Attracting wildlife to your pond

Creating a thriving pond ecosystem in your schoolyard is not just a splendid way to beautify the space but also a fantastic educational tool for students of all ages. From kindergarteners to high schoolers, the opportunity to observe and interact with a diverse range of wildlife right on school grounds is invaluable. Let's dive into the world of attracting wildlife to your pond, making it a lively natural laboratory!

Why Attract Wildlife to Your Pond?

Schools can transform a simple water body into a buzzing hub of activity where children can learn about biology, ecology, and environmental stewardship. Observing wildlife such as frogs, fish, insects, and birds up close can stimulate students' curiosity and foster a lifelong appreciation for nature.

Additionally, a well-maintained pond with a variety of species can serve as an excellent backdrop for interdisciplinary lessons including science, literature, and art.

natural pond in school2

 Getting Started - Building the Right Pond

The first step in attracting wildlife to your pond is to ensure that the pond itself is conducive to wildlife habitation. If you're starting from scratch, consider the location: a spot with partial sunlight is ideal as it can support a range of aquatic plants and animals.

The size of the pond also matters. While larger ponds can support more biodiversity, even a small pond can be teeming with life if set up correctly. Make sure the pond has varying depths, with shallow areas for birds to bathe and deeper zones for fish to thrive. A natural pond can integrate nicely with the environment whereas a free-standing wildlife pond might be the ideal solution if space is tight or if digging up the ground is not suitable.

Creating Habitats with Plant Life

One secret to attracting wildlife to your pond is to plant a variety of oxygenating plants. These not only help keep the water clean by absorbing nutrients and providing oxygen during the day but also provide essential habitats for many aquatic creatures.

Marginal plants along the edges, like irises and rushes, can attract insects and amphibians. Floating plants such as water lilies provide shade and help regulate the temperature and algae growth.

In the UK, native plants play a crucial role in supporting the local wildlife, especially in natural wildlife ponds. Here are five of the best native plants for such ponds:

  1. Water Mint (Mentha aquatica): This aromatic plant is a favorite among pollinators like bees and butterflies. Its clusters of tiny purple flowers not only add a pop of color to your pond but also attract a wide range of beneficial insects. Water mint also provides shelter for aquatic creatures like tadpoles and newts.
  2. Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus): With its striking yellow flowers and sword-shaped leaves, the yellow flag iris adds a touch of elegance to any pond. But its beauty isn't just skin deep—this plant provides vital habitat for birds, amphibians, and insects. Its dense root system also helps to stabilize the pond edges and prevent erosion.
  3. Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris): As the name suggests, marsh marigold thrives in wet, boggy conditions, making it perfect for ponds with fluctuating water levels. Its bright yellow flowers bloom in early spring, providing a valuable nectar source for emerging insects. Plus, its large, glossy leaves offer shelter for tadpoles and other aquatic creatures.
  4. Water Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis scorpioides): This delicate plant might be small, but it packs a punch when it comes to attracting wildlife. Its clusters of tiny blue flowers are a magnet for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, while its sprawling habit provides cover for aquatic life. Water forget-me-not is also incredibly easy to grow, making it a must-have for any wildlife pond.
  5. Common Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis): Don't let its unassuming appearance fool you—common water crowfoot is a powerhouse when it comes to supporting wildlife. Its delicate white flowers float on the water's surface, providing a landing pad for insects like hoverflies and water boatmen. Beneath the surface, its feathery leaves offer shelter for fish and other aquatic creatures.

These five native plants are just a taste of the rich diversity of flora that can thrive in a natural wildlife pond in the UK. By incorporating a variety of native plants into your pond design, you'll make a great start in attracting wildlife to your pond and creating a vibrant ecosystem that's teeming with life. So grab your gardening gloves and get planting—you'll be amazed at the wildlife that'll come calling!

Attracting Amphibians

For many teachers, the joy of watching children's faces light up when they spot a frog is unmatched! Amphibians like frogs and newts are fantastic indicators of a healthy pond ecosystem.

To attract frogs, provide hiding spots such as rocks, logs, and even ceramic pots turned on their side. Remember, frogs need access to land as well as water, so don’t make the pond too deep everywhere.

Frog and fish in pond

Welcoming the Birds

Birds not only add beauty and song to the pond area but are also important for controlling pests. Installing a bird feeder and a birdbath near the pond can help attract these feathered friends. A natural pond can integrate these features seemlessly into its design.

Plant native shrubs and trees around the pond to provide shelter and nesting spots for birds. Berry-producing plants can also attract a variety of bird species.

