Create a life-giving garden oases

Outdoor Living

LIFE’S A BEACH Including sloping gravel or pebble ‘beach’ allows wildlife to safely drink the pond water and prevents small animals like hedgehogs from drowning.

Making a wildlife pond is a truly rewarding autumn project

Nature and rewilding
Pat Fahy

No wildlife garden should be without a wildlife pond; they’re top of the list. These oases are irresistible magnets for both gardeners and the passing wildlife, which will visit in increasing interest as the ponds develop and mature. Wildlife doesn’t distinguish between something manmade or otherwise; all ponds are a valuable oasis to all manner of wild things in all shapes and colours.
By definition, it’s a wildlife pond if it doesn’t contain fish and if a frog can easily hop in and out. This is why shallow slopes are the most important part of any pond.
Converting a garden pond into wildlife Pond is easily done. In my own garden I converted a steep-sided garden fibreglass rigid pond liner into something frogs can use by including a  stone ramp. I also placed a slightly submerged garden pot into it, which resident blackbirds and robins make use of for their regular splashy splashy baths. Very entertaining.
There’s always some version of a wildlife pond for most gardens, no matter the size – a submerged bathtub or even something one metre by one metre can work perfectly well.

Digging and lining
Autumn and winter are the best time to construct a pond, so if it’s a project you might be interested getting stuck into, here’s some tips for digging and lining your own wildlife pond.
Firstly, choose a site that gets direct sunlight for at least half the day and try to avoid overhanging trees.
A pond that is round or with flowing curves is going to look more natural. The pond shape can be marked out using a hosepipe and pegs to keep in place. Allow plenty of room around it for marginal planting and aim for a shape that fits in with existing paths and hedges.
Dig it out with shallow shelves around the perimeter for ‘emerging’ partially submerged plants. Aquatic plants such as water lillies need deeper water so include a section that is at least 1 metre deep. This also gives creatures like frogs refuge at the bottom in times of extreme frost. Include a shallow slope for at least one-third of the circumference in total or divided into two areas.
Check the edges are all level using a spirit level and build it up with soil if necessary. Avoid steep slopes falling down into or away from the edge of the pond. Remove stones and roots then firm and smooth the soil.
Flexible liners need an underlay, which is sometimes supplied as standard. A one-inch surfacing and packing with builders’ sand is an extra precaution. We recently created a big wildlife pond at Rice College school in Westport, and we used copious amounts of cardboard, which businesses are only too pleased to be rid of. Newspaper or old carpet also works.
For that pond we also chose a Polyex liner, which has a 25-year guarantee. It seems to be a superior material to the butyl rubber liners of old, which can also be toxic to some wildlife. Pond liner quick and easy calculators can easily be found online. Tip: Every garden wildlife pond it seems ends up being bigger than first envisaged, so leave this calculation until the very end if you can.
Lay the liner down over the hollow and let it ease into the contours, avoiding creases; Polyex is more forgiving on this score. Weigh down the excess liner with flat stones or bricks.
Fill with water and trim the liner leaving at least a 12-inch border lying flat around the edge, depending on the size of your pond. Add stones, soil and plants to hide the liner to finish off and to create a natural-looking pond edge.  
It’s as easy as that, and a lot easier than you might first imagine , so get out there and start digging for one of the finest things in the eyes of your local wildlife. Some say we have an innate need to be near water, but all I know is this: When you create your wildlife pond haven you’ll wish you did it years ago, such is the enjoyment it will bring.

Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.