For many the garden or school pond represents their first wildlife experience with sights and sounds of tadpoles, frogs and newts.  It often prompts a lifelong interest in nature; the first frogspawn of the season remains a keenly-anticipated event.

But how important is the garden pond for wildlife such as amphibians and what can you do to make it more suitable for them?

The number of ponds in the UK countryside is estimated to have declined by over a third in the last century.

Garden ponds can help to compensate for this loss.  They have enormous value for wildlife in urban areas, allowing populations of newts, frogs and toads to thrive as well as providing important places for dragonflies and other pond invertebrates to live and breed.  Ponds also provide stepping stones for other species to come into urban areas - birds, bats, even grass snakes.

Ponds can be of great importance for education, allowing young people real-life experience of topics they study in the classroom such as ecosystems, food-chains, biodiversity and wildlife identification.  A simple activity like pond-dipping can inspire a lifetime’s appreciation for the environment and respect for nature.

There are a number of ways to make your garden pond wildlife-friendly.  These include considering the depth, shape, location and plants.

Frogs, toads and newts can turn up in a variety of ponds but common frogs and smooth newts will be the most likely visitors to your pond.

For any pond design the most important factor is to create gently sloping sides and add plenty of native vegetation so that the animals can enter and leave the water easily.  A deeper section in the middle of the pond – at least 60cm – will ensure the pond does not completely freeze in the winter and any amphibian lying dormant on the bottom will be safe in icy weather.  Amphibians can breathe through their skin and, providing there is sufficient oxygen in the water, they can survive for long periods beneath ice.

Select a mixture of native plants to suit amphibians which are available from good garden centres.  These may include spearwort, water mint, frogbit, shallow-water-emergent amphibious bistort and brooklime.Plants like water forget-me-not and starwort provide egg-laying sites for newts. Submerged plants such as curled pondweed and hornwort are good too.  Choose species that will oxygenate the water.  Non-native plants can be invasive in small garden ponds, spreading to other areas.  Popular plants such as yellow flag iris, white and yellow water lilies and bulrushes grow vigorously and can easily swamp small ponds.

A pond need not be big.  Any size will be beneficial to wildlife even if it does not attract amphibians.  Small ‘washing-up tub’ ponds and bog gardens may help amphibians that are trying to keep cool in the summer.  A garden pond at least 2m x 2m is ideal to provide an attractive breeding site for frogs.

The best time to carry out work on a pond is in the autumn – September or October – when there will be fewest amphibians to disturb.  Froglets will have left and adult frogs will not be returning to lie dormant over the winter just yet.  Occasionally tadpoles or newt larvae will spend the winter in the pond rather than developing and leaving in the summer so sweep with a net to check.  If you do need to work on your pond before autumn make sure you consider the pond’s inhabitants: keep them in a tank or bucket out of the way while you work.