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  • Writer's pictureClare Snowdon

Water Features for Everyone

Having a wildlife pond may seem like something that is only possible for people with large gardens and no small children. Thankfully, wildlife will benefit from even a tiny water feature. Our first pond was lovingly nicknamed "the Dog Bowl." It was a small bowl, that visiting dogs would treat as a place for refreshment in preference to the fresh tap water offering. Here's the first clue to one of the many wildlife benefits of a water feature - it is an important watering hole for thirsty animals.

It always amazes me that Frogs, Toads and Newts (amongst the many invertebrates) will seemingly appear out of nowhere. You may think that there are no ponds for miles around and yet they come to visit the garden. A small water feature helps them to travel to new breeding grounds or, as I discovered, serves as a place to breed. The Dog Bowl became filled with Frog spawn, which prompted our lockdown pond and, when that filled with Frog spawn, Pond Two. Those breeding amphibians need somewhere for their offspring to go. They need safe havens in drought and wildfire. Your tiny water bowl may be lifesaving.

So we have two really easy projects that you might like to try. These will go on a balcony. You may not get Frogs if you are above the ground floor, but they may still help many invertebrates and possibly birds too.

Pond Bowl

I used bits of stone and brick from around the garden. Having an area which is shallow or just wet but not submerged gives a place for insects to land and drink and for birds. Hedgehogs can swim, but will drown if they cannot get out of a pond so need a ramp to keep them safe. In times of low rain, you will need to keep the pond topped up, ideally with rainwater you have captured in a water butt or something similar. If you do need to use tap water, it's best to leave it for a couple of weeks before adding it to the pond, but in an emergency, it is better than nothing. That said, in wild ponds, water levels will rise and fall so this is something wildlife is adapted to. You do not need to keep water levels topped up to the max at all times - they can get quite low without it being a problem.

I source plants from places who can confirm no pesticides have been used. Aquatic life is especially sensitive. Puddleplants supply plants that are suitable for a washing-up bowl project and I found them to be really helpful and knowledgeable. For the washing-up bowl, the plants listed are less likely to take over. Plants like Water Mint are not so suitable - they will easily take over a pond if left unchecked and are not really suitable for our mini ponds.

I also aim mostly for the plants are that are native, however there are some non-natives that are attractive to our wildlife. Puddleplants recommended the Iris versicolor plants. On the other hand, there are a few non-natives who are invasive, some illegal, and so care is needed to avoid these. Curly Pondweed for example is one you will come across for sale and need to avoid. The WWT have produced this very useful article on plants to avoid.

On the other hand, there are some wonderful native plants. There are plants to oxygenate the water and you will want plants that don't need a great depth of water, so the marginal ones are often a good shout.

Bog Bowl

I have found this works fine with regular soil. It will cope with getting reasonably dry, but important to note that some of the specialist bog plants do not like being left in standing water so would need drainage if you go down this route, whereas the marginal pond plants will work well, even if the bowl gets flooded.

All these plants and habitats will benefit wildlife, but the pond bowl and the bog bowl each offer different niches, which means you can really boost the diversity by having one of each.

Ponds are one of the highest impact projects for biodiversity and, of course, if it suits your space and lifestyle, you can always scale up and have a bigger pond using these principles!

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