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UK and Ireland Part 2 Pond Life and how to make a wildlife pond

 

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PART 1 - Introduction - your garden and how to help bring back wildlife
you are here> PART 2 - Pond life & how to make a wildlife pond
PART 3 - Mammals, birds, plants and insects - environment and care
PART 4 - Reduce food miles and grow your own fruit and veg
Further information for Schools

As we've already mentioned, the world's amphibian population is disappearing at an alarming rate. At the same time, natural wildlife ponds and bog areas are disappearing - being drained in both the countryside by encroaching development as well as in the back gardens of many homes. Environmentally unfriendly trends in gardening mean that many house-owners are designing their gardens with no respect for how the local wildlife might interact with it. Besides excessive shingle and decking, another negative aspect of garden design is the "water feature". These purely decorative affectations involve a circulatory system of electric pumps which passes water around a series of channels tubes and ramps, finally ending up in a concrete bucket or small pond with hard, high walls containing a few ornamental fish. They are sold by pretentious designers and bought by equally ignorant home-design junkies as "stress relieving spaces while harmonizing with the natural environment" but in fact have nothing whatsoever to do with a genuinely evolved natural environment for wildlife.

Wildlife ponds are easy to make ... Here's how

You can play an important part in helping to reverse the trend of "style over nature" or even the greenwashing that accompanies garden designer affectations; trying to make themselves sound "organically tuned".
The solution is to make a natural wildlife pond. Besides being a education in itself you will playing an important role in helping to reverse the damage that designer water features and decked gardens are causing to our dwindling wetland wildlife, all for the cost of just a few pounds.

But before we start - a word about goldfish, ornamental ponds and the environment

Goldfish or any ornamental fish and wildlife ponds just don't mix. If you want to build an ornamental pond then you are looking at the wrong web site. However, there's no reason why you shouldn't consider having both types of ponds in your garden (as long as they are at least 15 metres apart to prevent contamination of the natural pond).
It is simply untrue that fish keep down the algae in ponds. In fact fish generate excessive amounts of body waste, which causes a build up of sludge and other toxic based problems for other pond-life, plants and water. By laying out a fish-free wildlife pond in the right mix of shade and sunlight, your pond water will naturally manage itself throughout a yearly cycle.
Goldfish eat dragonfly eggs, newt eggs, toad eggs and many other pond insect eggs. Such fish are simply an alien species when added to a wildlife pond whereby the ecology of this mini ecosystem is destroyed.
To enjoy a real wildlife pond you need a little patience at first before you begin to see signs of underwater life, but when it eventually kicks in, the diversity of creatures large and small will soon fulfill your wildest expectations. It will prove far more interesting than a few "caged" ornamental fish and at the same time you will be playing your part in VeggieGlobal's aim to encourage the re-establishment of natural pond ecosystems across the world.

Laying the Foundations

First, choose an area of your garden that gets an equal measure of full sunlight and shade - Dappled sunlight caused by trees and shrubs is the ideal environment to make any natural pond flourish. This is to allow not only the pond plants to grow to balanced level, but also to help your tadpoles develop properly. (Not enough light or warmth can stop tadpoles turning into frogs). Natural ponds flourish best in these conditions also because the presence of algae stays well balanced. While providing food for the pondlife the algae doesn't spread out of control from too much sunlight. With naturally occurring, balanced light and shade this micro wetland ecosystem should become the perfect catalyst to help the new life in your pond flourish. Over a year cycle you may find the pond gets cloudy at times while other times you will notice it becomes crystal clear. This shows that your pond is perfectly balanced.
NOTE: Never build a pond next to a sycamore tree.
A decent small size pond would be around 2.5 metres by 1.5. So for a pond this size you will need at pond liner and underliner which is at least twice the length and twice the width of the pond. This is to allow for what you loose in depth, shape and edge tucking.
It's important to make sure you dig an area of the pond deeper than around 90cm. This is so that if your pond freezes during harsh winters there is still unfrozen water under the ice where pond life can survive.
Make sure that around two thirds of the pond edges lead up to a shallow edge, like a beach effect. When digging your pond, remove the top soil first and pile it separately on the side. You will need some of this later when you have finished the pond.
After you have dug your pond area remove as many sharp stones in the pond walls and bottom as you can. The earth you have removed can be used as a base for a background rockery area for frogs and toads to find shelter amongst rocks and plants.
Now line the pond with a layer or two of old news papers and magazines (making sure to remove any metal staples).
Next, put a fairly thick layer of polythene sheeting over the news papers making sure that there's plenty of spare sheeting left over the edges of the pond.
Finally, lay in the pond liner itself. A good quality liner, again making sure that there's plenty of excess liner left around the edge of the pond. DO NOT cut the pond liner edges until you have filled the pond with water and have read the rest of these instructions!

