We have three native amphibians living in Ireland. The common frog (Rana temporaria), the smooth
newt and the natterjack toad. Irish natterjack toads are only found on the Dingle peninsula in county
Kerry and Curracloe County Wexford where they were introduced to a dune site. They specialise in
breeding near sand dunes, so it would be highly unlikely for you to find some in your garden unless you
live close to their breeding grounds. Common frogs and smooth newts are widespread throughout the
country, from isolated country pools and bogs, to city centre parks. Unfortunately their numbers are
dropping, particularly in urban areas and around new housing developments where existing breeding
ponds are drained or blocked by new developments. There are stories of bemused homeowners finding
legions of newts crawling under door frames and letter-boxes trying to reach a breeding ground situated
behind a newly constructed row of houses. If given new opportunities to reach elsewhere these animals
will continue to drive in and around gardens and also become valuable horticultural allies feeding on
numerous garden pests.
When contemplating putting in a garden pond, four factors should be taking into consideration:
2. Pond Placement
3. Pond size
Safety around ponds.
Any water feature in or around very young children poses a risk. It would be prudent to hold off on installing a pond in your garden if you have a toddler or are expecting a new arrival. If you have an existing pond and are in a similar situation
temporarily fencing off or covering the pond with heavy duty steel mesh until the little one has grown bigger are the safest options.
Setting up your pond in the correct position is very important. Too much sunlight on the surface and you
will be plagued by algal blooms, turning your pond into a pea soup and leaving it too exposed for any
amphibian’s liking. Leave your pond in too much shade and it won’t get enough sunlight to encourage
pond-plant growth and will become stagnant and dead. It’s all about getting the right balance of light
and shade in your pond. Around 50/50 is a good rule to go by. My ponds, for example, get morning to
late afternoon sunshine and are in the shade for the rest of the day. This is the Goldilocks zone for
ponds. Avoid overhanging trees and bushes if possible as falling leaves will need to be removed or they
will quickly clog up the water. If you have a more exposed area for your pond with limited shade
options you can always compensate by putting it up with surface covering water lilies and tall grasses or
iris in the margin. These will help provide cover and shade for wildlife entering, or living in, the pond and will
help keep the water clear and healthy.
Materials and size.
When it comes to pond building materials and pond size, one thing will inevitably affect the other. Some
people will become unnecessarily obsessed with having large ponds when the truth of the matter is most
amphibians don’t care. With many frogs breeding in ditches and puddles on the roadside, a purpose
built spawning area will go down a treat no matter what the dimensions.
Anything from an old plastic kitchen sink top to an expensive pond liner from a garden centre can be used depending on what suits
your budget and available space, provided a few simple rules are followed.
If your space and/or your budget are limited but you would still like to attract frogs, newts and other pond life, I’d recommend a
plastic tub about one to three feet deep and however long and wide your available space will allow. You
can get one from IKEA or some other hardware store. A second hand one is just as good but just make
sure to thoroughly clean it out of any chemical residues that maybe still in it, as they may be toxic. Dig a
hole large enough to accommodate the container leaving the top of it flush with the ground and making
sure it is level and won’t tip water out on one side or another. You now need to provide cover and
access for any creatures entering or leaving your pond. Old bricks, broken garden pottery and rocks can
be washed and carefully placed in the bottom of the container once it’s on the ground. Make sure not to
crack the bottom or sides. Pile the materials up until they form a shallow ledge at one or more ends in
the container pond, thus allowing easy access for visiting creatures.
Plants can be also added at this stage. Marsh, water and floating plants provide cover around the edges
and fully aquatic plants should provide oxygen. Curled pondweed, water crowfoot and water moss are
good examples. Any quality garden centre should be able to offer advice on water plants, don’t be afraid
to ask. Once the pond is given ledges and planted up as described you can add water. Rainwater is best
if you have a collector barrel in your garden, but if not, then tap water will do, as any chemicals would
disappear once you leave your pond to settle for a few days to a week. You can ,if you wish, kick start the process of really bringing it to life by adding a little water and mud from an existing healthy pond. The microorganisms and invertebrates in it will make themselves at home and become the base of your pond’s food chain while also dealing with any plant dead plant matter.
I have seen this cheap and effective use of space for ponds work wonders over the years with many friends
and family and I would recommend it to anyone with a small garden or limited area to work with to give
it a try.
Building a larger pond with a liner is slightly different process. First off , with no existing hard shape to
sink into the ground you are free to decide the shape of your pond from the get go. A good rule of
thumb is to keep the centre of the pond deep, around 2 to 3 feet, and to gradually let it become
shallower towards the edges. Again allowing easy access for amphibians/wildlife. Once the hole is dug,
sand or pond liner should be used to protect the rubber liner from the sharp stones or debris that might
puncture it . After that is done and the pond liner itself is down you are now free to begin the process of
adding plants as described above all be it on a grander scale the more covered the better for amphibians
particularly around the edges, as this is where the adults will like to bask and where the young will
emerge in the summer months.
The process of building a pond especially in a small urban setting can seem daunting and almost
impossible to some, but it really isn’t. A little elbow grease an imagination can provide a small Oasis and
refuge for our wonderful amphibian friends in an ever-growing sea of concrete.