Creating a Wildlife Habitat – Ponds – Why and How
One of the best ways to create a hard-working, year-round, biodiverse habitat is by creating a wildlife pond or wetland.
Wetlands and ponds provide habitat and food sources to all kinds of wildlife; everything from pond-skaters to foxes can make use of a wetland or wildlife pond. It not only is a home but is also a much-needed water source in times of drought.
Ponds can be any size, shape or depth and still be great for wildlife. Single ponds are valuable however pond complexes are even more so; particularly if they have pools of different depths and it’s a worthy inclusion to have some temporary ponds which dry up every year. This variety increases the range of wildlife that can colonise a site, and will ensure useful habitats remain whatever the climate. Mimicking the natural connectedness of a wetland complex can have benefits. If there is a range of different waterbodies in an area, there is a much greater chance that, if a pond dries up permanently, the species can recolonise from another nearby waterbody. If not it will be lost forever, and gradually pond richness will decline.
New freshwater ponds can quickly become exceptionally rich habitats, supporting sensitive plants and animals. Ponds are easy and relatively cheap to make, and in the face of widespread pollution and climate change, pond creation is one of the quickest, simplest and most affordable things we can do to benefit wildlife. Animals and plants have evolved to live in ponds over many millions of years; the best way to protect pond wildlife today is to create waterbodies that mimic the wild ponds common in the past. Natural ponds come in all shapes, sizes and depths, and many are tiny and seasonal therefore it’s pretty easy to achieve the perfect wildlife pond!
Many land owners have places where ponds can flourish – woods and copses, areas of poorly drained land, field corners which are awkward or unprofitable to cultivate. Ensuring these new ponds have clean catchments will do much to benefit freshwater biodiversity of our countryside. When digging a pond or pond complex ensure that it’s not in former grazing land which will be likely very high in nutrients – it’s also wise to avoid intensively farmed grassland and any locations where fertilisers or pesticides are applied and could run off.
I would also suggest avoiding places likely to receive run off from roads, tracks, houses, yards or spoil heaps. Roof run-off is usually clean, but other urban surfaces are likely not to be.
Where possible don’t build a pond where it will have ditch or drain inflows – these kinds of inflows bring polluted water and silt into ponds, the silt they carry also rapidly fills ponds up. The best sources of water for new ponds are usually groundwater or rain and surface run off. If your pond is to be located within a floodplain, which will probably have a great water supply of groundwater, you must ensure that all the soil you have excavated to create the pond or pond complex is removed from the floodplain itself.
It is worth mentioning at this point that some ponds will require planning permission, even small shallow ones. We would advise contacting your local planning officer for clarification of whether planning approval will be needed for a change of use in your area.
Once you’ve chosen your appropriate location, planned (including obtained permission where necessary) and dug your natural pond it can be enormously tempting to add plants – aesthetically this would be pleasing to us however it’s best left bare. There are good ecological reasons for not stocking ponds the bare sand or clay and plant-free conditions that new ponds provide create a very special wildlife habitat. A pond can have a lifetime of 100 years or more and the early bare stage is fleeting enough. Don’t shorten it – enjoy what makes a new pond so special.
When creating a new pond, you will be surprised by the remarkable speed with which plants and animals arrive. Water bugs and beetles will often arrive in within hours, especially if you dig your pond (or wetland complex) during the summer months. Most other insect families – mayflies and dragonflies for instance – and some annual water plants can become established within the first summer. Flatworms, snails, and submerged plants will usually arrive within a few years. Within two or three years after a new fresh water pond is made, it can be as rich and biodiverse as a 50 year old pond – and it has formed entirely organically.
More importantly, though, new ponds provide a distinctive habitat type which has its own value and is very different to older ponds.
Anyone can create a pond as I’ve said, with the right location and a bit of hard work you can create a brilliant, biodiverse habitat. If you require specific guidance in relation to your wetland project please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org