Fill the pond up with water to the point where it begins to spill over the edge.
TIP: If you can collect a few buckets of rain water this will help naturalize the pond water.
Flatten the excess liner around the edges of the pond and now cut off the excess leaving an even 12 cm overlap.
With a cement trowel or other flat spade type tool, cut a 16cm deep slit into the earth about 4cm below the water line THIS IS IN-BETWEEN THE POND LINER AND THE INNER EARTH WALL OF THE POND UNDERNEATH THE SURROUNDING GRASS - (so pull the pond liner back to do this). Go right around the inside edge of the pond to create this "slit". When finished gently lift the slit up with the trowel creating a gap and begin tucking in the access pond liner into the slit and therefore underneath the grass. If you don't have grass then simply open up the earth around the edge and hide the liner underneath about 4cms of earth.
The end result is a neat grass edge, and most importantly, easy entry and exit for all the pond life. Stoned edges and high banks are no use in a natural pond environment. Besides, hedgehogs can fall in at night and drown if they can't climb back out of the pond again.
Leave the pond to settle for a couple of days.

Now the magic ingredient.

Find three or four large plastic mineral water / soft drink bottles and rinse. With your bottles, take a trip to a long established NATURAL woodland wildlife pond where you know there are frogs, toads and other activity. Fill your bottles up with the pond water, (but remember, no fish). Bring them back and empty them into the middle of your new pond. Find out from your local wildlife group where an ancient pond might be. Such a pond would have been established for perhaps tens of thousands of years and will be full of microorganisms and nutrients that constitute the perfect elixir that will bring your own pond to a natural state very quickly. It's the biological kick start needed to seed life and encourage pond visitors.
NOTE: When we say a natural wildlife pond to get your magic ingredient, we mean just this - not your Auntie Joyce's or friend's garden pond. Doing so will completely defeat the object and you also risk passing on all kinds of artificial pond diseases into your new pond.

Introducing Pond Plants and Pond Habitats

Now that you have finished making your pond it's time to add the plants and grasses:
Put back a couple shovels of top soil into the deepest area of the pond to create a muddy bottom. And lay another heaped shovel full of earth where you are going to plant some reeds.
NOTES ON SOIL: If possible make sure that any soil you put into the pond is free of chemical fertilizers or weed-killers. Remember that previous house-owners may have been using weed-killers, grass treatments and chemical fertilizers before you took over the garden. If you think your garden has suffered this kind of abuse then try and source soil which you know is free of such pollutants. (Remember chemical pollutants can stay active in soil for many years)
Some pond plants grow better in less fertile soil so check the growing conditions of the pond plant before planting it in soil that may be too rich.

The banks of your pond should be grassy. Make sure around a half of the ponds edge is left to grow long grass (and the rest can be short cut grass). The long stems will eventually hang over the pond as it grows. Frogs love these areas and grassy banks provide good cover for them. The long grass will also act as a perfect climbing frame for dragonfly larvae. They climb out of the water and attach themselves to grass or flower stems where they change into dragonflies. (More on this later)

After a week put a couple of water snails in the pond. You don't need more than this as water snails breed easily and they will help keep your water clean.

Note: Don't introduce any fish into your natural wildlife pond.

Make sure you leave a lot of the surrounding area of your wildlife pond to grow natural long grass and vegetation at least two metres around parts of the pond. This provides habitat for small animals and pond creatures.
Another welcome addition right next to your wildlife pond would be a bog garden. Using the same principles as described in making a pond, dig a hole (for example meter square) around half a meter deep line it with pond liner then fill it back up with soil and soak heavily with water. Plant a selection of bog / water plants. This makes a great extension to your pond project.

Get your water plants from a specialized water garden centre. There are many commercial garden centres that are selling water plants which are alien to our habitat. Avoid these at all costs. Some of these plants have escaped garden ponds and our now choking many waterways around the British Isles. Make sure that you source only legal plants that aren't going to take over the pond and suffocate it. Also be absolutely sure that the plants you choose are free of blanket weed. And if you see green furry looking stuff tangling the water plants or even in the plant tanks of garden centres, don't buy it. You'll just end up infesting your own pond with this choking mess. Do plenty of research in advance of sourcing your pond plants to ensure the very best chance of obtaining plants (and rocks if neccessary) that are genuinely free of disease etc. (If you a putting rocks in your pond from an unknown source it is worth placing them in saucepan of boiling water and scrubing with anti-bacterial soap and therafter a good rinse to clean off any potential foreign matter which may hold disease etc.)
A good balance of plants to start with would be a water Lilly, a couple of aerating water-weeds, a water Iris in the shallows and a cluster of bull rushes. This will do perfectly.
If you don't have any spare large rocks in your garden. Then buy some to arrange around a rockery area behind your pond. Create cave type crevices in the dryer areas of your rockery where toads can live. You can also use small terra-cotta flowerpots for this: dig holes in the side of your rockery and push in the flowerpots. Half cover the front entrance with a rock, plant plenty of herbage plants around the entrances ... These are great hangouts for toads!
In a shallow area of the pond itself lay old bricks or large rocks side by side (about 10cm apart) under the water and place a flat broken paving stone on top, so that the surface of the stone is raised out the water. Your frogs will love this and you'll notice lots of them sunbathing on it during sunny days!

Note: if you are unfortunate to find any choking mossy weed taking over your pond or blanket weed covering the surface.... DO NOT use chemicals to get rid of it. Instead remove it regularly by hand. Surprisingly these weeds can actually stop returning after a while if you manually remove it.

First signs of Life

Pond Skaters will arrive in your pond within a very short time - even in a few days. They are so light they don't break the membrane of the water surface and so they walk on it using their legs . Backswimmers and Water Boatmen are amusing little insects that look as if they are rowing upside down in the water! After a while, you'll soon see water beetles and tiny red water mites swimming around in your pond. These are just a few of the many water insects that will begin to arrive in and around your pond.
Life has begun.

Here come the frogs ...

In early spring the pond will turn into mating mayhem for a while as frogs and toads will arrive to chat up each other. The activity can be hilarious to watch... like something out of a Loony Tunes cartoon... as frogs rent forth a symphony of amusing mating calls, from deep bass croaks to parrot like coos. They clamber on top of each other, sometimes four or five deep, bellowing, squeaking and splash around in a frisky frenzy. Get too close to the pond while all this is going on and they'll dive underwater... probably in a state of embarrassment! So keep your distance to observe the entertainment! In a few days you'll have spawn filling your pond... There isn't such a thing as too much spawn (unless your pond is so small that the spawn has filled every corner ... see below). The mortality rate of tadpoles is huge so the more spawn the better. Only around 5 out of every 2,000 eggs will actually survive into adulthood.

NOTE: We don't recommend the handling of any amphibians unless it's absolutely necessary - for example moving them out of danger - i.e. roads, pathways and other human-generated hazards. Common frogs and toads in the UK and Ireland are usually safe to handle - very gently, but you should also read all the information further down the page before doing so, including notes on legal issues.
If you need to handle frogs or toads do so very gently and do not use gloves. Always lay them down carefully on soft ground and never throw them into water etc. Wash your hands afterwards in case of any allergic response (very rare) or other bacterial or pathogenic reaction (also extremely rare).

