needs – including algae and good bacteria for the wildlife.

You can make a wildlife pond from a preformed pond shape that you can buy ready-made, or you can buy a rubber pond liner or PVC sheeting and create your own.

Preformed ponds are usually plastic or fiberglass and are designed mostly for self-contained ponds (for ornamental fish only) rather than for use as wildlife ponds. If you use a preformed pond shape, you will need to add slopes using soil or piles of pebbles for the wildlife to climb in and out.

koi fish
Fish or No Fish it’s up to you. Not every wildlife pond has fish

Natural Ponds That Blend Into Their Surroundings

The key to a wildlife pond is to make it blend seamlessly with the natural environment. While garden ponds are a separate, controlled ecosystem within your garden space, a wildlife pond fuses with the garden around it.

While the shape isn’t essential, most people will create a curved pond rather than one with straight edges. This looks more natural and also allows more nooks and crannies for animals to nest and hide.

Create a shape that allows a way in and out for your wildlife friends. You can build some piles of stones or bricks in areas of the pond or even a kind of wooden pier, any of which are helpful for them (and super cute).

Some shallow or shelved areas of shallow water are good for basking creatures and tadpoles who like warm water.

Choose a part of your yard that has some shade as well as getting some sunlight. While sunlight does promote the growth of algae, it also brings the wildlife, so putting up with some algae development in your pond is worth it. Frogs and toads love warm, sunny spaces to lay their eggs.

Don’t put your pond underneath large trees, especially deciduous ones, as the pond will clog up with leaves every autumn.

Building A Wildlife Pond

With the base you use for your pond, the more you invest in quality material, the longer it will last. If you are using a rubber pond liner and creating your own shape, it is advisable to add another layer underneath such as soft sand or even an old carpet. This protects the rubber liner from punctures by rocks or sticks.

If you are using rubber liner and creating your own shape, there is a handy calculator here to work out how much liner you will need for your preferred size pond.

Mark out the shape that you want to dig out and dig straight sides until you create the depth that you want. Measure the depth to make sure that you create an even depth all-around before you try the create sloped sides and varying depths and shapes.

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Remove any sharp stones or pebbles from the hole when finished. Lay your base protection such as sand or old carpet if you are using rubber liner, or just pop your preformed shape straight in.

A rubber liner will move and stretch as the water fills it, so it is a good idea to part fill the pond before finishing the edges.

When the pond is filled you will need at least 30cm of rubber liner for the border all around.

Keep the soil that you are digging out to one side. Use the lower soil, which will be less fertile, to make slopes inside the pond on top of the liner for animals to get in and out. The topsoil, you should pile up around the edges at the top of the pond to create a natural-looking bank to start your plants growing in.

Don’t fill a wildlife pond with untreated tap water – the best way to fill a pond is to source rainwater or let it fill up naturally over time with a few storms. You can set up a water butt in your yard to collect rainwater runoff from your roof. You can, however, use tap water that has been treated to remove chlorine and chloramines – you can buy products to do this.

Make sure that any garden fertilizers or pesticides you use won’t harm the wildlife in your pond if it washes in.

Filters and pumps are necessary for ornamental fish ponds, but not for ponds where you wish to encourage frogs and other wildlife. Oxygenating plants will do the trick.

Rigid Pond Liners

Rigid pond liners are made from High-Density Polyethylene material and will not chip, crack or fade. 

Installing a rigid pond liner is not as easy as using a liner. This is due to the fact that you’ll need to prepare the hole to exactly to the measurements and level the ledges before you install it. With a liner, it shapes to whatever hole you have dug.

The benefit of using a preformed pond liner is that you can see the final shape of the pond in advance. This makes preparing the hole where you’re going to install the pond easier to dig.

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How To Decorate A Wildlife Pond

One of the most enjoyable parts about creating your own backyard wildlife pond is decorating it. You should aim for a natural look that is lush and inviting to the many creatures you would like in your garden.

Pebbles and stones are lovely around the edges, and you could consider adding a little wooden plank, or little piles of logs and rocks for a rockery.

yellow flag iris
Yellow Flag Iris make for a lovely wildlife plant. Image Credits here.

You need a number of different kinds of plants in wildlife ponds, including:

  • Marginal plants
  • Oxygenating plants
  • Floating-leaved plants

Stick only to those plants which are native to your area. Some that work well in Temperate zones include:

  • Yellow flag iris
  • Cuckoo flower
  • Gipsywort
  • Flowering-rush
  • Water mint
  • Bogbean
  • Rigid hornwort
  • Common water starwort
  • Common water-crowfoot
  • Curled pondweed
  • Water-starwort
  • Water-violet
  • Willow moss
  • Broad-leaved pondweed
  • Fringed waterlily
  • Yellow waterlily
  • Amphibious bistort
  • Brooklime
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Lesser pond sedge
  • Lesser spearwort
  • Marsh-marigold
  • Rushes
  • Water forget-me-not
  • Water plantain

You can plant rooted plants in submerged baskets or hessian squares of packed soil so that you don’t need to dig holes through your liner.

There is a wonderfully in-depth article for building the best wildlife pond environment by Froglife click here 🔁

Be Patient

You shouldn’t need to add any spawn or wildlife specifically, just sit back and let your pond encourage wildlife to come to you. Frogs and toads will spawn in early spring, but it can take months for your pond to establish its own ecosystem, so they may not arrive the first year. Be patient, and soon you will be enjoying all the joys of your own wildlife pond

F.A.Q

  • How deep should a wildlife pond be? No deeper the 1 foot unless you’re planning on adding fish
  • What animals will a wildlife pond attract? They will attract a variety of interesting creatures like frogs, toads, newts and dragonflies. Birds and insects will all come to enjoy your stunning wildlife pond
  • Do you need gravel in a wildlife pond? Gravel will add a more natural feel to your pond like a river. It’s better than seeing the liner base
  • Should I fill my pond with tap water? You can fill your pond with a hosepipe for a quick result or leave it for weeks to fill naturally with rainwater. Either of which is fine.
  • Can you add a waterfall or water feature? A waterfall will help to keep the water oxygenated as well as making it look very attractive.

Conclusion: What Is A Wildlife Pond?

Now that you know what a wildlife pond is you can decide what’s best for you. There is nothing better in a natural country yard to have a beautiful natural pond.

I can picture it now, sitting in the summer yard, sipping a cool drink and watching my wildlife pond as the sun goes down.

Fish or no fish, a wildlife pond will add a touch of class to any yard.