What to spot in wildlife ponds
Splashing about in the pond looking for wiggly minibeasts and slippery frogs might be fantastic fun but it also serves a serious purpose.
Our ponds are in serious decline. About a third have disappeared in the last 50 years and of those remaining around 80% are in poor condition for wildlife. You can help to reverse this by building a pond in your back garden to welcome wildlife.
As well as that warm feeling you get from helping wildlife you'll soon have a host of new garden visitors to identify and learn more about. Don't despair if you don't have much room, even a pond-in-a-pot can make a big difference to wildlife.
What to see
Whether you're lucky enough to have your own pond or you can find a pond dipping event near you, there's plenty of wildlife to be on the lookout for. Pond Conservation is a national charity dedicated to protecting our freshwater wildlife and every year they ask people to get involved in the Big Pond Dip to learn more about what lies beneath the surface. Here's their list of the top ten living things you can find in your average pond:
Common frogs: last year eight out of 10 people involved in the Big Pond Dip survey found frogs in their ponds.
Pond snails: in about two-thirds of ponds you should see pond snails.
A large red damselfly © Denis Greenough
Zooplankton: most people should be able to see the swarms of tiny crustacean 'water fleas' that filter algae from the water.
Damselflies: the most likely to be seen is the large red but check carefully if you live near heathland in southern England and South Wales: you might have the much less common small red damselfly. Let Pond Conservation know if you do.
Mayflies: look out for the pond olive, the most widespread of our mayflies.
A pond olive © Jeremy Biggs
Greater water boatmen: these predators, aka backswimmers, have been recorded in a third of ponds. Common and spotted backswimmers are most likely in the south. In the west and north look out for the acid water oblique backswimmer with distinctive white patches on the back.
Marginal grasses: let creeping bent run down into your pond from the lawn. It's a good animal habitat and one of the most common plants around ponds in the British countryside.
Caddis flies: count yourself lucky if you see caddis flies. They're a good sign of a high quality pond but are only found in about one in 10 at the moment.
We have seven species of native amphibian in the UK but you're more likely to see common frogs, common toads, smooth newts and sometimes palmate newts in your pond if it's over 1-2 metres in diameter. The dragon-like great crested newt is a rare find and protected by law in the UK. It's illegal to catch, possess or handle them without a licence, or to disturb their habitat.
It's not just the traditional residents that benefit from these watery oases either. Ponds provide drinking water for mammals, attract grass snakes looking for a meal and act as a public baths for many garden birds.
Build a pond
If you're planning to build a pond, Froglife [pdf] and Pond Conservation have great advice to make it as wildlife friendly as possible. Kate Humble's a keen advocate of ponds too and has the following top tips for anyone that's considering installing a watery habitat in their garden:
- Shallow edges allow animals to get in and out easily
- Use rainwater rather than tap water to fill it if you can
- To keep the water as clean as possible, ensure soil, garden fertilisers or other chemicals can't be washed into the pond
- Use native pond plants
- Ornamental fish will eat larvae and other pond life so leave them out if you want to maximise the variety of animals in your pond
A garden pond with lillies © nicholas cottrell
If you're already lucky enough to have a pond why not help scientists find out more about it? Pond Conservation's Big Pond Dip invites you to look for easily recognisable animals that show whether your pond's in good shape. All you need is a kitchen sieve and a white tray to get dipping.
The Wildlife and Wetlands Trust also want to hear from you. You can help them learn more about essential habitats by completing their online Wetlands in my Backyard survey.
Take part in a wildlife survey.
Attract wildlife to your green space.
Take a wildlife walk in your town.