Pond life experts ahoy!

I need a bit of advice from people who know about ponds (and their denizens).

Here’s the problem…

There was once a farm pond on our property. I’m not sure when it was dug out, as the farm buildings date back to the 18th century. It is essentially a deep hole, maybe 12 feet across, with steps leading down. It must once have held quite a bit of water, as a donkey once drowned there (or so we’re told). Today, it holds low level water for a while, but with no rain to top it up the water gradually seeps away. I don’t think it would even count as an ephemeral pond at present because the water doesn’t stay long enough.

We have two man-made ponds, and the smaller of the two is close by at ground level (higher elevation). When breeding season comes around, newts tend to hang out there. I’m guessing that the old (often waterless) pond is a nice damp place for them in the heat of summer.

The options are to leave it as a boggy area, or try to bring the water back for longer. I’d be interested to hear what pros and cons anyone might come up with. Is it worth trying to change it? And I’m really thinking in terms of wildlife benefits rather than technical aspects.

Additional info: a system is in place to feed rainwater from the buildings’ run-off. However, the site itself is surrounded on three sides by hedgerow trees. The trees are probably needed to keep the sides from caving in. That means not so much sunlight and plenty of leaf debris.

Thanks for any help you can give.


I’m definitely not the most qualified, but I do have some experience with aquatics so I thought I’d share my thoughts.

If you’re looking for the most biodiversity (and correct me if I’m wrong), I’d choose to leave it instead of filling it back up with water. Wetlands (generally) have more biodiversity compared to more permanent lakes since they typically have more diverse microhabitats, allowing a wider variety of plants and animals to live there.

I personally think it could be great habitat for amphibians, frogs often lay their eggs in shaded temporary pools like this.


I agree. You’ll almost certainly have higher total biodiversity with two year-round ponds and a eutrophic former pond than with three year-round ponds.


It’s been difficult to make a decision on this because I’m probably too close to the problem, and high biodiversity is definitely my overall aim. I think your suggestion is spot on. I do like the idea of providing a temporary breeding habitat for frogs, but I’m not sure this space is doing that at the moment. We’re on a chalk substrate here, so for even a scrape that retains water long enough into spring, I’d need to help it along a little.
What could be a solution is to use a little clay in the central area, so that it retains a large puddle of water, which will then dry out as the weather warms up. Thanks for your thoughts. It’s made the cogs of my brain turn a little harder. :grin:


A few years ago, a young person in Argentina (not Brazil, my mistake), built a pond and engaged in discussions here about it. She set up a project for it as well:


“Project made to compile observations recorded in or around the area of the wildlife pond “Estanque Marianela”, as well as further development of the area. The pond was created with the goal to protect, support and expand the local native biodiversity.

For information on how it all began you can check the following links:


Thanks for this. I’m always interested in rewilding stories, and I’m particularly interested in ponds. I’m also very conscious of how different habitats interact. We are allowing our paddock to become semi-natural, leaving deadwood in situ and encouraging wildflowers to grow. Toads increased hugely this year – there was a mass exodus of young toads into the grassland at one point. Dragonflies and damselflies also use the grassland and natural hedges. But it’s not only what’s on one patch of land. I was pleased to see that the local council planted an organic orchard nearby with old specialities of apple this year. To me that’s another stepping stone for all sorts of creatures. The rewilding organisations are mainly concentrating on huge tracts of land, but the individual has a role to play here too, if we’re to have any hope of building up wildlife corridors.


Do you have a local wildlife agency that can come evaluate the land and make suggestions? Maybe contact a local science museum or park system? Get some experts in there to look at it and consider the history.


We’ve been here for four years now, and I tried contacting a local pond project, and did register our large pond. But the pond project was in its final stages, and they weren’t accepting any new sites. The project manager contacted me as a courtesy about a year later, with some generic info, but that’s about as far as it went.

I’m pretty clear about what our small plot of land was used for in the past twenty years – sheep and a donkey, and the old farm buildings still have the stone-built pig sheds, so there must have been pigs around in the last two hundred years. :rofl:

Otherwise, the area where we live is predominantly farmland, but we’re very lucky to live at the top of a shallow valley, where the stream provides water for a major city. This means that the land around the stream cannot be built on, and I believe that pesticides are restricted. In addition the water company has created a sort of nature reserve downstream. I think the stream and the river to which it is joined acts as a conduit for all sorts of wildlife, and we seem to benefit from that.