Insects and More

Insects are crucial for a healthy pond ecosystem, serving as both pollinators and food sources for other wildlife. Attracting them involves planting a variety of native flowers and grasses around the pond.

Consider leaving a section of the land unmowed to encourage a natural meadow habitat. This can be particularly fascinating for students to study insect life cycles.

Where to get the starter wildlife from

In the UK, there are several options for acquiring tadpoles and other wildlife to populate your pond. Here are some popular choices:

  • Wildlife Trusts and Conservation Organizations: Many Wildlife Trusts and conservation organizations in the UK offer pond creation and restoration services. They may also provide advice on sourcing native wildlife for your pond. Some even have programs where you can adopt or purchase tadpoles, newts, and other pond inhabitants.
  • Local Pond Owners: Reach out to local pond owners or gardening clubs in your area. They may be willing to share tadpoles or other wildlife from their own ponds, helping to promote biodiversity in your pond and the wider community.
  • Aquatic Nurseries and Suppliers: Some aquatic nurseries and suppliers specialize in native pond plants and wildlife. They may offer tadpoles, newts, and other aquatic creatures for sale. These suppliers often have expertise in sourcing and caring for native species, ensuring you receive healthy specimens for your pond.
  • Online Retailers: There are several online retailers in the UK that specialize in pond supplies and wildlife. They may offer tadpoles, frogspawn, and other pond inhabitants for sale, with the option of home delivery. Be sure to choose reputable retailers that prioritize the welfare of the animals they sell. Free-standing wildlife ponds are easily obtainable from a variety of sellers. 
  • Pet Shops and Garden Centers: While less common, some pet shops and garden centers may stock tadpoles and other wildlife for ponds. However, it's essential to ensure that any animals purchased are native species and ethically sourced.

When selecting tadpoles and other wildlife for your pond, it's crucial to choose native species that are well-suited to the local climate and ecosystem. Avoid introducing non-native species, as they can disrupt native wildlife populations and ecosystems. Additionally, always obtain wildlife from reputable sources that prioritize animal welfare and ethical sourcing practices.

Before introducing wildlife to your pond, ensure that your pond is properly prepared and provides suitable habitat for the species you plan to introduce. This includes providing appropriate water quality, shelter, and food sources. By selecting native wildlife and creating a welcoming habitat, you can attract a diverse range of creatures to your pond and contribute to local biodiversity conservation efforts.

Seasonal Considerations

Wildlife needs vary with the seasons. In the spring and summer, focus on providing breeding grounds and plenty of food. In autumn, think about shelter for overwintering species.

As winter approaches, ensure the pond doesn’t completely freeze over. A simple pond heater or aerator can keep a small area of the pond open, allowing for gas exchange that is vital for fish and overwintering amphibians.

Safety and Maintenance

Keeping the pond safe for both students and wildlife is paramount. Ensure the edges of the pond are stable and consider a gentle slope rather than a steep drop-off to prevent accidents.

Regular maintenance is crucial. Removing excess algae manually and checking the health of aquatic plants will help keep the pond attractive and healthy.

Tools and Resources for Learning

Equipping yourself with tools like nets for pond dipping, magnifying glasses, and even microscopes can turn a simple wildlife observation into a profound educational experience.

Don’t forget resources like identification books and charts which can help students learn to recognize different species viewed in their natural pond habitat.

Creating and maintaining a natural pond is a wonderful way to attract wildlife and provide students with a hands-on educational experience. It encourages responsibility, enhances scientific knowledge, and fosters environmental awareness.

Through careful planning and maintenance, your school pond can become a cherished learning environment that intrigues, educates, and inspires students about the natural world around them. Embrace the journey, for every small creature that takes up residence adds a chapter to the ongoing story of your living, breathing, schoolyard pond.

Attracting wildlife to your pond - In a nutshell....

Now, before you start imagining a stampede of animals crashing through your garden gate, let's get real. Attracting wildlife to your pond is more about creating the right conditions and offering a welcoming environment rather than summoning creatures like a wildlife wizard. These top ten strategies will help to make attracting wildlife to your pond a cinch and your pond may become the ultimate hangout spot for Mother Nature's finest.

