With having two young boys, things that crawl, slime and buzz are regular features in our lives.
One of the drivers for moving to a house on a decent sized plot was to create an area dedicated to wildlife so our kids could learn first hand about nature. I spent the early part of my working life as an ecologist (hence I suppose I could be somewhat accountable for the children’s attraction to the creepy crawly) so one of the big dreams was to provide a thriving hub for all things wild…..and so began the creation of our wildlife pond.
A site was identified on the edge of the woodland, slightly sunny, slightly shady not under too many trees and most importantly, almost level (which can help considerably if your aim is to have water in a pond!). After much consideration we decided on the manageable pond size of 4m by 2.5m, large enough for pond dipping but not too large that it could potentially flood the house should there be too much rain. The shape of the pond was laid out, natural enough but not too complicated and we were ready to go.
With once again grand dreams we located the spades and started digging. This continued and continued and continued for many hours and eventually we’d succeeded in digging down about 4 inches!! It was at this moment, when we stood back to admire our complete ineptitude, that we decided that hiring a mini excavator would be a necessity.
There are fewer things in this world that will invoke a child like excitement in a group of grown adults than having the opportunity to use a mini excavator to dig a big hole. After the flurry of family, friends and neighbours had dissipated, playtime was over and about an hour later the task was complete. The pond was finally starting to take shape. The ease and speed in which this was achieved made the previous hand digging efforts feel even more soul destroying, a lesson we will certainly be taking forward.
Now the bulk of the effort was done it was a case of establishing the optimum levels, slope and depths to best attract and serve the local wildlife. It is preferable to have a gentle slope leading into the pond, with shelves of mixed depths which will suit a varying range of creatures. A wildlife pond is different to that of a standard garden pond, it does not require a significantly deep base (about 0.70m will suffice) and it is important to ensure enough of a shallow area for access in and out, allowing wildlife to enter and exit the pond easily (in particular small mammals who may use the pond to drink)
Once any sharp rocks etc had been removed, the ground pounded flat and the felt underlay and rubber lining laid, the pond was finally ready for that rather important aspect…the water. After emptying all the water butts, along with every other rain water storing container on the plot (including that of the partly deflated children paddling pool which had been accidentally left out the week before) we rapidly realised that we were going to have to accept that tap water would have to be used in order to be ready for planting at any point this year. Tap water is not the ideal due to its higher nitrate levels resulting in an increased likelihood of algae and weed build up, however we decided to take the chance, knowing that once established it would be topped up solely with rainwater.
There are many websites specifically tailored for building a wildlife pond (for example those found on RHS & Wildlife Trusts sites), jam-packed with information on ideal sizes, layouts, locations etc however the underlying fact is that no matter what you create, be it a lake the size of a small country, or a puddle smaller than a washing up bowl……wildlife will benefit. The provision of water allows for opportunities for shelter, feeding, drinking and procreating to a range of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates.
That being said, one aspect that can certainly aid the attraction of a range of species is the selection of a suitable mix of native, non invasive plants, both in the pond itself and the surrounding habitat.
Around the edge of the pond was built a small dry stone wall with a soil mound at the rear and a couple of log piles with a number of large logs being partly submerged. The hope is that this will provide suitable shelter for the wildlife frequenting the area and enable the creation of natural invertebrate hotels. We also created a shallow area similar to that of a bog garden with a gravel substrate, which provides a transition area between the pond itself and woodland floor.
As for the plants, we went to a mail order company to get a small selection of initial plants to get established, with the hope that once the growing season was back underway these would spread and hopefully be joined by a mix of self seeders further down the line. As a starter we chose plants for each of the levels including such as Butomus umbellatus, Caltha palustris, Lythrum salicaria, Myosotis scorpioides along with transferring a few water lillies from another water feature elsewhere in the garden.
Now all that remains is to wait for the sediment to settle and watch the pond develop and mature. Within 2 weeks the pond had already more than delivered, as the shrieks of joy from my children rang out across the woodland at the mere sight of the dragonflies we saw bobbing and weaving in the ponds general area…….and as a side, it also turns out we’ve created the hottest new hangout for the local pigeon population.