Ponds for wildlife
17 October 2007
Almost any water body, whatever its size, will have some wildlife value, even if only as a drinking place for birds. However, this value can be greatly increased if the pond is well designed and maintained.
Ponds support a huge variety of invertebrates. They include pond-skaters, water beetles, pond snails, freshwater mussels, harmless leeches, and many other species too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Dragonflies and damselflies
Some common species of dragonfly and damselfly will breed in ponds.
The larvae need shallow, sheltered water and submerged plants as cover and hunting habitat. They will eat other insects, fish fry and tadpoles and need taller plants to crawl up when they emerge as adults.
Garden ponds are important for frogs and became very important refuges in the 1960s when frogs suffered a serious decline.
In general, amphibians and fish do not mix well because fish will eat tadpoles. Small fish, such as sticklebacks or minnows, can provide interest without eating too many tadpoles.
Ponds that dry out occasionally can be good for amphibians because fish will not survive. Amphibians are quite long-lived, and can afford to miss an occasional breeding season.
Areas of dense vegetation adjacent to the pond benefits amphibians. Although they feed in many habitats, they favour a corridor of cover to move in and out of ponds. This is especially important to emerging froglets and toadlets, which can be susceptible to lawnmowers. You can also provide logs and stones for shelter.
Amphibians are good colonisers of new ponds, and will appear once your pond is established enough to support them. Transferring spawn or adults should be considered only as a last resort.
Frogs in many parts of southern England suffer from red-leg, which is a condition that causes deformation of the hind legs and premature death of the frog. Moving frogs may introduce this disease to new areas.
Please remember that it is illegal to move great crested newts or natterjack toads without a licence.
Many small birds will drink and bathe in a small pond, but wetland species are only likely to breed on larger ponds. Birds like a low branch or log in the middle of the pond from which to drink and bathe in safety.
Deterring unwelcome visitors
Some people wish to deter grey herons from fish ponds. A barrier of two wires, one 35 cm high, the other 20 cm high, placed one above the other around the edge, or a vertical edge to the pond with a drop of at least 35 cm to the water can help to deter them, if you have fish you don’t want to lose.
Frogs, toads and hedgehogs find it hard to climb out of straight-sided ponds. A ladder of near-vertical plastic mesh, secured top and bottom and extending below the water will help hedgehogs to escape, and is unlikely to be exploited by herons.