Puzzled by your pond? You're in the right place

The chances are that, if you’re having trouble with your pond, someone somewhere will have had the same issue. Often ponds have more in common than immediately meets the eye: the same community of plants, similar kinds of invertebrate life, issues with pollution or fish or destructive ducks or dogs.

So, if you’re unsure how to tackle an issue that’s affecting your pond, or are pondering how to create the best habitat for freshwater wildlife, we might have the answer.

Creating a wildlife pond

At Freshwater Habitats Trust we get asked all sorts of questions about ponds. Here are answers to some of the most frequently encountered problems to give your new pond the best start – or lend your existing pond a helping hand.


Garden ponds do not usually require planning permission. However, it is worth checking this with your local authority.

If you are planning a large pond or pond complex, or are working on a public site, read our advice sheet on planning permission for ponds.

Unfortunately the answer is usually ‘no’. National funding tends to be limited to farmland, where pond creation can sometimes be funded through agricultural schemes, or public spaces. However, it may be worth checking with your local council, in case there are any grants that are specific to your area.

Shallow ponds are great for wildlife. Unless you are keeping fish, the deepest areas need to be no more than 25-30 cm (1 foot) deep.

The best wildlife ponds have very gently shelving natural edges, fringed by grasses, creating perfect homes for amphibians, and for invertebrates like dragonflies and water beetles.

To find out more, read Creating Garden Ponds for Wildlife, which we’ve produced with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

The short answer is: it doesn’t really matter.

For wildlife, the pond shape is less important than the depth (you need lots of shallow water), how clean the water is, and what the edges are like.

So, you can make a pond that is ‘natural or ‘formal’ – it just depends on what looks good in your garden.

Most garden ponds are created using a flexible liner, made from synthetic rubber polymers (eg butyl, EPDM) or plastic (eg PVC). Other options are to build a base from clay or concrete, although this is more expensive and requires professional installation. Occasionally, garden ponds can be created without having a liner at all, although it is rare for gardens to have water-holding soil.

There are pros and cons to whichever type of liner you choose.

To find out more, read Creating Garden Ponds for Wildlife, which we’ve produced with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Clean water is essential for making great wildlife ponds.

Rainwater is usually best as tap water often has high levels of polluting nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients will encourage the growth of algae and duckweeds which compete with and smother water plants.

Set up water butts to collect water from the roof of your house, a garage or an outbuilding a couple of months before you dig your pond. They should then be ready to fill it up once it is lined. You can also use this water to top up your pond during the drier summer months. Doing this means you won’t have to reach for the hose.


As a charity with limited resources, Freshwater Habitats Trust is unable to provide site visits or advise on individual ponds.

However, we offer a wealth of resources to guide you:


Managing your pond for wildlife

After your pond is created, you might have questions about how you can best manage it to help wildlife.

Assessing whether a pond is polluted can be surprisingly difficult. Quick methods (Is the water green? Is there a lot of duckweed?) can sometimes be misleading, whilst chemical samples are highly variable. Biological assessment methods are probably best, but need the skills of professional biologists for reliable results.

To find our more, download of factsheet on assessing pond pollution.

In the wild, fish are a natural part of the wildlife of some pond types. But they will usually overwhelm small garden ponds and eat smaller animals, including frog and newt tadpoles. They can also pollute the water unless you install filters.

If you want to keep fish, we recommend creating some areas of really dense plant cover, encouraging lots of grasses at the edges, and making areas that the fish can’t get to. The best option is to make a separate fish pond to have the best of both worlds!

When you’re choosing the location for your garden pond, we recommend somewhere partially shaded by trees or shrubs but with plenty of sunlight during the day. Take note of overhanging vegetation that may drop leaves into the water and alter the balance of the pond, and avoid plants that may poison the water.

Leaves and twigs falling into the water will provide food, shelter and case building materials for caddis flies.

Ponds which are shaded for part of the day won’t dry out so quickly in hot summers, and won’t get so hot; really high temperature (30 C plus, which can occur in full sun on hot days) can kill some freshwater animals.

It isn’t necessary to plant a pond. If you create a clean water pond, it should naturally colonise with plants over time.

However, if you do want to plant your pond ensure you choose native species to provide good habitat for other wildlife. Check out our Creating Garden Ponds for Wildlife booklet for more advice.

You don’t need to add sludge from another pond to your pond to ‘get it started’. In fact, doing so could risk transferring pollutants or non-native species.

In the spring, pond animals will arrive often within minutes, including water beetles and pond skaters – and dragonflies will often find your new pond in just a few days. More often than not amphibians will arrive within the first year. Even plants will establish in time, with grasses and mosses creeping in to provide good habitats for aquatic creatures.

Once you’ve created a pond, you should very soon be able to enjoy spotting wildlife. Our species directory includes many of the most common plants and animals you could find in your pond. We also recommend the Collins Pocket Guide: Freshwater life.


It is very exciting to have frogs, toads or newts arrive to breed at your garden pond. There are several things you can do to increase the chances. To create a good wildlife habitat, ensure your pond has gently sloping sides and plenty of shallow water and fill it with rainwater, rather than tap water.

