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A wildlife pond for your grounds is a very rewarding project, and will attract a range of wildlife almost immediately. It is the most popular wildlife addition to school grounds, and for good reason.

Ponds and safety

  • Ponds are potentially a safety hazard if unimpeded access is allowed, so think carefully about where to site your pond, and how to restrict access to it.
  • Think carefully about the depth of your pond (a shallow pond can attract as much wildlife as a deeper one)
  • Think about how the various classes and age groups will use the pond for curriculum work, and make sure that access to the pond edge can be safely managed.

RoSPA has advice on safely using a school pond on its website.

Creating a new pond is a major undertaking, so careful thought is needed about its site – it is not at all easy to move a pond once it is created! Ponds work best in an open situation, and maintenance will be reduced if you can avoid having to remove leaves from the pond bottom each autumn. Ponds are an ecosystem in themselves, with a balance of plant life and water creatures living at various depths and creating their own food chain. Ponds are also widely used by creatures that don’t live in them, and are an important source of freshwater for birds, mammals and insects that live around or use the school grounds.

Once your pond has been dug out to the desired shape and depth, it will need to be lined with the traditional puddled clay or more usually and successfully these days with a butyl liner. It can be filled with tap water, but then needs to stand for several days to allow the chlorine and other chemicals to evaporate. It is a good idea to add a bucketful or two of pond water from a local healthy and balanced pond, as this will provide a basis of water creatures that will immediately begin populating your new pool and establish the beginnings of the food chain. Plants are an essential addition, providing cover for wildlife and water insects, shading to prevent the growth of algae and blanket weed, and providing oxygen to the water. Getting the right balance between plants and open water takes a bit of experimentation to get it right, and needs some assistance to maintain the balance; removing excess plants in the autumn for example.

Plants to avoid

Bulrush, unless your pond is very large. They are invasive and very difficult to control. The roots, which bear new plantlets can pierce a butyl liner.

  • Water or floating pennywort – floats on the surface and can form dense mats which look like dry land. Extremely invasive.
  • Parrot’s feather – usually bought as a submerged oxygenating plant, it is very invasive and can grow out of water as well as in it.
  • New Zealand pigmyweed – like pennywort it was introduced as an oxygenating plant for ponds, but has escaped into the wild where it chokes out native species
  • Water fern – floats on the surface of the water, doubles its mass every two days, and forms dense mats which look like dry land

If your pond is for wildlife, do not add fish as they will eat the young of many species. If you have no frogspawn in the first spring of your new pond, ask school parents to advise on potential sources nearby. Take only a small amount of frog or toadspawn from other people’s ponds. The resulting frogs should return to the school pond to spawn in following years. Frogs, toads and newts will all leave the pond after spawning, and it is important to encourage them to stay around by providing shady, damp places for them to spend the summer months. Piles of logs, loosely built stone walls and plenty of undergrowth close to the pond edges are all essential features – but make sure that pupils do not climb on them!

Most good gardening books have ideas for designs, or visit the Pond Conservation website for good information. A bog garden can easily be added to your pond to provide added interest, and allow you to grow a wider range of plants. Take care with the plants that you choose, as water and bog garden plants can grow very quickly and spread to other areas.

Visit the Postcode Plant search page to find native species for Monmouthshire.

Useful links

Pond Conservation

British Dragonfly Society (includes grants to help with creating a school pond)

Forestry Commission Wales advice on creating school ponds

RoSPA advice on safely using a school pond

British Ecological Society advice on the right design and construction of pond for various needs – plus a wallchart of species and construction

Froglife is a UK charity working to conserve amphibians, reptiles and their habitats. Resources for schools are available via their website

Plant supplies

Wetland Plants (has a list of British native species) based near Ross-on-Wye 01584 879076

Kenchester Water Gardens Hereford 01432 270981. Show gardens and garden centre.

Penlan Perennials, Pembrokeshire (0)1239 842260. Organic growers using peat free soils, plants available by mail order