How can you tell the difference between a frog and a toad?

A frog has smooth, wet looking skin with a more pointed face than a toad... It has dark stripes round its legs ... and it jumps. Frogs have slightly cheeky faces. (Dangle an earth worm in front of them and see what happens!) Frog eggs (spawn) are laid in large jellyfied clumps. Frog tadpoles have pointed tails.
Note: Check the laws regarding frogs in your country, since some species have degrees of protection by law, usually to help prevent habitat loss caused by building development.

A toad has dry, lumpy looking skin and a more rounded face than a frog ... it has spotty legs, and it walks.. slowly. They have deadpan, unamused expressions. Toad eggs are laid in strings, like a pearl necklace up to three metres long. This strand of eggs is usually wound around stems and leaves under water (so be careful if thinning out water plants) Toad tadpoles have rounded tails. It's pure myth that you can catch warts from toads.
Note: Check the laws regarding toads in your country, since some species have degrees of protection by law, usually to help prevent habitat loss caused by building development.

Newts

Newts are very illusive creatures and it's surprising how they turn up in ponds.
Newts tend to stay at the bottom of ponds or well hidden. But they come out more at nighttime. If you shine a torch into your pond after dark you may well spot a newt swimming close to the surface. Newts lay their eggs individually and wrap them in leaves (so don't disturb underwater plants during developing periods). Newts will take between 2 and 4 years to reach maturity.
Note:
Check the laws regarding newts in your country, since some species have degrees of protection by law, usually to help prevent habitat loss caused by building development.

Introducing Frogs, Toads and Newts to Populate Your New Wildlife Pond

If you are in an area where other ponds are sparse (often because so many people have removed old established ponds from gardens) you may need to bring in frog spawn and a small amount of newt eggs from a friend's natural, chemical free pond. (First check the laws regarding the handling and transfer of amphibian eggs). A newly created wildlife pond should have undergone some months of naturalisation and therefore have enough nutrients before receiving spawn or eggs.

Frog Spawn: Because there are so few ponds left, frogs are forced to congregate in more concentrated numbers to lay their eggs in whatever pond space is available. As mentioned above, this can lead to large jelly mounds of frog spawn which can actually overwhelm a small pond (regardless of over-simplistic contentions about this issue that can be found elsewhere on the internet*). In fact, even a bucket or bowl of water left in the garden can end up being the receptor of a mass of spawn from a desperate frog or two, even though a pond may only be a few metres away. So it can sometimes be beneficial to remove some of the spawn and take it to other / new wildlife ponds that may otherwise not have frog activity. To transport frog spawn, use a standard size bucket and fill with around 10cm of your disease-free pond water, then carefully add around two handfuls of spawn. Cover the bucket and take it immediately to the receiving pond while keeping it out of direct sunlight. Gently pour the spawn into the receiving pond.
NOTE: In Ireland the common frog is protected, so first check with your local wildlife organization to see if you will be allowed to transfer some spawn to a new pond.

