How to make your garden more biodiverse

Create natural ponds – home to an incredible range of plants and animals – are one of the most threatened habitats in the UK.

Natural ponds, like this one in Northumberland, are disappearing at an incredible rate

The Oxford Lark is found in large numbers in natural ponds and is one of the species at the top of the UK’s ‘species in decline’ list

A natural pond also benefits birds, trees, bats and fungi – the natural wildlife living in it.

So with spring just around the corner, now is the perfect time to create your own and put it to good use.

Here we look at the basics.

There are two types of natural pond; on-stream and underground.

On-stream ponds are like a natural, organic fountain with water cascading over their edges from natural watercourses or a dam. The water feeds the watercourses below, supplying all the wildlife.

The Water for the Womb Project has built a nest box made from sycamore wood which is home to a population of breeding hedgehogs

Gardeners are urged to help the decline in wildlife by creating their own ponds for wildlife

At one end of the pond, natural vegetation like reeds and willows filter water to the other side, where streams then feed the fish.

On-stream ponds are great for all the animals that need a protected environment in the wild.

Natural ponds – home to an incredible range of plants and animals – are one of the most threatened habitats in the UK.

It’s estimated 90% of them were lost during the last century.

Now putting in a pond could be the biggest DIY thing you can do to boost biodiversity.

Create natural ponds – home to an incredible range of plants and animals – are one of the most threatened habitats in the UK.

Natural ponds, like this one in Northumberland, are disappearing at an incredible rate

The Oxford Lark is found in large numbers in natural ponds and is one of the species at the top of the UK’s ‘species in decline’ list

A natural pond also benefits birds, trees, bats and fungi – the natural wildlife living in it.

So with spring just around the corner, now is the perfect time to create your own and put it to good use.

Here we look at the basics.

There are two types of natural pond; on-stream and underground.

On-stream ponds are like a natural, organic fountain with water cascading over their edges from natural watercourses or a dam. The water feeds the watercourses below, supplying all the wildlife.

The Water for the Womb Project has built a nest box made from sycamore wood which is home to a population of breeding hedgehogs

Gardeners are urged to help the decline in wildlife by creating their own ponds for wildlife

At one end of the pond, natural vegetation like reeds and willows filter water to the other side, where streams then feed the fish.

On-stream ponds are great for all the animals that need a protected environment in the wild.

Plant flowers for pollinators

If you have lawns in your garden, you can include an area with tall grasses and wildflowers such as dandelions and thistles. This will also help improve the habitat for bees, butterflies and other insects.

In the wild, these flowers provide nectar for hungry insects and pollinate wildflowers. When they come into our gardens, we pollinate them, too.

Get rid of weeds

It’s important to weed and add organic matter to the pond every three to six months to keep it healthy. That means always using a weedkiller containing a plant-based component such as Roundup.

Many pond experts recommend taking part in a good gardening course to get tips on how to create and maintain an effective garden pond

Once the weed has been cut, don’t leave the cut parts in the pond.

You can always go back and cut them when they’re looking healthy and healthy parts will make the pond look better.

Plump up the water surface

Plant species like liverworts and algae will help to enrich the water and improve the habitat for fish and other wildlife.

People can take their own cuttings and add them to their own ponds and connect them with a pipe.

Add fish and frogs

Younger fish (usually eight- to 10-centimetres) are ideal.

Go to your local natural history museum and look for fish which are thriving in our own waters. Many species can be found in the wild and are good in a pond.

The wildlife in our own gardens is full of friendly creatures like the black and white trapper beetle which eats aphids and other pests

Leave space for trees

There is no need for extra areas of lawn to compensate for the lack of shade in a pond.

A tree makes a wonderful habitat in your pond and will shade the water.

These can be planted between your pond and the house or in a shed at the back.

In the case of trees, you can use a specialist tree conservation service to help establish them.

Ornamental trees

Dippers and dries provide good ‘nursery’ for frog eggs and other amphibians, as well as some flower bed-straws.

Cut the tops of dippers at ground level, so the nesting parent can still emerge to pick insects off the surface.

Birds and butterflies really like the dandylions which add texture to the pond and also feed the fish and wildlife.

Birds will also come and forage in the damp wood to help them keep cool and comfortable.

Plants with added interest

Some plants just look great in ponds and there are lots of beautiful ones out there.

They can help to shade the water and create a darker environment for amphibians, including frogs.

Ornamental gilia can be planted between the edges of ponds to add colour and movement.

It is a pretty, trailing plant with burgundy and purple flowers and the scent of violets.

Trees such as the water oak and the water maple are very attractive. They have a particularly nice shape and are easy to maintain.

The California poppy is a nice, compact plant which, when full of poppies, creates a beautiful white carpet over the water.

Birds love the scarlet poppies which are just beginning to bloom.

