Encouraging Wildlife into Your Garden Pond
In a balanced garden there should be a stable food chain of prey and predator. For example, destroying all of the greenfly in a garden will deprive ladybirds and blue tits of food. And a garden without any slugs at all is unlikely to have any frogs or toads (even if there is a pond). Low populations of most pests should be tolerated, and will help to encourage wildlife.
These are possibly our most welcome visitors, roaming the garden devouring slugs and otheras they go. Sometimes heavy frog populations can ‘bully’ residential fish, but this does not usually become a serious problem. Adults spend most of the summer living in moist, shaded vegetation, but never far from the water.
From late winter, frogs begin their spawning rituals. Soon glutinous clumps of spawn are seen, and within weeks these turn into thousands of tadpoles. These feed on pond algae initially, but then as they age they turn carnivore and eat small pond-dwelling invertebrates, including each other!
Mainly nocturnal feeders, common and natterjack toads are usually larger, wartier, rarer and more rounded in shape than frogs. They can hibernate up to a mile away from the spawning pond, under piles of leaves and in holes in the. These will eat slugs, caterpillars, beetles, woodlice and even ants. Mid to late spring is when you will see strings of eggs, wound around the submerged pondweed.
Smooth, crested and palmate newts are shy, secretive creatures, but they are just as beneficial as frogs and toads in terms of eating garden pests. It is not easy to identify between the species, as there are times of year when one species can closely resemble another.
Newts emerge from hibernation — generally from under pondside vegetation or large, flat stones — around mid-spring. Eggs are laid individually, usually in submerged foliage.
The most unpopular of all pond inhabitants, they suck the bodily fluids out of their prey. They are also fairly unpleasant looking, with black, wriggling bodies. To avoid getting leeches in your pond, check any plants or fish you introduce — wherever they come from. Most species feed on water snails and fish.
Damselflies and dragonflies
The larvae of these beautiful creatures live under the water (for as long as five years in the case of some dragonflies), feeding on small creatures passing by. They gradually climb out of the pond to emerge as adults. Damselflies are slightly daintier versions of the dragonfly, and it is possible to find red and blue versions of both. Both insects are found naturally wherever there is a large body of water.
You cannot fail to recognize these endearing insects. They ‘walk’ on the surface of the water, spreading their weight over as large an area as possible. They feed on dead and dying insects, and effectively ‘clean-up’ the surface of the water for us, albeit on a minuscule scale.
There are 10 species; some with wings will quickly fly in and inhabit a new pond, whilst others must be carried to their new home on plants.
This familiar bug — actually a type of fly — swims just beneath the surface of the water, using its legs and body like a boat being powered by oars. There are two main types: the lesser water boatman, which sievesfrom the water via hairs on its legs (it also uses its legs to rub together at mating time, rather like the grasshopper); and the greater water boatman, which is a predator, and can even bite!
These pests prefer still waters to ponds with waterfalls and fountains; they lay eggs anywhere that is still, even in long-standing puddles and water butts. Fortunately the eggs and larvae are considered delicious by fish; you will therefore find greater populations of mosquitoes wherever there is an absence of fish.
Mammals, birds and others
A host of mammals will come to your pond to partake of its delights. Many of these creatures will arrive at night, so you will not always see them. Their presence, however, forms part of the rich diversity that makes keeping a wildlife pond so enjoyable.
Animals — from hedgehogs (which are actually good swimmers), through to foxes, badgers and even fully grown deer — will visit your pond, provided they live in your vicinity and have access to the water.
All types of garden birds will seek out shallow areas where they can splash about in sunny weather — even during winter, for the cold does not deter them from taking a bath. Less welcome birds, such as herons, will also make regular calls, as long as there is a ready supply of food available to them.
Freshwater snails will probably need to be introduced to your pond either by accident or design (they can be purchased from aquatic centres, or they may come in unwittingly with). They usually feed on decaying plant matter and algae. There are many different species of snail, some of which are tiny.
Do’s and Don’ts for Attracting Wildlife to Your Garden Pond
• Do create an area of rockery near to the pond, which can offer sanctuary to amphibians, such as frogs, toads and newts.
• Don’t have pools with steep sides which makes it difficult for animals to get out of the water.
• Do create a central island within the pond; this can be a haven for small birds and insects.
• Don’t stock large populations of ornamental fish, which will devour small creatures and plants.
• Do grow lush bog, garden plants, with a good canopy of leaves to give small creatures essential protection.
• Don’t put the pond near to large trees, which would interrupt the flight access to waterfowl (more relevant to larger ponds).
• Do allow dead and decaying wood to become a feature of your wildlife pond; these places can support many types of insect, as well as fungi, mosses and lichens.
• Do — and perhaps this is the most important ‘do’ of all — create a sitting area, where you can observe (and feed) the wildlife at close quarters.