Designing your pond

Think carefully where your pond is to be. Once dug, it can't be moved! If it's in sight of the living room or kitchen windows, you'll be able to watch birds, bats and other visitors from inside your home. If the pond is away from the house, it may attract more timid species, and you can plan the garden so the pond is a beautiful surprise in a private corner. Mark out the outline with canes and see how it will look before you start digging.

Aim to have part of the pond in full sunlight. This allows the water to warm up quickly in the spring, so encouraging plant growth. Some wildlife species prefer shaded water, but avoid digging a new pond right by a large tree as you may damage

Shaded Pond Design
Even very small ponds can be rich in wildlife. Bob Gibbons

the roots. Worse, new roots may penetrate your liner and your pond may fill with leaves. Think also about where the water supply is to come from.

How big should it be? This is up to you and your budget. Bigger ponds mean more plant species and a more varied habitat for animals. But doubling the dimensions of a pond increases the liner cost four times, and creates eight times the volume of soil to dispose of! The pond should be in scale with the rest of your garden: even tiny ponds can hold a lot of wildlife. If you have the space, an excellent arrangement for wildlife is to have one larger pond, several shallow small pools and a bog garden area, allowing some pools to become muddy or dry in the summer. This variety of habitats will ensure a great diversity of species.

Garden ponds needn't be deep. Most pond animals are found in the shallowest water - a couple of centimetres deep. Deep open water is the most dangerous habitat for small animals, especially if fish are present - so maximise the shallows.

For a wildlife pond, 40-50cm is deep enough, and will mean much less soil to remove.

A clean water supply is crucial. If water is contaminated with fertilising nutrients, you will face a continual struggle with algal build up. If your pond is on a slope, it will fill from rainwater run-off. It is, then, very important that the ground above the pond is not artificially fertilised, or left bare, because nutrients and silt will wash in.

Above Ground Ponds

Green woodpecker. Chris Gomersall

The cuckooflower is one of the main food plants of the orange-tip butterfly. Chris Gibson/English Nature

Green woodpecker. Chris Gomersall

The cuckooflower is one of the main food plants of the orange-tip butterfly. Chris Gibson/English Nature

English Nature

Water boatman Corixapunctata. Bob Gibbons

Bogbean. Chris Gibson/English Nature

Water boatman Corixapunctata. Bob Gibbons

Most people fill their ponds with tap water. This is easy - but rather wasteful. Tap water also often contains high quantities of nutrients that encourage algal growth. The best possible source is rain water. Can you site your pond close enough to the house or a greenhouse or shed, to be able to siphon water from a butt? With a little ingenuity, you may be able to divert water from a down-pipe directly into the pond.

What shape should the pond be? Straight edges look unnatural and should be avoided. The margins are best for wildlife, so in larger ponds, try for a wavy-edged oval rather than a plain circular shape. The most important design element is the profile of the sides. Make sure you leave LOTS of shallow water shelf

Bogbean. Chris Gibson/English Nature area at about 1-15cm deep, where water plants will flourish. The margins should be very gently sloping in at least some places, so the finished pond merges naturally into the land. Ideally, create a 'drawdown' zone, a very shallow (5cm or less) area, which you can cover with gravel and round stones, to form a beach and protect the liner in summer. Flooded in winter, it will partly dry out in summer, making a fabulous habitat for many insect species, and a great bathing area for birds.

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