This story begins when I purchased my first house, just after starting my role with you here at Warley Woods as your Wild Warley Project Manager! You can probably guess what ensued, plenty of renovations! The garden was not the highest priority (it was pretty much a blank slate-not overgrown, just a lawn and patio area) but there was a portion of a boundary forming brick wall that looked near the brink of collapse, desperately in need of repointing. Fancying myself as a bit of a DIYer, I took on the task of repointing the wall, replacing the crumbling mortar. 

To my shock whilst repointing, I found a Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), which had taken shelter within the cracks and crevices in my crumbling mortar; to be honest I have no idea how it got to where it was, as it was seemingly sealed in. I am glad none of the tools I was using had injured the poor fellow, but he has to be re-situated, I had to fix this wall, and the mortar mix would not have agreed with his sensitive skin. I relocated it to a freshly stacked pile of bricks 
which it readily took shelter within, after I had rudely, but unintentionally disturbed its previous resting location.   
I had always wanted my own garden, complete with a pond, but the discovery of the smooth newt in my brickwork accelerated the process, I wanted the pond in ASAP so the ecosystem could start developing. I set to it, digging out the form of my pond, in the commonly accepted kidney shape which is not only an attractive shape it gives good variation to the pond, creating both sheltered and exposed areas. I used a fantastic free guide by Froglife called 'Just Add Water' which sets out the steps you need to take and the reasoning behind them.

Why are wildlife ponds Important?

Globally 41% of amphibians are threatened with extinction (WWF), this is linked to a myriad of issues, including habitat loss, disease, global warming, and road traffic collisions. In the UK our amphibian populations have been in decline since the 1970's, with Common Toad Populations declining by 68% in the last 30 years (Froglife & University of Zurich 2016), Newt populations have faced similar declines, with Great Crested Newts receiving special legal protection due to their significant losses to habitat. The Word Amphibian has its origins in Greek where it meant 'of both kinds of life' this is referring to the seemingly double life of amphibians being terrestrial as adults, but still being tied to water in order to reproduce. This makes this species vulnerable as not only do they need suitable habitat to forage as adults they need access to suitable pollution-free water in order to reproduce. These ponds also need to be free from predators as fish will decimate their spawn.

Pond Construction

I won't reinvent the wheel, there are a plethora of amazing guides on how to construct a wildlife pond, including the Froglife one I have linked above, instead, I will share with you some of the key points I learnt and did to make my wildlife pond more productive and safe for wildlife. 

  • Use a stepped design, this allows you to have plants with different depth requirements in your pond, it also creates warmer and
     cooler areas inside the water column, more variation in the habitat potentially means more diversity in your pond. 
  • Ensure to build a ramp, there should be a ramp from the lowest part of your pond to the shallowest, this ensures wildlife that falls in can get out and easier navigation for some of your aquatic species, there should be a maximum depth of at least 60cm to ensure the pond is protected against drying totally out in periods of drought. 
  • Old carpet is a great substitute for protective pond fleece, and a good way to recycle used material, it is what is under the butyl liner in my pond and it has been working a treat. 
  • Try and start on a level surface (this makes the whole job easier).
  • Consider leaving the area around your pond to go wild!
  • Make sure to put in oxygenating plants and avoid fish if you want amphibians. 
  • You will have an excess of soil from the pond excavation, consider installing a hibernaculum, which can be used by a range of creatures including amphibians. This is easily created by piling old slabs and bricks into a messy pile (with lots of gaps) then cover with carpet to minimise soil ingress. Pile up all the old soil on top of this so it is protected from the harsh temperature changes, they will want a stable temperature within the hibernaculum. You can add a pipe into it, though this is not necessary as they can and will find cracks and their own way in. 

My Pond One Year On

What a difference a year makes! If you need any more encouragement to install a wildlife pond in your garden I would say that It filled me with joy and excitement watching the pond develop over time. For instance, I was shocked that within two days Black Diving Beetles had arrived in my pond, which at that stage was quite literally a large bucket of tap water. As I added plants and the pond started taking shape, small fly larva started arriving which meant I was getting close to being able to feed any amphibians in my pond. 

Water boatmen, daphnia have all made their own way into my pond, and my introduced ramshorn snails have a growing population, importantly recycling the decaying plant material within the pond. 

I thought I had missed the chance of any amphibians this year, the peak spawning season passed with no sign of any spawn in my pond, I was a little downhearted, but watching all the other creatures in the pond was still fantastic, 'next year' I thought.

One evening I went down to have a look at the pond and I saw movement under the water, was I imagining it? I rushed into the house to get my torch as the sun had set, as I scanned the waters there he was a magnificent Male Smooth Newt, complete with his dorsal crest and colourful spotted belly to aid him on his search for a mate. I was ecstatic, I kept scanning the waters, and I saw another this time female, and another I was now euphoric! In total I counted 6 adult newts, two males and four females. I was like a kid in a sweet shop, newts were breeding in my year-old pond! It feels amazing to have provided habitat for this struggling species and I am watching with baited breathe until the day I get Efts (juvenile newts) in my pond. 

Newts unlike frogs who lay spawn in clumps, or toads who lay their spawn in lines, actually lay their eggs singularly. The female carefully deposits an egg onto a leaf in the pond and uses her hind legs to curl the leaf around the egg. Interestingly I found out that you tend to have either Newts or Frogs/Toads in a pond as adult newts will readily gobble up tadpoles. 

Please consider making a wildlife pond in your garden (even if it is only small)! If you do decide to we would love to hear about it! Building a wildlife pond is a registrable Small Act, reported Small Acts gain you entry into our Small Act prize draw! 

Wild Warley is working to install a Wildlife Pond here at Warley Woods, to learn more about this please visit our Water in the Wilderness page.