Water, water everywhere
Actually, no longer true. Ponds are disappearing from the countryside so you can make a huge impact on wildlife by providing new habitats for a whole range of creatures just by creating a pond
in your garden.
If you don't want to go so far as creating a pond, an ornamental water feature
will make a dramatic difference to the birds that you attract into your garden. Ideally, a water feature with moving water (otherwise it's not much of a feature really, is it?). These can be bought quite reasonably as a complete kit which contain the mini-pond, a tiny water pump and cable to plug in.
This sort of ornamental water feature is totally self-contained and only requires occasional top ups from you. They are not really designed for wildlife (maybe a couple of aquatic plants) but the birds love them.
Which to choose?
Ornamental water features, which range from simple, static bird baths to multi-tiered, illuminated ponds are available by the truckload from your local garden centre, DIY store and over the Internet. They will be made from plastic at the budget end of the range, to stone or wood if you have more money to spend.
At the end of the day, the birds don't give two hoots (except for owls, who always give three) what your water feature is made of, how many figurines it has or whether it has plants in it or not. What they want is somewhere to drink water, bathe themselves and feel at home
in your garden.
So if you have decided that a pond is not for you, but a water feature is, then go and look at some and don't spend more than you want because you are only spending the money on what you
think looks nice. Birds drink from puddles, ditches and rusty wheel hubs, so they won't be voting yours "Best Water Feature of Oxfordshire" just because you have a cherub doing his business into a lily-leafed shaped bowl!
Water gardens, wildlife ponds - where to start?
Ponds, unlike water features, are a living, breathing part of your garden and will provide a habitat for frogs, newts, dragon flies, fish and aquatic plants.
I'm not going to tell you how to build a fish-pond because there are enough books, specialist stores and Internet sites that will tell you how to do that. What I will say is that you should not site your pond where it is in full sun all day or you will be plagued by green water and blanket weed (although if you spend enough on specialist equipment [eg UV tubes] this can be controlled too). Also don't put it under trees where the leaves drop in, fall to the bottom and rot, giving off poisons that will kill your aquatic content.
I'm going for the middle ground: a preformed water feature, probably made out of resin or plastic that is large enough to hold plants, has somewhere shallow for the birds to bathe and splash about, and has a pump somewhere to create a continuous flowing water stream. You can put the pump on a timeswitch so it only runs for a few hours duing the day but running water attracts birds by the flock!
If your pond is less than 60cm (2 feet) deep it may freeze in the winter without additional heating, unless you keep the water flowing 24 hours a day (even then it can freeze). Air pumps (designed for aquariums) can also be dropped in to aid the fish in times of oxygen-poor summer heat, and also prevent the water freezing during the winter.
Ponds, unlike water features, have something growing in them, like aquatic plants, but fish have no place in a wildlife pond. Wildlife will find its own way there as if by magic and one day you will find a frog or newt swimming around, but don't transfer any from any other ponds; if your pond is suitable the wildlife will find its own way there. You can start the process simply by adding a bucket of pond water (including the bottom silt) from an established pond.
Plants that partially cover the water, like water lillies help prevent the dreaded "pea soup", caused by too much summer sun. But do get the smaller varieties on offer at your local garden centre, not the massive native ones that will soon smother your pond.
Oxygenating plants, like Myriophyllum
(Parrot Feather) shown left, are submerged and keep things alive when the weather is hot, hot, hot. Keep between one and two thirds of the pond area visible with the rest covered by floating plants.
Running water can be mesmerising but does involve electical power for the pump (although I have seen some solar powered pumps for very small wildlife ponds). Electricity and water can be potentially very dangerous so do follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter.