Freshwater ponds

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Ponds occur naturally in dips and hollows in the ground, but they can also be artificially created. They support numerous species including aquatic plants, rushes, dragonflies, invertebrates and amphibians.

Explore some of the aquatic life thriving in the Museum's Wildlife Garden in the video above, and discover what you might find in a typical garden pond.


Small ponds, both man-made and natural, are commonly found throughout the country in woodland, on field edges or other corners of farmland as well as on village greens and in gardens.

Ponds are dug out for drainage purposes, irrigation, and to provide pools of drinking water for livestock. Natural ponds can be found in dips and hollows of the landscape especially near rivers and streams. They are also accidentally created by removing peat in areas such as the Norfolk Broads, or removing clay for building material.

Ornamental ponds and lakes have long been a landscape feature of parks and large gardens. Small garden ponds are on the increase.


Ponds with a range of features tend to host a greater variety of wildlife. Features can include sloping 'beaches' and muddy margins, shallow open water with marginal vegetation, and areas of overhanging trees. However, almost any freshwater pond will attract some types of wildlife.

Habitat for wildlife

The wildlife found in ponds varies considerably depending on conditions. Certain species of invertebrate such as the water beetle (Hydroporus incognitus) survive only in shady woodland ponds, while other animals including dragonflies and damselflies thrive in more open ones. Some animals require damp, muddy pond margins while others prefer deeper water.

Many species of aquatic plants provide micro habitats for invertebrates, amphibians, birds and mammals. Marginal plants such as reeds, rushes, yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus) and water mint (Mentha aquatica), which grow in damp conditions at the edges of ponds, provide shelter for amphibians. Their stems are also essential for emerging dragonflies. Floating leaved plants such as white water lily (Nymphaea alba) and submerged aquatic plants such as hornwort and water starwort provide food and shelter for water snails.

Habitat loss

In recent years, extensive drainage schemes for agriculture and urban expansion on river plains and marshes has reduced wetland areas in the countryside. At the same time, the number of ponds created by mineral extraction - and the number in parks and gardens - has increased.

Ponds in the Museum's Wildlife Garden

Moorhen and chick in the Museum's Wildlife Garden

Moorhen and chick in the Museum's Wildlife Garden

The ponds in the Wildlife Garden are fringed by a variety of plants that provide colour and interest from spring through to winter. These include:

  • common reed (Phragmites australis
  • galingale (Cyperus longus)
  • flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus)
  • yellow iris
  • marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Submerged plants include:

  • spiked water-milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum)
  • curled pond weed (Potamogeton crispus)
  • rigid hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)

Our ponds support many aquatic animals including diving beetles, leeches and smaller invertebrates such as water fleas and rotifers. Several species of colourful dragonfly can be seen around the ponds in summer, including the azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella), emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator) and broad bodied chaser (Libellula depressa). They compete for attention with a family of moorhens (Gallinula chloropus).

Amphibians include the common frog (Rana temporaria), toad (Bufo bufo) and common newt (Triturus vulgaris). These spend part of their life cycle in the water and most of their adult life on dry land, returning to ponds for breeding in the spring.

Ponds in your garden

A variety of small wildlife quickly colonises new garden ponds and frogs and newts will also find their way there. Birds use the water for bathing and drinking so it is best to provide a sloping 'beach' at one end for them to use, with an area of shallow water.

Wildlife Garden blog


Keep up to date with what’s happening in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden and discover some of the latest sightings in this tranquil haven.

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