* You may read elsewhere that you should not move frog spawn ... at all ... never. In this age of internet alarmists, it's also worrying to see that some organisations, pertaining to be experts on this subject, are condoning such a non-action to an extent which also patronizes the intellect of you ... the enthusiastic wildlife gardening public who may prefer the right to be left to make an informed / hands-on decision on the matter yourselves. The argument is that moving frog spawn to another pond transfers disease and invasive species. Such a statement is anecdotal and thus commands the commonsense of the private home owner who is responsible for the health and disease-free cleanliness of his or her wildlife pond; to carefully determine the pros and cons of taking some frog spawn elsewhere, which could help combat the decline of wildlife. VeggieGlobal does not offer environmentally sensitive information on these pages flipantly. We painstakingly consider the ecological scenarios that arise through the wildlife gardening public acting with commonsense on our advice; and based on feedback we receive we endeavour to ensure that our advice transposes to a highly respectable success rate in wildlife gardens around the globe. In this particular area covering wildlife ponds, VeggieGlobal's knowledge is based on many years hands-on care resulting in complete success. For example, with spawn transfer over three pond sites there was never any evidence of disease or nonnative species transfer after five years observation. Our approach regarding wildlife care is pragmatic (and always legal) and is designed to leave our readers to intelligently act as they wish upon such information. It remains unclear whether organisations, (with restricted insight due to inexperienced, academic-style speculation), stating "Do not move frog spawn" is either empirical or theoretical. In the meantime, until there is categorical proof to the contrary, we will continue to suggest our careful transfer process. Our own previous experience had consistently shown that, providing the obvious monitoring steps are taken to ensure your own pond is clear of disease etc., and that the receiving pond is properly prepared, as clearly explained on these pages, there should be no reason why the transfer and subsequent wider distribution of frogs should cause any rational concern.

Newt Eggs and Toad Spawn: Newts and toads have a different method of laying eggs than frogs (see above). If you live in a country where a protection law covers a species of newt or toad you first need to check what type of newt or toad inhabits the pond. For example, if you are very lucky you may have Great Crested Newt or Natterjack Toad eggs, and in a country like Great Britain you must leave them alone as they are a protected species and it's illegal to even touch them or their eggs without a licence. (Great Crested Newts are not found in Ireland)
So, first of all it is important to identify the type of toad or newt species you have before considering moving some eggs to a new wildlife pond. The more common of these two amphibians found in the UK is the Smooth (Common) Newt and Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and these are far more likely to be the occupants of a typical garden pond. If these are unprotected species in your country (as they are so in the UK) and you want to introduce the eggs of these species to a new wildlife pond then you need to be careful how you do so. Egg transfer to a new wildlife pond should only be done after the new pond has established itself for one year. This is to ensure enough nutrients exist in the new habitat.
First establish what plant in the pond you are extracting from has some of the eggs attached to it (or where you think some may be wrapped in leaves), then lift the plant from its roots and immerse completely in a bucket of pond water. (You will likely be able to split the plant so that you only take a small percentage of eggs) Carefully transfer the extracted plant and replant it into the new pond.

For more information about the legal handling of wild flora and fauna see the Note about Wildlife Protection in your Country on our introductory page. Remember, if you are not sure what toads or newts you have in your pond, or which eggs you may be allowed to transfer to a new wildlife habitat, get in touch with your country's official wildlife protection organization for legal advice.
Note: it is also illegal in the UK to sell / trade in any kind of wild amphibian or its eggs.

Feeding Tadpoles

The survival rate of these thousands of frog, toad and newt eggs is very low so every measure possible should be taken to help these dying species survive their early development. Even as tadpoles, very few will survive to adulthood.

Carcasses of dead pond creatures etc. can be nutritional food for tadpoles. However, to help them with more chance of survival and therefore grow into frogs and toads it's a good idea to feed them: Find a thumbsize piece of leftover meat (veggies can acquire this from a carnivorous friend!) and pack it into a wire mesh and attach this to a piece of string about 25 cm long. Tie the other end of the string to the centre of a long bamboo stick - long enough to rest on each opposite bank of the pond) Lay this across the pond and adjust the length of the string so that the meat hangs in the water about 10cm deep. Now watch the tadpoles as they discover the food... in a few minutes every millimeter of the food ball will be covered with hundreds of tadpoles. The meatball should be replaced every week or so. Note: Instead of a stick laid across the pond you can also use a wire coathanger or something that acts like a fishing rod effect so that your meatball hangs off the end of a "rod "(it looks tidier). (If you want to add a classic kitsch addition to your pond how about a gnome sitting on the side of the pond holding the "fishing rod"?!)

