Creating or improving ponds
I would like to build a pond, what do I need to know?
See our guide, Just Add Water PDF, for all you need to now about creating ponds.
There are various factors to consider when making a wildlife pond, including depth, shape, location and what plants to choose. Our Just Add Water section provides advice on getting started and managing healthy garden ponds for amphibians. Even if you don’t have space for a big pond you can create a small water feature that will benefit local wildlife.
How big does a pond have to be to attract amphibians?
Ideally, at least 2m x 2m for breeding amphibians but even tiny ponds and bog gardens will be used by local wildlife.
Any size of pond will be beneficial to wildlife, even if it doesn’t attract amphibians. Even small ‘tub’ style ponds may provide a place for amphibians to keep cool in the summer months. Bog gardens can provide a similar function. Common frogs often choose unlikely places, such as puddles, to lay their eggs so you never know what you might find in even the smallest pond.
Ideally, garden ponds should be bigger than 2m x 2m to provide an attractive breeding site for frogs; there should be different levels within the pond, down to at least 60cm deep. This will allow space for common frogs to safely lie dormant on the bottom of the pond in winter.
There are various factors to consider when making a wildlife pond, including depth, shape, location and what plants to choose – see Just Add Water for more information. If you don’t have space for a pond that size, consider our pond alternatives.
What is the best pond design for amphibians?
Most important are gently sloping sides and shelved areas for plants.
For any pond design, the most important factor is to have gently sloping sides and plenty of native vegetation so the animals can easily enter and exit the water. Avoid paving slabs reaching right up to the water’s edge as emerging young amphibians can stick to these and die in hot weather. Again, lots of native plants around the edge or the pond are a good idea.
A deeper section in the middle on the pond (at least 60cm) will provide an area for amphibians to lie dormant on the bottom of the pond during icy weather.
What plants should I add to my pond and are there any to avoid?
A mixture of native emergent, submerged and floating plants is best for amphibians.
Try to source local plants otherwise search the internet for suppliers of native plants.
Marginal plants such as spearwort Ranunculus flammula, water mint Mentha aquatica and yellow flag iris Iris pseudacorus, provide cover as the animals enter/exit the water. Plants such as water forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides and starwort (Callitriche spp.) will provide egg-laying sites for newts.
Submerged plants like curled pondweed Potamogeton crispus and hornwort Ceratophyllum demersum and floating species like white and yellow water lilies (Nymphaea alba and Nuphar lutea) are also worthwhile additions. Submerged species will oxygenate the water.
You may need some aquatic soil for the plants (available from garden centres). You can use planters to provide more stability or make your own out of hessian sacks for a more environmentally friendly option. Cut the sacks into squares and place some aquatic soil and stones (for weight) in the centre; this can then be tied around the plant roots with hessian string. The sack and string will naturally degrade in the water over time.
Don’t forget to plant around the edges of the pond, and near by, to encourage invertebrates and to provide shelter for amphibians (particularly metamorphs just leaving the water).
DO NOT introduce non-native species as these can be extremely invasive and harmful to the pond, and to other habitats nearby. Plants to avoid include New Zealand pygmyweed Crassula helmsii, parrot’s-feather Myriophyllum aquaticum, water fern Azolla filiculoides, water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes and water primrose Ludwigia peploides or L.
I don’t have much space or am concerned about safety – what are the alternatives to a traditional pond?
Raised or tub ponds are smaller, safer and can still be beneficial to wildlife.
If you don’t have space for a full-size pond there are plenty of other options. A mini-pond can be made out of a tub, half-barrel or old sink. These can be sunk into the ground or left standing in the garden, with pebbles and logs built up around the edge to provide access for wildlife. Make sure there are plants and more pebbles inside so the creatures can get out again.
You could also consider a bog garden. This marshy area may be used by frogs and other wildlife as a place to keep cool, particularly in summer.
I need to work on the pond, what shall I do with the creatures in it?
Keep amphibians out of harms way and release into the pond/garden when work is complete.
Ideally put off the work until late autumn as this is when there are least amphibians in the pond to disturb. If urgent work is needed during the spring, adult amphibians can be kept out of the way in a bucket of damp vegetation with a little water (as long as it’s not for more than a day or two) and then released into a quiet part of the garden or back into the pond afterwards.
If urgent work is needed when there is spawn/tadpoles in the pond – scoop them out and keep them in a bucket of pond water while you do the work and then return them to the pond when you’ve finished. If you need to hold tadpoles for any length of time ensure there is enough food for them and supplement their diet with boiled lettuce (for young tadpoles) or fish food if necessary.
You might come across adult frogs when doing work on your pond at other times of year. These should be moved to another area of the garden that provides cover from predators and extreme weather (compost heap, log pile, amongst long vegetation/shrubs). If you’re concerned they might keep coming back to the pond and getting in the way of the work, you can hold them in a tank/bucket, as long as it’s not for too long, and release them afterwards.
If you’re clearing plants of silt from the pond, leave these on a tarpaulin or plastic sheet by the edge of the pond for a day or two so that any invertebrates that want to get back in the water can do so. After, transfer to your compost heap. Try not to remove too much silt as there may be invertebrates or eggs in it; plus hibernating frogs will bury down in the layer of silt over the winter.
There is no organisation that will be able to come and take spawn, tadpoles or adult amphibians from you.
When is the best time to do work on my pond?
Ideally wait until September to create least disturbance.
If possible wait until late autumn (September/October) to carry out work on a pond as this is when there will be least amphibians in it to disturb. Froglets will have left the pond in late summer and adult frogs looking to hibernate won’t arrive until around November.
Occasionally tadpoles or newt larvae will overwinter in the pond rather than developing and leaving in the summer, so have a good sweep around with a net to check what’s in the water before you start work.
If you need to undertake work on your pond before autumn, for example fixing a leak, make sure you consider the pond’s inhabitants – keep them in a tank or bucket out of the way while you work. It may be possible to keep the pond topped up until a more appropriate time of year; if so try to use rain water rather than tap water.
Can I keep fish in my wildlife pond?
Ideally, fish should be kept separately as they’re voracious predators of spawn/tadpoles.
Fish are predators of spawn and tadpoles/newt larvae and even small fish can cause problems by competing with tadpoles for food. For this reason we advise that you don’t introduce fish to your wildlife pond. If you would like to keep fish then you will need to create a separate pond or perhaps a ‘nursery’ area within the pond where the spawn and tadpoles will be protected.
Frogs and toads can also cause problems for fish. During the breeding season male amphibians grab hold of anything that vaguely resembles a female – including fish, other species and other males. Usually the fish is released unharmed but occasionally, if it’s held by the gills or for a long period of time, it can die.