Four-spotted chaser

Wildlife in ponds

Water is one of the greatest gifts you can give to nature in your garden. It plays host to an array of amazing creatures and touches the lives of most of the wildlife we get in our outdoor spaces.

Invertebrates

Those familiar with pond dipping will know ponds are home to a huge variety of interesting invertebrates.

Invertebrates are animals without a backbone, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some only like very clean water, others are less fussy. Many eat algae and plants, but some are carnivorous and eat other small animals to survive. 

Some of the more likely suspects that you might see in your ponds include:

  • Pond-skaters
  • Water snails
  • Leeches and worms
  • Water beetles
  • Water boatmen
  • Freshwater mussels
  • Larvae (caddisfly, alderfly, dragonfly and damselfly to name a few)

They're all an important part of the ecosystem and welcome inhabitants to our garden water features!

Medicinal leech

Dragonflies and damselflies

Dragonflies are beautiful creatures and it’s always special to see them up close.

They’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and a pond is a great way to encourage these ‘Jurassic visitors’ to visit your present day garden!

In fact, your garden pond can attract a whole host of amazing flying invertebrates, including:

  • Dragonfly
  • Damselfly
  • Mayfly
  • Alderfly
  • Caddisfly

We may first come across these flying insects in egg or larvae form. They’ll exist in our ponds as young larvae or nymphs, preying on the other insects, tadpoles and fish that live there. Eventually, climbing out of the water on tall plants, before emerging from their shells as their final winged selves! 

Large red damselfly

Amphibians

Frogs and other amphibians are a familiar and much-loved visitor to our garden ponds. 

The common frog especially, is a regular inhabitant of our garden water features and many of us enjoy watching the cycle of their lives unfold, from spawn to tadpole, to fully grown frog. 

Other amphibians that you might be lucky enough to find in your pond include:

  • Common toad
  • Palmate newt
  • Smooth newt
  • Great crested newt

Other amphibians which you’re unlikely to find in your gardens are the pool frog and natterjack toad, both of which are much rarer and only found in specific sites or types of habitat.

There are a number of things you can do to help give amphibians the best home in your pond. 

  • You can make sure the water has lots of nice oxygenating plants.
  • Don’t be afraid of a little bit of algae. Tadpoles will love to eat it!
  • Make sure that you pond has a gradual slope, so that young frogs and toadlets can easily hop out.
  • Providing platforms, either as part of the pond itself, or with rocks, logs or even lillypads, can give frogs and toads somewhere to bask and breathe above the water. 
  • It’s a good idea to have areas of vegetation in and around the pond, so that it can be used as cover.
  • Be careful about having or introducing fish to the pond. Some species may eat tadpoles. 
  • Stones and logs are also great to provide shelter.

Amphibians are very good at making a home even in new ponds – so don’t worry about transferring in spawn unless it’s absolutely necessary. As they can live for quite a long time, they can sometimes afford to miss a breeding season, so don’t be too concerned about the absence of spawn some years.

It’s a good idea not to move amphibians in general. Some, especially in southern England, can suffer from a condition called red-leg and moving them can spread the disease. 

If you are lucky enough to come across great crested newts or natterjack toads, please be aware that it’s illegal to move these at all without a license. 

Common frog Rana temporaria, resting on log, West Midlands

Birds and ponds

Many of the small birds which visit our gardens will also use small ponds to drink and bathe. If you have a particularly large pond, you might even see wetland birds or waterfowl. 

It’s important to make sure ponds are safe for the birds which stop by. By introducing low-hanging branches, shallow platforms, sloping sides and logs or platforms in the middle of a pond we can give small birds a safe place to bath and drink.

Planting and general upkeep can help to make sure there are lots of appetising insects for any insect-eating birds. 

One bird which might be less welcome at some ponds, is the heron. Some people wish to deter curious herons from their ponds. A barrier of two wires, one 35 cm high, the other 20 cm high, placed above and around the edge, or a vertical edge to the pond with a drop of at least 35 cm to the water can help to put them off, if you have fish you don’t want to lose!

House sparrow male bathing in garden pond. Co. Durham