Ponds, Pools and Lochans

5.11 Designs for recreation

In lowland Britain (including Scotland) the DETR11 Lowland Pond Survey indicated that the main recreational activities for which ponds are created are fishing and shooting.

Key features of the design of angling and wildfowling ponds are summarised in Boxes 5 and 6 below. However, in general, to maximise the value of such ponds for wildlife:

  • if possible try to maintain natural densities of fish and birds
  • establish natural population structures (for example, fish populations with mixtures of bottom feeders, predators, invertivores, planktivores)
  • minimise the addition of nutrients to boost fish or duck biomass; if you want more fish and birds create more ponds!
  • follow other design principles outlined above (create habitat mosaics, incorporate temporary and permanent water, vary pond basins sizes from tiny to large).

Ultimately it is important to recognise that some amenity uses (e.g. ponds intensively stocked for carp fishing, ponds used for rearing large numbers of waterfowl) are only likely to be able to support an impoverished fauna and flora consisting of common and pollution tolerant species.

In this situation a good alternative is to create several ponds - one for the main activity and then several smaller sites where, for example, waterfowl are not fed and fish are present in natural densities.

Do not stock fish which do not occur naturally in Scotland. Fish not native to Great Britain may not be released to the wild without a license issued under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Licenses are issued by SEERAD. Certain fishes, such as zander (or pikeperch) and coho salmon, and certain species of non-native crayfish, are subject to Prohibition Orders issued under the Import of Live Fish (Scotland) Act 1978 (SEERAD contact details are given in Appendix 1).

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Figure 40. Fishponds can provide a valuable source of food for otters. Laurie Campbell


Box 5. Designing ponds for fishing
This box lists features which will be useful in establishing a viable stillwater fishery and techniques for increasing their wildlife value. The recommendations generally apply to coarse fisheries but some of the wildlife enhancement techniques can also be applied to put-and-take trout fisheries.

Creating good conditions for fishing

Providing the right environment for fish

  • Ensure that the pond is adequately oxygenated (dissolved oxygen concentrations need to be higher for salmonids than for coarse fish).
  • Provide areas of deep water (1 to 3 m) to provide cool areas in summer and warmer water in winter.
  • Create shallow edges to provide areas where dense plant stands can provide good habitat for coarse fish spawning and feeding.
  • Create shallow marshy areas, which are inaccessible to adult fish, to provide good fry habitats.
  • Encourage growth of submerged and floating-leaved plants (best done by maintaining clean water) to provide cover and natural food.
  • Establish or retain bankside trees to provide shelter.
  • Place large dead branches in shallow water to create deadwood reefs to provide fish with shelter and protect them from predation. Make sure that branches are underwater so that they dont provide perches for fisheating birds, if these are a problem.
  • Desilt the pond at intervals as necessary to maintain open water for fishing.
  • Establish no-go areas in the winter and spring to provide sanctuaries for fish spawning and/or respite from angling pressure.

Providing good facilities for anglers

  • Provide access for vehicles, an attractive location and facilities for the disabled.
  • Create spits, bays and islands to increase the amount of space available to each angler.
  • Make or clear swims (if necessary) to improve angling enjoyment and create open water for casting.
  • Maintain some deep water near to the bank to make landing fish easier; alternatively, create pontoons which run out to deep water allowing for more extensive shallow water edge habitats.
  • Manage fish populations to reduce competition and produce bigger specimen fish. Ensure that the necessary permissions are obtained before moving surplus fish to another water.

Enhancing fisheries for wildlife

What to avoid:

  • Avoid runoff from roads, car parking or other urban areas entering the pond.
  • Avoid introducing non-natural substances which will add to pollutant levels as they degrade e.g. creation of reefs from old tyres.
  • Avoid stocking of fish beyond natural densities. Most fishing waters will be stocked to provide large numbers of fish for angling. Fish are a natural part of many permanent freshwater ponds: about 50% of all freshwater plants and animals co-exist with fish. The remainder prefer, or require, freedom from fish predation. Waters with a moderate fish density (up to about 100 kg per hectare) with a mixed population of fish, can be good wildlife habitats. Unnaturally high densities of fish, greater than 100 kg/ha, will have a strongly detrimental impact on the rest of the aquatic ecosystem (loss of submerged plants, increased turbidity) and will reduce diversity of fish compatible wildlife. Note that it will rarely be feasible to simulate natural fish densities in putand- take trout fisheries.
  • Avoid fertilising or neutralising (raising the pH) of waters. In waters with naturally low nutrient status, or naturally acid (or acidified) waters, fishery managers sometimes fertilise water to increase fish productivity. This is likely to damage naturally acid and low nutrient status waters, which are a special feature of the Scottish landscape. Fertilising ponds and lochans is perhaps the single most undesirable activity that fishery managers could undertake.
  • Do not release fish in Scotland which are not part of the natural fauna. In upland Scotland fish have been introduced to many small, permanent upland lochans comparatively recently. Deliberate and accidental release of fish that dont occur naturally in Scotland is highly undesirable.
  • Avoid adding any non-native plants. Plant only native species of local provenance. Avoid garden centre plants which are often contaminated with alien plant seeds. This is vital to avoid non-native plants from being released into the wild and decreasing the conservation value of some of our most beautiful and valuable waterbodies and wetlands.

