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Life of an English Pond: The Creation of a Wildlife Sanctum

Still water is one of Britain’s most environmentally productive habitats. From the deep, clear, acidic lakes of the uplands, to the fertile, plant-shrouded waters of the lowlands, these environments are indispensable for our biodiversity. Not to be forgotten is the village pond, a crucial element of the wilderness in Britain’s countryside. In her latest post, Dr. Orton describes the how a simple field became a haven for wildlife when a pond was established.

In the 1990s, my family and I created a wildlife pool in a field that had previously been used for grazing horses and sheep. The result was a 9ft deep pond covering three quarters of an acre that supports a wealth of animals and plants.


We started the project in September 1992. In the UK at the time, the law required planning permission for a project this size and we had to consult various parties: the NRA to check where the water was to come from, the electricity board to check for poles and cables in the area and nearby residents to ask whether they had any objections. We also consulted the Parish Council.

The plans were passed in November 1992  and the next step was to dig holes to check for water and to clarify the soil type (clay or sand). The next step was to make bigger test holes with a JCB. We hoped to fill the pond naturally through land drains and natural seepage.

The pond was excavated over a 14 day period in January 1993. Topsoil was stripped from the working area and stockpiled for reuse and a seal trench was excavated into the impermeable layer. The seal trench was filled and an embankment constructed, using the best clay type material excavated from the pool area and compacting it in layers.


The pool was excavated to the required depth, depositing surplus soil on an area adjacent to the pool. This area is now our ‘bump’ wildflower meadow. The whole working area was then graded and the area above the proposed water-level was re-topsoiled.


Throughout the year, the pond filled up naturally. By September 1993, the water depth was 4ft 6 inches; by October, 6ft. By January 1994, the depth was 8ft 9 inches.


Wildlife began to come to the pond. Wild swans visited in December 1993 and in April 1995, there were nesting Canada geese. We were advised to wait until late autumn/winter 1993 before stocking the pond with fish, and that it would be best suited for carp. We added mirror carp in February 1994.


We were also advised on the roles of water plants. These are important for the aeration of the water, shelter for animals, provision of food for other organisms such as invertebrates and consolidation of the bed and banks.


In the meantime, we were keen to plant trees in the area around the pond. At the time, Leicestershire’s tree cover amounted to only 2.5-3%, the second lowest in England. Trees outside woodlands are really important in connecting fragmented habitats (thus supporting biodiversity), reducing flood risk, increasing natural colonisation and providing carbon absorption.


In January 1994, Leicestershire County Council were giving out up to 60 free trees to landowners to replace dead or felled trees, to farmers who anticipated felling, or to enhance the appearance of the countryside. We applied for mainly two-year-old seedlings of between 2ft and 3ft and were given a mixture of silver birch, beech, common alder, grey alder, holly, English oak, bird cherry, rowan, small leaved lime and ash.


We also applied for trees from Landscape Grants and were given over 50 trees, including wild cherry, alder, hawthorn, beech, broom, alder buckthorn, common ash, wild privet, crab apple, wild cherry, oak, willow, lime, gorse and guelder rose.


Today, the area is a haven for wildlife. The trees have matured and the water depth is a consistent 9ft in winter. We regularly see buzzards, kestrels, herons, Canada geese and all manner of songbirds, amphibians and reptiles. Waterhens, coots and mallards are wild residents and our own domestic geese have made their home on the island.

Over the years, we’ve planted more trees in a copse alongside the pond. Bunnies and squirrels play among the trees and we get the occasional muntjac deer browsing there at night.


I think of this as a wildlife sanctum because the word implies not just refuge and privacy but also a sense of sacredness. In my anthropological fieldwork, I think a lot about the relationship people have with the wilderness and often there is an association with the divine in this relationship (visit Our Research page to listen to my conference paper on spiritual collaboration in the Sundarbans mangrove forest, for example).


It’s incredible that a small idea we had in the 90s has flourished into the diverse habitat we see today, but it was not a case of humans imposing an abstract scheme onto dead space. Wild animals have chosen to come; trees have matured and plants have colonised, propagated and attracted more living creatures in turn. Nature has met us half way.


Find Out More


If you’re interested in conservation and wildlife, we have a Conservation blog series that looks at wildlife and human interaction all over the world, from the altitudes of the Himalayas to the dense mangrove forests of Bangladesh!


We also offer online private tuition in our course, Culture and Conservation, in which you can explore the links between our natural and cultural heritage and study wildlife and cultures from across the world! This is a template of a possible study route and can be combined, adapted, or designed from scratch to suit your interests and goals.


Dr. Orton will work with you to design a course of private tutorials tailored to your needs, ability and schedule. Click the link to find out what it’s like to work with her and contact us to find out more!


Do More


Even if you don’t have a big garden, there are plenty of things you can do to help biodiversity in your area. Why not put up a solitary bee nesting box or insect home, create a woodpile as a habitat for small creatures or leave small areas of your garden to go wild? If you have the room, a small garden pond can be excellent for biodiversity. 


Think about your own area and how you can protect vulnerable but important parts of your environment. You might even want to start your own project investigating the cultural importance of wildlife in your area. Dr. Orton works with independent scholars undertaking their own research for an independent project, people writing a book or simply those who have a personal interest. Click the link to find out what it’s like to work with her and contact us to get started!


Reach Out


We’d love to see what you’re doing to help wildlife in your area. Follow the Conservation highlight reel on the Orton Academy Instagram to see what we’re getting up to and tag us in to any snaps you put up!

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