Create wildlife-friendly ponds

It’s important to weed and add organic matter to the pond every three to six months to keep it healthy.

That means always using a weedkiller containing a plant-based component such as Roundup.

People can take their own cuttings and add them to their own ponds and connect them with a pipe.

Add plants with texture

Plant species like liverworts and algae will help to enrich the water and improve the habitat for fish and other wildlife.

A variety of plants are available in pet stores which offer suitable leaves and flowers.

Some nice and nippy sedges, which are highly adapted to the low nutrient conditions in our ponds, can be added as well.

The sedges are deep green with elegant silver-blue fringed leaves.

Ornamental water primroses are also popular. They form dense mats in the water and the flowers are purple.

Some other special water plants are also good.

Scatology water, for example, is made up of water bladderworts, spider plants and water lettuce.

It gives frogs a beautiful hiding place and the water has an essential oil from the spider plants that attracts dragonflies.

People also often add the flowers of the water globe orchid to their ponds.

Watch your water quality

Try to avoid purchasing treated water for your pond – if your local water company provides treated water, then this will be suitable.

But always test your water quality first. You can buy testing kits in most garden centres.

If you notice that fish have fallen ill, the answer is either to empty the pond or put a filter in.

If there are visible scum, then you might need to add some chemical scrubbers to keep it clear.

Try using crushed egg shells as a scum remover or rubbing in some fresh moss or seaweed.

When to seek professional help

If your pond looks sick, then it’s important to call a pond technician to come in and help to fix it.

The key thing is not to allow the water to stay stagnant.

If the pond needs draining, then that should be done.

Also, test the water every few months to make sure the water is running clear.

Find out more about how to raise healthy fish by reading this guide to pond-rearing.

Keep the dead leaves for insects

Remember that frogs and toads need insects to feed on.

To help attract a variety of invertebrates to your pond, be sure to keep fallen leaves in place.

Adding mulch will help to reduce the risk of diseases.

Add food for insects

Many pond owners will add garlic or fish emulsion to their pond to attract insects.

Garlic is attractive to water creatures, particularly to frogs and toads.

But adding garlic to your pond can also help to attract skippers and damselflies as well as black damselflies.

Add bird food in your garden

If you have wild bird feeders in your garden, it’s a good idea to transfer the feeder and the spilled bird seed to your pond.

This will help to encourage wild birds and may help to encourage more water creatures.

Use bird baths

Bird baths can be filled with water from your pond.

As birds will drink, bathe and dine, they will be attracted to the same water sources that your fish do.

Laughing fish, like frogs and toads, love to enjoy the quiet calm of a birdbath.

So you can create an entertaining spot for them.

There are many easy ways to attract fish to your pond, although most of the above tips can be adapted and used in many ponds and even urban ponds, if space is limited.

Call bees

Bee hives provide a perfect habitat for fish, frogs and toads and they can provide food for the insects and other wildlife.

They can even be used as a distraction for frog and toad hunting, in which case the idea is to keep the animals alert and aware of your presence.

To encourage swarms of bees to your pond, simply build the bee hives from wood, like this, or grass or plastic.

You will need to inspect them often and ensure they are safe to use.

However, be careful when placing them in your pond because they may disrupt the fish’s habitat, with a potential negative effect on the pond’s water quality.

Provide aquatic vegetation

Water lilies are an example of a type of aquatic plant that attracts a wide variety of animals, including frogs and toads.

Plants like pondweed and crayfish populate gardens in the UK, but the fact is that they are toxic to our species and may do your frogs and toads no good at all.

There are many more plants you can add to your pond, including species that attract dragonflies, which tend to like environments where there is more water than land.

Protect your pond by cutting plants such as these back frequently, or you could use a chemical or salt solution to remove them.

These plants will help to make your pond more attractive, as they help to cover the surface, making it easier for frogs and toads to hide.

Provide an area for amphibians and reptiles

One of the most appealing amphibian and reptile-friendly fish pond options is a ‘fish garden pond.’

These are particularly popular with children and can be built around the pool.

You’ll need to provide some source of water, as well as rocks and plants that can be used as shelter, and anything that your amphibians and reptiles like to eat or drink.

If you like to add plants to your pond, these may be the plants that help to attract insects.

Invite foxes and Hedgehogs

If you have the space, you may want to start with a small, square, raised garden pond and add a swathe of plants to attract hedgehogs and foxes.

This will attract more wildlife to the area.

You can buy materials in nurseries and even many farm yards or garden centers.

Also be aware that some of these materials are toxic to your garden birds.

Compost

Your compost is an excellent way to improve the health of your garden.

Many people don’t have the time to compost their garden waste on a regular basis.

You can grow worms to help with this. Worms are beneficial microorganisms. They will break down any organic material.

Now you’re sure to have a great place to fish and a pond to enjoy.