How To Build A Wildlife Pond :: Part 1

We’ve had an exciting and exhausting few weekends in the garden building a new wildlife pond. But before I go on, I should preface this post with a disclaimer…

A few weeks ago, I was approached by a company, asking if I’d like to review any of their products. This was a first for me, and I wondered if it was right and proper, given that this blog has been a personal project to date. I decided that if they sold anything that I would actually use in my garden, I would give it a go, and be prepared to be honest when writing the review.

Happily, I discovered that the company, Bradshaws Direct, sells lots of pond products, and as I’ve always wanted a wildlife pond in my garden, but never had enough spare cash to justify the required spend, I was rather thrilled at the opportunity.

They sent me nearly all the stuff we needed (for free), and the delivery process was great – I got an email telling me when to expect delivery, and the driver left the package where I had asked (rather than in a random bin or flower bed, as delivery drivers so often seem to do!) So, we got to work to make it a reality. Here’s how we did it, and a few thoughts about the products we used…

I’ll start by saying that I have never personally built a pond. We’ve got a tub pond filled with plants, and have experimented with a mini washing-up bowl pond in the past. I’ve designed ponds, helped to plant up or improve existing ponds for clients, but I’ve never actually built one from scratch. So this process was a learning experience. Here’s my step-by-step guide to building a wildlife pond (Part 1), in case you’d like to have one in your garden.

1. Dig a hole!

There are a few things to consider at this point. Where should you dig the hole? is first. I chose a sunny spot near the house, so we could see the pond through the french doors, and away from trees that would drop leaves into the water, or where large roots might cause problems. And I put it in the centre of a border, opposite a gap in the pergola, because I am a stickler for design detail.

How big and deep should it be? A wildlife pond should be at least 60cm at its deepest point, with planting shelves around the sides at 20-30cm depth, and a slope to a beach at the front, so hedgehogs or other small creatures can get out if they fall in. Our pond was going to be small (1m x 2.5m), but we decided to make it bigger when we saw how much pond liner we’d been sent, and I’m so glad we did.

How long will it take? Give yourself a day for this first stage! I had help from my daughter, who turns out to be a keen digger (like-mother-like-daughter), and later from my mum. It’s hard work, and you’ll need lots of supplies to keep your energy up – I mainly survived on Bounty bars.

The really tricky part is working out what to do with all the soil you remove (also known as spoil, no idea why). You’d be amazed how much soil comes out of the hole! I moved barrow-load after barrow-load, dumping the good top soil on the raised beds, which needed a top up anyway, and the crappier, sandy stuff down the backs of borders and into any spare corner of the garden I could.

Finally, check your levels. We used a plank laid across the pond edges and a levelling tool to ensure the water level would be right. You have to keep moving the plank around the pond to check it’s all level, and add or take away soil as necessary. This is dreary but essential.

2. Lay down the underlay

The underlay we were given to review is Permalay Pond Underlay, which is apparently “strong and easy to lay… puncture and tear-resistant… flexible”. That all sounds great, and it certainly didn’t tear at any point when we were moving it about and tugging it into place. I like the fact that it is black, rather than white, so if any bits peep out they can’t really be seen.

The point of underlay is to provide a layer of protection between the soil and the pond liner, to prevent tears or punctures that would cause a leak in your pond. We did carefully remove any stones and roots from the base of the hole that might cause a problem, but using underlay is extra insurance.

What goes under the underlay? I hear you ask, quoting Speedy Gonzalez (Anadale andale arriba!!!?). Well, you can put down a layer of soft sand, but as my soil is pretty much sand at that depth anyway, we skipped it, and just used a double layer of underlay on the bottom. It was pretty easy to do, as the underlay was really light and easy to move about, and was plenty big enough, with lots of overlap. I got into the hole (shoes off) to smooth out creases etc and get it right into the edges of the hole. You can cut it into sections with scissors to make this easier.

3. Install the liner

The product we were given to review is SealEco Greenseal EPDM rubber pond liner, which apparently is a cheaper “alternative to butyl… same thickness, flexibility and toughness… UV protected”. It’s always a good idea to buy a liner that’s bigger than you’ll need, to be on the safe side. I was advised to use a liner that was 5m x 4m, and it was more than big enough for our planned pond.

Installing the liner really was a 3 or 4 person job, as it was quite large and fairly heavy. You’ll need one person on each corner. We’d laid it out in the sun for an hour or so beforehand, as instructed, to allow it to warm up so there would be a bit of stretch. This is the big advantage of a rubber liner, over a plastic one, as it’s more flexible and less likely to tear when you’re fitting it into the hole. It is significantly more expensive than plastic so there are pros and cons.

It was quite the job to get the liner to lie smoothly in the hole, and work out all the creases around the planting shelves and edges. I’m not sure we did it perfectly – the underside of the creases form a low point around the edges of the pond, where water can leak out – but with a bit of tinkering, it worked out fine in the end.

At this stage, don’t cut the liner!

4. Fill your hole with water

I had hoped to use rain water to fill the pond, as it gets your pond off to a good start, being better for pond plants and wildlife than chemically-enhanced tap water. My daughter had a lovely time, to-ing and fro-ing from the butt to the pond with the watering can, while my mum and I looked on with our tired feet up. But the butt ran out, and we resorted to the hose.

The point of filling the pond before cutting the liner is so that the water pushes the liner snugly into the pond hole, and so you can check the water level against the pond edges, making adjustments where needed. Then you can do the scary bit, cutting off the excess liner. I left quite a bit of overlap, to be safe, on the basis that you can always take some more away, but you can’t put it back.

All of this activity took us to the end of our first day’s labours, aching and sore, but satisfied.

Go to Part 2

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