  1. Native Plant Power: Want to know the secret to a wildlife-friendly pond? Native plants! These are the green goodies that wildlife already knows and loves. Think about it—birds, insects, and amphibians are all familiar with native plants, so they're more likely to pay a visit to your pond if it's decked out with their favorite foliage.
  2. Variety is the Spice of Life: Just like us humans, wildlife appreciates a bit of diversity in their lives. So, don't be afraid to mix things up! Different types of plants, varying depths of water, and a range of habitats around the pond will attract a wider array of critters.
  3. Keep it Natural: Wildlife doesn't want a sterile, perfectly manicured pond straight out of a magazine. Nope, they're after something a bit more wild and rugged. Let nature do its thing—allow algae to grow, let fallen leaves collect, and don't be too quick to tidy up. Trust me, the wildlife will thank you for it!
  4. Rock On: Rocks and logs aren't just for decoration, folks. They're prime real estate for wildlife! Create shady spots for critters to hide, sun themselves, or even lay their eggs. Plus, rocks and logs help to stabilize the edges of your pond, preventing erosion and keeping the water nice and clear.
  5. Pump Up the Oxygen: Like us, wildlife needs oxygen to survive. So, make sure your pond has plenty of it! Installing a fountain or waterfall not only adds a lovely aesthetic touch but also helps to aerate the water, keeping it fresh and oxygen-rich.
  6. Ditch the Chemicals: Say no to pesticides and fertilizers, my friends! These chemicals might give you a picture-perfect pond in the short term, but they'll wreak havoc on your wildlife population in the long run. Embrace natural methods of pest control and let your pond find its own balance.
  7. Leave Some Mess: I know, I know, it goes against every instinct to leave things messy. But trust me, a bit of mess is good for attracting wildlife to your pond! Fallen leaves, twigs, and other organic matter provide food and shelter for all sorts of critters, so don't be too quick to clean up.
  8. Say Yes to Snags: Snags might sound like a bad thing, but in the world of ponds, they're actually pretty great! Snags are fallen trees or branches that stick out of the water, creating valuable habitat for birds, insects, and other wildlife. Leave them be and watch the wildlife flock to your pond!
  9. Be Patient: Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a wildlife-friendly pond. It takes time for wildlife to discover and settle into a new habitat, so don't be disheartened if your pond doesn't become a bustling hotspot overnight. Keep tweaking and tinkering, and before you know it, your pond will be teeming with life!
  10. Spread the Word: Engage the children in talking about the pond and their achievements. You never know when people in the community might have things to offer from dipping nets to plants to tadpoles. Keep the communication going through tweets, newsletters and video clips.

So there you have it — my top ten strategies for attracting wildlife to your pond. Whether you're a seasoned pond enthusiast or a newbie just dipping your toes into the world of pond-keeping, these tips will help you create a thriving ecosystem that'll have wildlife flocking to your doorstep. So grab your shovel, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to welcome all sorts of critters to your very own slice of paradise!

tadpole and child's hands in pond

Useful organisations for developing a school-based pond

These five organizations support schools in developing natural wildlife ponds:

  1. The Wildlife Trusts: The Wildlife Trusts is a network of 46 local Wildlife Trusts across the UK. They offer resources, advice, and support for schools interested in creating wildlife-friendly habitats, including ponds. Their website provides guidance on pond creation, wildlife identification, and curriculum-linked resources for educators.Website: The Wildlife Trusts
  2. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB): The RSPB offers a range of resources and support for schools interested in wildlife gardening and habitat creation. They provide guidance on creating ponds, attracting wildlife, and integrating outdoor learning into the curriculum. Their website includes educational materials, activity ideas, and information on RSPB school membership.Website: RSPB for Schools
  3. The Pond Conservation Trust: The Pond Conservation Trust (now integrated into the Freshwater Habitats Trust) offers advice and resources specifically focused on ponds and freshwater habitats. They provide guidance on pond creation, wildlife gardening, and pond management tailored for schools. Their website includes downloadable resources, case studies, and information on training opportunities.Website: Freshwater Habitats Trust
  4. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO): The BTO offers educational resources and support for schools interested in birdwatching, wildlife gardening, and habitat creation. While their primary focus is on birds, many of their resources and guidance can be applied to broader wildlife conservation efforts, including pond creation. Their website includes bird identification guides, citizen science projects, and educational materials for schools. Website: BTO for Schools
  5. Learning through Landscapes (LtL): Learning through Landscapes is a charity dedicated to promoting outdoor learning and school grounds development. They offer training, resources, and support for schools interested in creating wildlife-friendly habitats, including ponds. Their website includes case studies, lesson plans, and guidance on outdoor learning and environmental education.Website: Learning through Landscapes

These organizations will provide valuable support and resources for you in the process of attracting wildlife to your pond and  incorporating outdoor learning into your curriculum. Whether you're seeking guidance on pond creation, wildlife identification, or curriculum-linked activities, these links offer a wealth of information to support your school's conservation efforts.

Free-standing wildlife ponds are great solutions if space is tight.

pond in barrel

A natural pond can integrate well into the environment, providing easy access for wildlife.

natural pond in school