The Magic of Dragonflies, Damselflies and Mayflies

During the summer your pond will hopefully attract Dragonflies, Damselflies and Mayflies. They will spot your pond from far away in the air as they catch its reflection in the sunlight. Then they will fly down to meet up with other water flies. Here they will mate and depending on the species, the females will lay their eggs either on the surface of your pond or in plant stems. Dragonfly larvae or nymphs, do tend to look rather unpleasant looking creatures!: light brown alien / roach looking insect with claws and a body length around 2 to 4 cm long, scrapping around the bottom of the pond. But leave them alone. They will even eat tadpoles, but remember this is just part of nature's true balance, as frogs will eat dragonfly larvae. When hatched the larvae or nymphs will live in your pond from between one to three years, again depending on the species. When they are ready to pupate they will climb out and onto a blade of grass or plant stem where it will miraculously turn into a beautifully coloured flying creature (the transformation takes between 12 and 30 hours).

Light Maintenance of Your Pond

If, after time your pond really takes off and it looks as if the water-weeds are getting a little out of control, then there's no harm cutting some of this away. You should make sure that around a half of your pond is clear to allow light through to the water. If you cut some water plants back be extra careful when you lift the plants out has there may be dragonfly larvae, newts and tadpoles mixed up in there. Very carefully loosen them free, preferably by holding the plant underwater and "shaking" them free. Pull off any water snails that are attached to the plant and put them back in the water. Pond thinning is best done in mid late summer or very early spring before the spawning season so that you don't disturb too much pond life. And don't thin the pond out once there is spawn in the pond (as early as late winter) as toad spawn can easily get tangled in pond plants and so should be left until they develop in to tadpoles. Newt eggs are individually wrapped in leaves, so again, be very careful not to disturb these. Frog and toads hibernate during the winter months.
Female and smaller frogs usually find shelter under logs and stone walls, as do most toads. But male frogs usually stay at the bottom of the pond. If your pond freezes in the winter you must melt the ice. If you don't the life underneath can suffocate when all the oxygen in the water has been used up. Don't break the pond ice with a hammer. The shock waves will harm the pond creatures. Simply hold saucepans of hot water on the ice until it slowly melts.

Safety Around Ponds with Young Children.

Far to many overprotective and simply short-sighted parents will remove ponds if they have young children. Instead of taking measures to keep a young child away from the potential danger, parents simply get rid of the pond and devastate all of its wildlife, which has a knock on effect for disappearing amphibians and insect life over a very wide area. (See also Note about Wildlife Protection in your Country ) The friendly way to live with the natural environment of your garden is to separate areas which are safe for your children. For example, patio areas with sandpits and garden toys can be fenced / walled with a gate so that young children can play there safely. Or even arrange your pond in a place that could have its own fenced area. Consider the educational advantages of having a pond in your garden. It will offer great learning value for your children as they can learn close-up to respect nature... and they will also learn how to be safe near water... all good qualities for a growing child.

Your Little Piece of a Wildlife Wonderland

If you have followed the guidelines laid out here you would have hopefully managed to create an active haven of wildlife in and around your pond. The results will be clear to see over year or so. And you can be proud to say you have played your part in reintroducing otherwise declining wildlife and nature back into one small part of the world. Continued - PART 3 - Mammals, birds, plants and insects - environment and care

The additional section for schools will also provide useful information for anyone who is building a wildlife garden and pond - click here

Copyright John O'Donnell (VeggieGlobal.com and Looking-Glass.co.uk)
Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents of these websites in any form is prohibited.

UK and Ireland Menu

PART 1 - Introduction - your garden and how to help bring back wildlife
you are here> PART 2 - Pond life & how to make a wildlife pond
PART 3 - Mammals, birds, plants and insects - environment and care
PART 4 - Reduce food miles and grow your own fruit and veg
Further information for Schools

More Related Areas

Sharing This Planet With The Animals - a useful guide to help you live side by side with your animal friends please click here

UK and Ireland may also wish to visit the Wildlife Files section here at VeggieGlobal for more advice about wildlife friendly gardens please click here

 

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