How to make a wildlife pond for under £60

Ive been itching to make a decent sized wildlife pond for a long time but having a small garden in a rental property meant that all I could have was a small barrel pond. Thankfully I recently managed to get an allotment plot in the village and after tidying up the overgrown vegetable beds I’ve now got space for a real pond!

As I quit my job at the end of last year the project needed to be done on the cheap. The total build cost me £55 and I was able to cut costs by dividing plants from my garden and barrel pond. So if you know anyone with an established pond and garden, be cheeky and ask if you can take cuttings. If you offer to do some pond maintenance for them in return I’m sure they’ll be happy to help.

1. Choose the location

Choose a location that gets some sun, away from any deciduous trees if you can. Shade over part of the pond can help to reduce excessive algal growth but too much shade is not great for wildlife. Cut back any overhanging branches so that autumn leaves don’t fall into the pond.

2. Mark out the shape

A piece of string can be used to mark out the desired shape. I decided to go for a kidney shape, incorporating a large boulder I didn’t want to move into the design. Wildlife isn’t fussy about the shape of a pond so choose a shape that suits the space.

3. Get digging!

Even a small pond takes a lot of effort to dig, especially if you have heavy soil and rocky ground (I had both!), so get the help of a willing friend. Wildlife prefers shallow ponds with gently sloping sides. A lot of invertebrate activity takes place in warmer shallow water and a slope provides easy entry and exit to the water. I made the deepest part of the pond ~60cm deep and created a shallower shelf for marginal plants to sit on.

Use a spirit level to make sure that the the pond edges are level – I didn’t and that meant I had lots of ugly pond liner to hide!

Now that that the hole is finished, use an online calculator to see how much pond liner you will need.

4. Add underlay

Take care to remove all rocks, twigs and tough roots from the bottom and sides of the hole. You then need to add some sort of underlay for the liner to sit on. You can buy specially made pond underlay but I found it to be too expensive, so I first put down a layer of weed matting fabric and then topped it with an inch of builders sand. When you are happy that there are no sharp bits poking out it is time to add the liner.

5. Fit the pond liner

Having already worked out how much liner you need it’s just a case of dragging it over the hole. Once in position start to add water, slowly at first. The weight of the water will push the liner into the bottom of the hole. When you’re happy that the liner is in the right position you can fill the pond up more quickly. If you have access to rainwater, it’s preferable to use that instead of the hose.

6. Trim and hide the liner

Chance are you have excess pond liner so trim it back until you have around 30cm. There are several ways of edging the pond and securing the liner: you could place slabs or bricks on top but as this is a wildlife pond I wanted to make it look more natural. I dug a small trench around the edge of the pond then simply folded the liner into it. Because there are so many rocks on my allotment I decided to incorporate them into the pond edge and create a pebble slope into the water.

7. Add plants but not fish

You don’t necessarily need to add plants to your pond as over time natural colonisation will occur. But this could take a long time and during that period your pond will look unnatural. Planting your own plants also gives you greater control over what the pond will look like.

Try and use as many native plant species as possible as they grow well and make a more natural home for wildlife. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t use non-native ornamental plants as they can be very attractive and add value to your pond. I have a mix of both. You should aim to have a mix of submerged oxygenating plants, floating plants and marginals. Use aquatic plant pots (I found loads for free at a garden centre plant pot recycling point) and soil from the hole you’ve dug for your marginal plants. Top the pots off with some gravel to stop the soil from floating out of the pots.

Creating an area of denser vegetation towards the back of the pond provides cover for wildlife. Behind the shelf of marginal plants I planted a mixture of native and ornamental species: yarrow, foxglove, marjoram, thyme, hosta, campanula, daisies, Berberis, primula, violet, buddleia and grasses.

Plants can be expensive, so keep your eyes peeled for bargains on eBay, Facebook and local markets. You probably wont find aquatic plants in supermarkets but Morrison’s and Aldi often have excellent garden plants at very cheap prices.

Placing dead branches into the pond can also help to enrich the habitat. They act as entry/exit points and as resting places for insects like dragonflies.

Fish predate on most aquatic organisms so by leaving them out you will have higher biodiversity in your pond.


8. And now we wait…

As the saying goes ‘build it and they will come’. Over time plants will establish and the pond will start to look more natural. Wildlife will naturally colonise your pond and will do so surprisingly quickly. Resist the urge to relocate things like frogs from other ponds. You could inadvertently aid the spread of a deadly amphibian pathogen called Chitrid fungus. Just be patient and half the fun is spotting the new arrivals!

Equipment used:

    Tape measure
    Spirit level
    Weed matting fabric
    Builders sand
    Butyl pond liner
    Aquatic plant pots

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