How to design and build a wildlife pond

Martyn Cox

If you really want to attract a wide range of wildlife to your garden then you need a pond. Not just any pond, but one that has been specially designed and planted to provide habitats, cover, food and perches for a wide range of creatures

Making a small pond is really quick and easy. A 1m by 1m pond in my own back garden took me less than two hours to build, but obviously the larger the pond, the longer it will take you.

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Designing a wildlife pond

Before heading outdoors with a spade, it’s best to sketch out a rough plan of your desired pond on paper. Avoid geometric shapes, going instead for a gently curved outline, which will look more natural.

Once you’re happy with the shape, mark out the pond on the ground with a line of sand. Choose a spot that is in light shade - some sunlight will help plants to grow, but too much will promote the growth of algae.

Related: six tips for a wildlife-friendly garden

Digging out the wildlife pond

Dig the pond out. It should be about 90cm deep in the centre to give creatures a place to shelter over winter. Create a flat shelf (30cm wide and 30cm deep) for standing plants on around part of the perimeter, leaving the rest gently sloping to allow pond visitors access in and out of the water. Avoid steep sides as any creature that accidentally topples in may find it hard to escape.

Remove any protruding stones and cover the excavation with a layer of sand. Now lay a flexible butyl or rubber liner. To work out how much you need, double the maximum depth of the pool, than add this to the length of the pool to find the total length of liner needed. Now add double the maximum depth to the width to give the total width of liner needed. Multiply the two figures together to find the total area of liner for your pond.

Carefully place the liner over the hole and push it into place, trying to remove any folds. Slowly fill with water. Cut off the excess liner, leaving about 15cm all around the outside. This edge can then be buried under soil, or covered with pieces of turf or stones.

Make a pebbly beach on the gently sloping sides with a selection of large and small pebbles, and gravel. Use larger stones around the edge of the pond and graduating their size as you work down the slope. Aim to build a ramp with the stones from the outside to the floor of the pond.

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Choosing plants for your wildlife pond

To keep the water healthy and provide a variety of habitats you need a mix of submerged oxygenators, floating aquatics, deep water aquatics and marginal plants.

First add your submerged oxygenators. Hair grass (Eleocharis acicularis) or hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) are ideal. Frog-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) or water hawthorn (Aponogeton distachyos) are perfect floating plants, while dwarf water lilies can be placed in the deepest part of the pond. Arrange a mixture of dwarf reed mace (Typha minima), branched bur-reed (Sparganium erectum), Equisetum hyemale and pretty blue Iris versicolor on the shelf around the side.

What wildlife you'll see by your pond

It won’t take long for wildlife to find a new pond. Lookout for frogstoads and newts, and numerous tiny creatures, such as water boatman, pond skaters, freshwater leeches, pond snails and water beetle larvae. Dragonflies may perch on taller marginal plants, while birds, hedgehogs and other mammals will drink at the water’s edge. Having a large variety of wildlife will help control the number of slugs and snails in your garden.

Related: how to control slugs and snails

Pond safety

Be safe. Near water, young children need adult supervision at all times. Please visit the RoSPA website for more information on pond safety.

Maintaining your wildlife pond

Once you have made your pond you will need to maintain it, especially during the warm summer months. Read Martyn Cox's guide to looking after your pond in the summer for more tips.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.