Chew Valley resident, Jo Haywood, explains how her family made a wildlife pond.
How we built our wildlife pond
As summer days rolled on after Lockdown 1, and our children were home from university, we were looking for an outdoor project. Something we could all do together. We’ve always wanted a pond to increase the biodiversity in the garden and this seemed like a perfect time. We decided to dig it right in front of the conservatory to give us a focal point, something we could look at when we couldn’t get outside.
What is a wildlife pond?
A wildlife pond is one created with wildlife in mind. This means shallow margins with a fringe of vegetation and nearby plant cover for amphibians and insects with terrestrial life stages. We also decided on no fish, so that we could enjoy the exquisite blooms of aquatic plants.
How we did it
First of all we had to agree on a shape, so we drew up some designs then marked out the hexagon shape we liked on the lawn with bamboo and string. We then lived with it for a couple of weeks, getting used to making detours around ‘the pond’ with the wheelbarrow.
Once we were happy with the shape we used a spirit level on string to check the height of sides, so we had a level from which to dig down. Although tempted by operating a mini digger ourselves we opted to hire a digger and operator for a day. The hardest work was removing all the soil and I’m very grateful to our kids who worked tirelessly removing wheelbarrows of soil and stones.
At the end of the day we had a huge hexagonally shaped hole in the ground. At the centre it’s 70cm, with a 30cm plant shelf, and a boulder shelf of around 10cm on two sides, that gives access in and out of the pond for all the crawling invertebrates we want to move in, such as the larvae of the diving beetle.
The spirit level came out again so we could check the height of the edge of the pond before putting down the liner. First was the under-lay to cushion against any sharp objects or rocks, then the waterproof butyl liner, and finally an over-lay to give a rough protective surface where plant roots, sand and mud can get purchase. I later found out we could have sealed the strips of overlay with a heat gun – something we’d do next time.
If we were professionals we’d probably have got on with the hard standing at this point. But with wild enthusiasm we got out the hose and filled the pond. The first thing that happened was the liner lifted due to all the trapped air, so we held it down with bricks until it settled.
Then the most amazing thing happened. Once the pond was filled it was like we had a mirror in the lawn. You could look down and see the clouds scudding overhead, the reflections of trees and plants and the family playing in the garden. To a photographer like myself, it was an unexpected delight.
The next wonder was the wildlife that arrived from nowhere. Within hours of the pond being filled we were aware of water boatmen diving into the pond from above. Have they been flying past all the time and we’ve just not noticed before? It soon became the Serengeti in the pond as each water boatman established their territories. A few days later we were treated to the dragon flies and darters, enjoying the late summer sun. Then one evening we were eating outside when there was loud ‘plop’ and a toad was swimming in the crystal clear waters.
The Hard Standing
This came from the local reclamation yard. I have to say I thought my husband was mad when the lorry arrived to unload the 20cm deep slabs (leaving massive trenches in the lawn). But over the next few weeks, Simon, with assistance from our son, Anthony, laid the patio, a few stones a day. They came up with a Stonehenge method of rolling each slab into position on logs cut from hazel, then levers and brute force to tempt them into position. The last slab was laid in the darkness of an autumn evening.
In the deep centre of the pond we have planted water lilies and hornwort from the pond at my parent’s house. Then on the plant shelf we have pickerel weed and water hawthorn.
And this Spring we are planting the banks on three sides of our hexagonal pond.
Side 4 will be slightly more formal with a shelf of boulders and above it a bed of marginal plants such as Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, purple loosestrife and Molinia caerulea.
Sides 5 and 6 are where we will have the bog garden. This is lowest side of pond and the liner comes over the edge and under the soil in this area to keep it wet. We are planning on starting our planting with forget me nots, ragged-robin, drumstick primula, meadowsweet, sedge, flowering rush and astilbe. I think this is enough to be getting on with this year so we can see how big they get and how much space they all need.
A lot of our plants have been gifts from generous pond owners in Chew Valley who I contacted on the Rewild Chew Garden by Garden Facebook page. I hope that once ours are established we can return the favour. If you are planning a pond in Chew Valley please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to take a cutting or two.