Hi! That’s me haha. Only thing is the pond is in Argentina, not Brazil (although I suspect there would be even more biodiversity around if that was the case, hah!). Thanks for adding me here, I always love to discuss ponds!

@dragonflydreamer In my personal experience with pond building and general modifications to the area, the harder you try to “change” and mold the place to your liking (even when the objective is to expand the number of native species and biodiversity there) the harder a time you will have. Instead, a more gradual approach of accompanying the changes nature creates has proven much more successful. This does not mean you can’t modify the area, but I would imagine that using whats already there as a base for what you’re trying to do will yield the best results. You said the substrate doesn’t retain water very well and that you could “fill it up” with clay. That could work, but if it were me i’d set up a small area to do that and also maybe carve some shallow grooves that interconnect it all. I recently did that so that excess pond water runs down towards a shallow grass area and have seen great plant growth there, as well as more variety in grass species.

Also, since you already have two other ponds, the way species interact in those spaces will probably give you a good general idea of what would be more beneficial. Are more animals/bigger amount of plant species appearing in shaded spaces? Or sunlit? What species (if any in particular) are you trying to attract? Are there other spaces like the old pond around that you can check out and assess what organisms exist there? Maximizing the variety of ecosystems can be a good idea, but if you want to target bigger animals like, say, larger fish or egrets/herons, then expanding the ecosystems you already have in place would be best.

Regardless, I hope whatever you decide to do, you have fun with it and get to enjoy any and all visitors and changes that happen around your pond. I’d also love to see some pictures of it if you’d be okay with sharing. Cheers!


I’m so sorry for mistaking your country. I’ve really enjoyed reading about your pond project. :smiling_face:


Hi there and thanks for the feedback!

In terms of how we’re letting things develop, I really enjoyed Isabella Tree’s book on “Wilding”. Also, Jonathan Thomson’s rewilding project at the Underhill Nature Reserve is hugely interesting. From those two sources, we try to take an approach where nature’s processes can be allowed to work their magic. I’m also conscious, though, that herbivores and other animals are a natural part of things.

So, we do have seven small-size rustic sheep on about a hectare, where they stop the grasses from completely taking over, but should help wildflowers. In addition, moles and badgers are good at giving some bare earth spots where wildflower seeds can gain access.
That said, I’m also on the lookout for opportunities where different styles of habitats will bring more diversity. The idea of just retaining a small amount of water for a temporary water body is one I really like, so that it doesn’t change the habitat enormously, but allows time for creatures or plants to benefit more. So thanks to you and other commenters on this post who have helped me make a decision on this.

I don’t target a specific species, although I do have a liking for amphibians and odonata. But we’re generally seeing more variety across the board, whether it’s general plants and insects, wildflowers, pollinators, birds or mammals. We’re seeing an uptick in avian predators too, whether they’re coming to hunt fish in the large pond, or they’re here for small or young birds, and of course there is a vole population taking cover under long grass in winter. I almost wonder whether we don’t have too many predators around now.

The surprises are the best part, like the visit of a golden oriole last year or a bee-eater this year. And we had a strong colony of skipper butterflies this summer, which is obviously due to the diversity of grasses.

The place isn’t anything to look at, though. Many people would simply think it looks messy. :wink: I’d be interested in knowing your failures and successes too. Is there a project page somewhere?


Be cautious of bringing in material (clay) from elsewhere. A friend of mine did that for his pond and along with the clay came a lot of weedy plants (including Bermuda grass–a difficult to control introduced species).