If you want to attract amphibians, the area around the pond is just as important. Newts, as well as Common Frog and Common Toad need good quality terrestrial habitat as they only spend some of their time in water. This means having plenty of damp, cool spots to hide away. Creating a wildflower area near your pond will also attract insects, providing food for amphibians.

If you don’t have to empty the pond completely, leave about an inch of water in the bottom as most pond species (except fish) can survive in this.

If you need to empty your pond completely, do so slowly allowing creatures that can fly away to do so. You should also transfer small creatures and plants to a temporary mini-pond (a plastic box or old paddling pool would be fine) and move adult amphibians to a dark and damp area in your garden.

If you want to find out about how to test the water quality in your pond take a look at our Clean Water for Wildlife page.

To assess how good your pond is for wildlife, you might want to do the Big Pond Dip.

Pond dipping is a wonderful activity that can ignite a life-long passion for freshwater. The number of accidental drownings in ponds is low, but small children are particularly at risk. Here are some steps you can take to keep everyone safe:

  • Don’t let children pond dip unsupervised.
  • Talk to children to make them aware of possible dangers.
  • Remain vigilant to the risk of slips and falls from the bank.
  • Wash your hands afterwards, especially before handling food.

Tackling pond problems

If you don’t think your pond is in the best of health, we might have the answer you need.

  • A pea-soup coloured pond is caused by tiny green planktonic algae floating in the water. This problem, together with problems with filamentous algae (often called Blanket Weed or Cott) and small floating-leaved species like Duckweed and Water Fern, all have the same root cause – too many nutrients in the water – especially nitrate and phosphate.
  • These problem plants grow best where nutrient levels are high they can grow very rapidly. Common sources of high nutrients in garden ponds are:
    • Tap water
    • Soil or turf added to the pond bottom
    • Bare soil next to the pond, which can be washed in by rain
    • Fish: food and faeces add pollutants. In addition, fish stir-up bottom sediments, releasing them into the water. Fish also eat zooplankton, the tiny water fleas that would otherwise eat algae, clearing the water.

For more advice, check out our factsheet on algae and duckweed.

To find out more, read Creating Garden Ponds for Wildlife, which we’ve produced with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

There are many reasons for de-silting ponds: landscape, recreation, amenity, economic and wildlife conservation. Our advice is for dredging ponds where the main aim is to enhance the pond to protect its wildlife. In this situation, the first question is: ‘how will dredging help wildlife?’ The second is ‘might dredging cause damage to existing pond communities?’

For more detailed information to help you make the right decision, download our fact sheet on silted up ponds and dredging.

If your pond is drying out it can look like a disaster for wildlife. But for many ponds, drying up from time to time is perfectly natural and harmless or beneficial. Many freshwater plants and animals are adapted to survive (and, in some cases, thrive) in habitats that periodically dry out. That means a drought could be good news for some species in your pond and bad news for others.

But the problem is, as we continue to dangerously heat up the planet, is that drying up of many smaller and shallower ponds is going to become more common We simply don’t know what the effect of this will be.

It may be the best option to leave your pond to dry out. Alternatively, you may choose to top it up with rainwater from your water butt. Think carefully before topping up with tap water as this will introduce pollutants to your pond, which could cause more damage that the drying out.

For more detailed information, download our fact sheet on what to do if your pond is drying out.

Many people understandably worry about wildlife when their garden pond freezes over. In fact, most freshwater plants and animals found in Britain are well-adapted to cold snaps so it is often not necessary to intervene.

To help the creatures that live in and around your pond survive the cold weather it is important to have a range of wildlife-friendly areas in your garden, that will provide them with shelter in the water and on land. Areas of longer grass, overgrown corners or piles of wood or stones, can provide a vital refuge for many creatures.

To find out more, download our factsheet on helping pond wildlife over winter.

If water levels are falling in your pond, you may have a leak.

If your pond has pumps or filters, check the seals and pipework first for leaks. Fountains or cascades are also likely culprits, often because overspray means that water is being lost from the pond’s circulation system.

To locate a leak, wait until the falling water level stabilises. It will ultimately stop just below the level of the leak – like a bath full of water standing at the over-flow level. An exception is during periods of hot weather, when evaporation may cause pond levels to drop below the leak point. Once you’ve narrowed the search down to the area just above the water line, look carefully around the pond edge. You may need to remove vegetation, or clean areas to see the liner surface more clearly.

You can buy materials for resealing most PVC and Butyl liners.

For more information on locating leaks and repairing pond liners, read our fact sheet on falling water levels and leaks.

Got a question that Freshwater Habitats Trust can't answer?

While we have a wealth of freshwater expertise, we don’t claim to know everything. Here are some other organisations that may be able to help with some of the questions we can’t answer.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

If you can’t find the answer to your question here, our friends at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation may be able to help. Check out their Frequently Asked Questions.

Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK – ARG

If you are concerned about any amphibians or reptiles in your area, contact your local ARG group.

Wildlife Trusts

If you want to contact a local pond expert outside of the areas in which we work, we suggest you try your local Wildlife Trust.

Resources for creating and managing your pond

Creating Garden Ponds for Wildlife

We’ve compiled this booklet with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to offer you clear, concise advice – based on the latest evidence.

Get your free copy
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The Pond Book

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Pond creation toolkit

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