Wildlife Gardening - Water Habitat Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Wildlife Gardening - Water Habitat

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The shield of the Sport and Leisure Faculty of the h2g2 University.
Wildlife Gardening - Getting Started
Introduction | Mammals and Birds | Woodland Habitat
Insects, Amphibians and Reptiles | Wildflower Meadow | Water Habitat
Natural Slug Control | Natural Weed Control | The Winter Border

A pond is the easiest and quickest way of bringing wildlife into a garden. Even the smallest pond will give a home to new animals, and provide a service to wildlife already there.


The pond must be situated away from overhanging trees, as falling leaves in winter will sink to the bottom and rot, depriving the pond of oxygen and smothering plant life. They will also cast shade over the pond, which needs to be in a sunny spot. If it is sited at the bottom of the garden, it makes a nice feature to go out and see, and it is also easier to fence off if toddlers are visiting or dogs are a problem.

Ponds can be very dangerous places for young children, who can drown in only a few inches of water. While dogs don't have this problem, they can ruin plants, puncture linings, and chase away wildlife. If the pond is near to the house, it is convenient to view it from inside a house, without disturbing any of the wildlife. It is also easier to top it up with water.


This Entry will not go into too much detail on how to build a pond, but will concentrate on how to use it to attract wildlife.

Size is dictated by the size of the garden, and, although shape is not too important, it can be matched with the design of the garden, avoiding sharp corners, and extending the liner over one edge to create a wetland area. It should be minimum of 75cm1 at its deepest, as this will stop the whole pond freezing in winter. An area of four to five square metres is a reasonable size.

One edge needs to slope gently from the deepest area right up to the edge, as this is how wildlife will get in and out. Another edge will need a shelf to grow marginals2 on. One side of the pond can be left as a viewing platform, so will need to be fairly straight for paving. The paving can be left overhanging the pond, to leave a hiding space underneath it.

Once the pond has water (rainwater, if possible) and soil in it, it can be planted. Space must be left among the plants in the shallow areas and shelves for animals to get in and out, and a pile of stones and rocks can be left in the deepest area as a home for amphibians.

The pond needs many different sorts of plants, including floating leaved plants to cast shade, prevent algal build up, and provide platforms for insects. It can be a good idea to take some water from an established pond, as it will already have some aquatic life in it.


The pond will need clearing of algae to start with, especially if it was filled with tap water. The more is cleared, the less will grow, as taking it out will remove the nutrients that the algae thrive on. Shake it out well over the pond, and leave it nearby for a day so that any pond creatures in it can get back into the water. In the autumn any emerging plants should be pruned, but not by more than a third. Floating leaves can be left, as they will help to protect against algae.


This is the part of the pond that is permanently wet, but not open water. It should be minimum 40cm deep to prevent it drying out too quickly. It is separated from the main part of the pond by a ridge just above water level. Any lower and the wetlands will drain the pond, so it must be regularly supplied with water. There should be a few holes in the liner so that the area doesn't become stagnant and sour. The soil will be more acid than normal garden soil, so plants should be chosen carefully. A few rocks can be included as perching places for birds.

Container Ponds

If lack of space prohibits a pond, it can be made in a container. This can be buried in the garden or left on a patio or terrace, although you will need to allow some access for animals.

If it is sunk into the ground, the container pond will keep the water cool in summer and help to prevent freezing in winter. It does not matter much if it is not perfectly level, although it should be left with a small lip above the ground to prevent beetles and hedgehogs from stumbling in.

It will need some rocks placed inside to make steps for animals to get in and out, and for the marginals to be rested upon. If it is to be planted, there must be a level of lime-free gravel over the soil to prevent it rising, otherwise plants can be left in their baskets.


Fish are not normally put into wildlife ponds because they eat the other wildlife.

1One meter in colder climates.2Marginals are plants which live on the edges of ponds. They are adapted to having their roots submerged for long periods.

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