Yes, the project page is this one, although it is just a way to compile the observations around the pond for now. I should start using the project’s diary to document advances and changes but I’ve never actually gotten around to that, so guess I’ll just tell ya about my failures here haha.
The biggest and most constant one is regarding trees. The area the pond was built on had no natural shade, so I have been wanting to add trees around for shade and to further benefit the local wildlife. Problem is, the ground has a lot of clay and compacts really easily, which helps avoid the pond water draining onto the ground, but also makes it harder for trees to grow. Add to that that the area sees very hot summers and hail winters and there’s a natural lack of cover, and it all ends up being really hard for any trees to grow. I’ve tried several different species (only 2 non-natives at the start, but all natives from then on) that take to different kinds of soil and climates, but all local. So far i’ve only had some success with a spiny hackberry (Celtis ehrenbergiana) sapling that I plated around may I believe? It lost all its leaves and I had thought it had died, but has since recovered and seems to be doing fine. One thing to note though is that I made a bit of coverage for the sapling with some tarp, so that it has some shade and protection from direct sunlight. Hackberries take a long time to grow however, so this species being the only one that takes so far (and we are just starting up summer here, so im not sure if it will survive) is not great news. I think next time I have a tree ready to bring here I will try the tarp method again. This has been my biggest source of grief with the pond, not only because of my failure in bringing some much needed shade, but also because it sucks to have a tree die, specially when it seemed at first that it would prosper.
Another issue I’ve had is related to frogs/toads and fish. After I had a surge of invasive mosquitofish in the pond I was told that areas that reintroduced native fish species had seen a decrease of invasive ones, so I let the pond dry to kill off the fish, then filled it up and added two native ones of the same size and behavior. This fish took great to the pond and are thriving some 2 (?) years later, but it has come at the cost of frogs and toads being able to lay eggs here, pressumably due to the fish eating the eggs. To remedy that by december of 2022 I had built a smaller pond that connected to the main one, but had a dam of sorts so that no water would enter from the main pond, and only would drain there if the small one got too filled up. Well, I don’t know if its due to the heavy rains or my lack of dam-building prowess, but a month or two ago I found a lot of fish had been able to get to the small pond. So now im building a ditch that’s separate but close to the pond, so that hopefully amphibians will be able to reproduce there again. Frog and toad populations have been good and steady ever since I started the pond, so they must be able to breed somewhere else, but with further development of the land and a lot of dogs running around unsupervised I’d prefer that they also be able to breed here.

I guess those would be the main issues I have encountered. Adding any kind of plants here has been difficult, but shrubs and bushes have taken on much better than trees and flowers. I have also been given permission to modify a long strip of the property where the pond is, as well as keeping the grass in a natural state rather than getting it trimmed every 2/3 weeks. So because of that I am slowly starting to add grassland plants and let any native ones that appear there naturally grow. Ideally I would like to have a forested area on one side of the pond, and a grassland and low/medium shrubs area on the other. I’ve also been steadily adding native plants on the front of the property (where there is natural shade and plants take much easier) so that has helped boost the number of polinators. In time I plan to replace most if not all of the non-native plants on the front of the property with native ones, but it is a slow process. I grow a lot of different native species at home, so I hope I will have a lot ready to move there by next winter, but the fear always remains on whether they will survive the move of not.

Heres a pic of the pond on the 25th of January of this year. I took it from up top an old water tank pole, so its some 3 meters high? For context on the size of the pond, that log is 2,5 meters long, so while the pond looks kinda small its actually medium sized. Nothing too crazy tho, but who knows, maybe I’ll make it even bigger someday.


I’d make small modifications and additions to create microbiomes. If you lay down some old logs and loose branches in one area, add some gravel to another, some clay in another, an area with some native taller wetland plants, etc .


What’s great about your pond is that it’s on natural clay and doesn’t need any sort of man-made or introduced lining. A pond of this size will also heat up more quickly allowing amphibians to develop rapidly.
I do get what you’re saying about trees, though. While we have natural hedgerow in some areas, the grassland section is quite open in some areas. A natural process has been helping with this though. Where the birds sit on the boundary fence, bramble has established, which has provided shade and protection for hawthorn, blackthorn and broom to grow. It’s not a full hedgerow yet, but it’s going in that direction.
What’s interesting about ponds is that they can be quite variable. I don’t know about toads in your country, but certainly the common toad here is toxic to fish, so the fish in our large pond don’t eat the tadpoles. On the other hand, dragonfly larvae would eat them, but the tadpoles hang out at the edge of the pond where the fish can also hunt. I could be wrong, but I suspect that the fish are actually protecting the toad tadpoles. In the small pond where the newts hang out, the toad tadpoles don’t survive (because newts do eat toad tadpoles).
On dragonflies/damselflies, I always try to make sure that there is some sort of emergent vegetation, because they need somewhere to crawl out of the water and metamorphose. Different dragonflies will have different requirements, some with less vegetation, some with more. I fitted out a sheep water trough with pond plants to stop it turning in summer, and I’ve even found broad-bodied chaser larvae in there. :blush:
All of that to say that different types of ponds all have their value. The challenge for me now is to have more ephemeral pond zones, which I think will benefit frogs more.
Overall, for amphibians though, I’ve also worked on creating good wildlife passages so they can get in and out of the ponds safely and travel to wintering grounds: long grass around pond edges, rocks and build-up of dead wood zones, plant, shrub and hedgerow cover.
Thanks for sharing, it’s interesting to hear about what different people are doing. I very much like the fact that you’re developing connections between ponds. Good luck with your next steps!


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