UPDATED 2nd May 2009: See the whole process from start to finish in pictures here.
The Million Ponds Project will make wonderful clean water, naturally colonised, ponds in the coutryside. You can do the same thing at home by following the simple steps below.
Clean water is key
Really clean water is essential for making the best wildlife ponds. One of the great things about gardens is it’s possible to make ponds which are actually cleaner, and less polluted, than most ponds in the countryside.
Many people fill their new pond with tap water. This is a bad idea because, even though tap water is safe for drinking, it’s often not clean enough for your pond! And for the best wildlife pond don’t add soil, or fish food, or fertilizers or upside down turves – indeed anything that adds nutrients or other chemicals in unnatural concentrations to the water. The pond doesn’t need them.
To fill the pond it’s best to use rainwater – you can collect this in water butts. If you happen to have a stream flowing through your garden – avoid using the water from it! Away from remote mountain areas it’ll probably be polluted, and will pollute your pond.
Natural edges and shallow water
If you have really clean water in a pond it doesn’t much matter what shape or depth it is – it will be have great potential as a wildlife habitat. But natural ponds have natural edges and most of the wildlife lives in the shallow water at the edges of the pond, in water no more than an inch or so (2 cm) deep. This is really shallow, half length of your little finger!
And unless you’re keeping big fish, the water needs to be no more than a couple of feet deep (say 50 cm) in the middle. In those shallow edges let grasses grow, or maybe low growing marginal plants that can trail into the water.
Let wildlife come to your pond naturally
People often add a bucket of sludge to ‘get the pond started’. But there’s no need to do this if your pond is clean and natural – animals and even water plants will colonise naturally (though plants may take a year or two). And if you can resist the temptation to add things you will have that thrill of seeing animals, and maybe plants, arriving under their own steam.
And remember that new ponds are not ‘empty’ but a special kind of habitat – the place where the plants and animals that like bare sediments and no competition can live for a short time – until the pond becomes more mature.
If you can’t resist adding plants get them from somewhere nearby – a local pond, river or stream. Remember you can pick common plants with the landowner’s permission, but stay away from nature reserves that may have specially protected species which it is never permitted to pick. Try not to move things further than a wandering cow or pond hopping duck might move them.
Really shallow water is great for wildlife
Most garden ponds don’t have enough shallow water. The greatest variety wildlife in ponds lives in the very shallow water and tadpoles, newt larvae, water beetles, dragonflies: all love these really shallow areas. A planting shelf that you see on many pre-formed liners is, as far as wildlife is concerned, deep water!
Make as much shallow water as you can for the best wildlife ponds.
What about fish?
Fish are a natural part of the wildlife of bigger ponds but too many fish in a small pond is bad news for almost everything else.
A pond with ornamental fish won’t be totally lifeless but there’s not much chance of seeing the range of wildlife that lives in a clean, natural pond – unless you’ve got a huge garden, and can make a very big pond. So if you’re keen on fish, we recommend that have two ponds: an ornamental pond for your fish and a second pond for wildlife.
Should I add plants?
Almost everyone adds plants to their ponds – but natural ponds can colonise perfectly well without this help, and recently we’ve realised that garden ponds can also colonise naturally.
Plants are a natural part of pond’s wildlife and they provide habitats for animals: somewhere to lay eggs, somewhere to feed and a place to live.
The most natural ponds have a mixture of emergent, floating-leaved and underwater aquatic plants. With a good clean pond you can get all of these in your pond too.
If you want to buy plants make sure that you don’t accidentally bring along unwanted non-native species at the same time – many of these have escaped from garden ponds and are causing a lot of damage. Here is a list of plants to avoid.
Your pond is not a bath – you don’t need to scrub it clean!
The best wildlife ponds naturally have sediments, fallen leaves, twigs and branches on the bottom and plenty of plants in the water.
You don’t need to pull these out to keep your pond in ‘good condition’. They are the habitat of animals in the pond – if you do clean them out, you pull out the animal’s habitat as well.