Wildlife in the Pond

At our November meeting Linda Smith spoke on the subject of ‘Planting for Wildlife in your Garden Pond’. Linda runs Waterside Nursery in Leicestershire. For the last six years Linda has won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show and the publicity gained in this way has enabled her to transform the business to selling by mail order only. She referred us to her website ( which is excellent) for any information we needed after her talk.

002Linda began by showing a picture of an attractive garden pond and invited us to consider what we could see; for example, water, stone edging and plants. Her talk then took us through the many factors that lay behind the picture.

Firstly she described the points to be considered when constructing a pond with the encouragement of wildlife in mind. It should be away from the house and be somewhere sheltered and secluded to allow creatures to come and go undisturbed. Fish and wildlife don’t mix (fish eat the wildlife). Create shallow edge areas where creatures can easily get in and out of the water. Bare surfaces leave wildlife vulnerable to predation so provide, cobbles, plants and bushes where they can find protection. Two feet deep is enough for a wildlife pond and it should have shelves where marginal plants can grow and where  the needs of  creatures to live at  different depths can be met.

Linda then took us though the year in the life of a pond showing us the interaction between plants and wildlife, starting in March. As the water warms up the first plants to come into flower are Marsh Marigold and Water Hawthorn. This encourages creatures to come out and mate in the water. The first to return are newts. There are three varieties of newt, the protected great crested newt (black and six inches long) the most common smooth newts (brown and three inches long) and the rare palmate newt. Newts lay their eggs on small leaves which they then wrap over, sticking them down with an adhesive substance. Veronica beccabunga and water forget-me-not are examples of plants suitable for this.  Frogs come next in the cycle and they lay their spawn on the shallowest shelf of the pond. The outer spawn may be frosted (the black eggs becoming white) but the inner ones will survive. Toads follow on and they lay their eggs in deeper water in long strings interweaved in the stems of upright growing plants – allowing for variety of form and structure.

In May, as the surface water warms further, blanket weed will grow. It provides food for tadpoles but its spread does need to be controlled. Barley straw put in the water in March can inhibit growth and nutrients in the water should be kept as low as possible. Little newts will be swimming now and they need oxygenating plants to provide oxygen in the water. The most commonly available oxygenating plant is Elodia crispa but this is an invasive pest which will be banned from sale in August 2017. It needs to be weeded out drastically each year and should only be composted and not distributed elsewhere. There are several alternatives including hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum). Other pond ‘enemies’ are duck weed and Azolla (fairy moss) which will completely cover the pond surface unless rigorously controlled. The aim should be to have half the pond’s water surface clear while plants cover the rest for shade and protection. Water lilies are excellent for this from June onwards. Irises in yellow, cream purple, white and blue are attractive pond plants and their habit of spreading their roots breaks up the barrier between water and dry ground and is excellent for frogs. Flowers are at their most abundant from June to August and it is good to provide pollinating plants for insects which need to come to the pond for water. It is in summer that dragonfly larvae emerge from the water after three to five years and climb up upright plants like cotton grass or irises ready to burst their cases as adult dragonflies.

Autumn brings the decay of plant material and this needs to be controlled to prevent the build-up of nutrient rich sludge on the pond bottom. Cut down and remove dying foliage and remove leaves. For pond maintenance Linda recommended the use of long waterproof gloves which reach to the armpits.Winter is a quiet time for the pond but remember the needs of birds in icy weather and keep a patch of water free from ice by putting a pan of heated water on it.

To conclude her talk Linda showed us once again the photograph she used at the beginning. Look again she said and see how the conservation of wildlife has been helped by the features and plants in the illustration.

Our next meeting will be on 20th December when we have our Christmas party 

Jeremy Arthern

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