Grey heron Ardea cinerea, flying above trees, Co. Durham

Herons and garden fish ponds

Herons and garden ponds - if you have fish, this may be a combination you're hoping to avoid.

Heron problems

Although your garden pond is attractive and provides an extra habitat for wildlife, it can also attract herons. If you keep fish in your pond, this could be a problem.

There are many ways that a garden pond can be made less attractive to herons, but remember that many of the ways of ‘heron proofing’ a pond will also deny its use to other wildlife.

If you are likely to have a persistent heron problem, it might be preferable to forget about the fish and turn the pond into a thriving wildlife pond, where the heron would be a welcome component.

Young herons teach themselves to fish and when they leave their nest in June and July, small garden ponds are attractive to them because they often provide easy fishing. Quite understandably, herons will respond to a garden pond in a comparable way to a blue tit being attracted to a nut feeder.

Herons eat mostly fish but also take amphibians and small mammals, with small quantities of reptiles, insects, crustaceans, molluscs, worms and birds. Herons fish mostly at dawn and dusk so they are rarely noticed.

Even ponds with ornamental fish can attract herons, which is something to keep in mind if you would prefer not to receive any visits!

Are herons protected?

In Great Britain the heron is protected at all times under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, with fines or prison sentences available for anyone killing or attempting to kill one (see A brief guide to birds and the law, linked from this page, for further details). The heron is also protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.

Government licences to kill small numbers of herons can be issued in very limited circumstances. These would normally be issued to owners of commercial fisheries where all other non-lethal methods have been shown to be ineffective. 

There is no provision to issue such licences to protect ornamental fish. Owners of ornamental fish ponds who are concerned about the activities of herons should try and use preventative methods to make the area less attractive to herons and provide protection for the fish.

Grey heron Ardea cinerea illustration

Pond design and management

Reducing the likelihood of herons eating fish from a garden pond is most effective if taken into account when designing the pond. 

Consider what makes a pond attractive to herons, and incorporate a range of features that would make it difficult for a heron to get to the fish. 

The least attractive pond and easiest to protect is the small, steep-sided ornamental variety with a good covering of lily pads harbouring half a dozen goldfish in a small urban garden. 

The most attractive to herons (and very difficult to protect) is a large, unenclosed pond with gently sloping earth banks, leaping with fish, on a river floodplain near a heronry.

The main house at the Lodge RSPB reserve, UK headquaters of the RSPB, Sandy, Bedfordshire

How to stop herons eating pond fish

Grey heron Ardea cinerea, wading near reeds, Leighton Moss RSPB reserve

Find out how to stop heron eating pond fish with this list of deterrent methods. Some of these methods require more planning than others.

Grey heron deterrents for ponds

Landscapes in the Thames Estuary near the site on reclaimed marshland on the Isle of Grain which is expected to be identified as a potential site for an airport in the Government's upcoming aviation consultation.

If you have a pond in your garden and are finding herons are a problem, we've listed a few ways to deter herons and keep your fish safe.