What to encourage

  • Areas of very shallow water with very dense plant cover where even young fish find it difficult to penetrate. These will provide sanctuaries for invertebrate animals and amphibians. In the long term the fish will also benefit from the increased food supply as invertebrates move out into other areas more accessible to fish.
  • Isolated shallow pools, some seasonal, around the edge of ponds which are completely separated from the main waterbody. These provide completely fish-free areas where a wider range of dragonflies, water beetles and other wildlife can thrive.
  • Ponds with a mosaic of habitats that will encourage a range of species. This could include: stands of different densities of emergent plants, trees growing in and near the water (providing leaf litter, rotting dead wood for dragonflies, tree roots growing into the water for invertebrate habitat), mosaics of groundwater and surface water fed pools.


Box 6. Designing ponds for wildfowling
Key features of ponds for wildfowling
  • Isolated and undisturbed position.
  • Open flight lines into the prevailing wind.
  • Low horizons for shooting butts.
  • Shallow areas for wildfowl to feed in.
  • Marginal and aquatic plants to provide food (including seeds) and cover.
  • Low cover in the surroundings (perhaps maintained by grazing).

What to avoid

  • Too much corn. Corn is often supplied to ponds to attract wildfowl. Avoid adding any more than will be quickly eaten. Large quantities of corn dumped into water is a source of organic pollution which will reduce the wildlife interest of a pond. It is also likely to increase the nutrient status which may lead to turbidity and eutrophication problems such as extensive cover of duckweed.
  • Planting-up. Wildfowling guides often make the assumption that planting is necessary; whilst careful planting of local, native species, is not harmful, natural colonisation is more likely to be successful and reduces the risk of introducing alien plants.

What to encourage

  • Creation of a mosaic of marginal wetland areas with shallow and temporary pools which can support a wide range of plants and animals (as well as seed-bearing plants and invertebrate food for wildfowl).
  • Extensive shallow water areas which are generally the richest area of a pond for wildlife. See Section 5.5 on the design of ponds.
  • Low density grazing, maintaining low cover which creates excellent wildlife habitat in ponds.


Box 7.  Initial steps in pond design and creation
  • Decide what the main and secondary uses of the pond will be (e.g. wildlife conservation, angling, landscape, shooting wildfowl or water treatment). Information on designing fishing ponds is given in Box 5; advice on designing wildfowl ponds is given in Box 6.
  • Identify a site. The features of good sites for wildlife ponds are summarised in Section 5.2. A key feature of a good location is the availability of an unpolluted water supply. Where possible avoid future pollution or design constraints by avoiding sites which will need a stream inflow or basins which will need an artificial liner. Check there is access for excavating machinery if appropriate.
  • Make sure the selected site has no existing wildlife or archaeological interest. If the site is already of value, dont dig it up; put new ponds near to existing wetlands (bogs, wet patches, other pools, streams, springs) but dont replace them.
  • Create a clean water supply if necessary. If no supply of unpolluted water is available, check whether one can be created by reducing the intensity of land management in the pond catchment (e.g. converting intensive grassland to extensive management, or planting woodland).
  • Check that the project is not constrained by services (gas, electricity, water). Before getting too far down the route of planning a pond it is VITAL to check whether there are any private or public services crossing the site. Moving services is generally far too expensive to be feasible in pond creation projects so essentially schemes have to be designed around services. Check for electricity (above and below ground), telephone (above and below ground), gas, oil and sewage.
  • Prepare a preliminary design for the pond. Do a rough back-of-the envelope sketch, including ideas about the size and profiles to be excavated. As a general rule, on stream ponds are regarded by SEPA as undesirable; if it is essential to create a dammed pond, seek professional advice.
  • Dig trial holes. Dig a set of trial holes to establish the geology and water supply for the pond and monitor them through at least one winter to see whether the planned pond will hold water. In the light of monitoring, prepare a set of rough sketches to pass through the legal checking process.
  • Legal check. Follow through the checklist of legal requirements in Box 9 to ensure that the pond does not contravene any laws, or need further work to ensure legality.
  • Go ahead with pond creation. For small ponds, go ahead and excavate the pond. For larger ponds, prepare a detailed design and finalise it with the local planning authority and other agencies (see Appendix 1 for addresses).
  • Lined ponds. For ponds which involve linings (clay, butyl or bentonite) it is most likely to be successful if a skilled, experienced, contractor is engaged.
  • Think of pond creation as a two stage process. Dig a rough version of the site and then refine that shape when more knowledge of the way water levels will behave is available.
  • Let the pond fill with water before finishing it off. It is much easier to sculpt the edges when you know where water levels are.
  • Future management. Ensure that the design includes plans for management once the pond is constructed.


Box 8.  The main steps in pond construction
Initial work

Before beginning any excavation or construction the following work should be done:

  • For all but the smallest ponds, undertake a survey of the site with particular attention to levels. Many contractors provide leveling as a service in a construction contract.
  • Mark out the intended shoreline, including islands, with posts or aerosol line-marking paint.
  • Calculate the quantity of spoil to be removed and identify location(s) for tipping. Spoil should not be dumped on floodplains or in any area where it will damage existing habitats. Contact SEPA if in doubt.
  • Remove topsoil and if necessary store it - it may be useful for landscaping at the end. However, bear in mind that nutrient enriched topsoil should be removed from the surface water catchment of a new pond to prevent nutrient pollution.
  • Make allowances for bad weather when assessing: (i) the estimated time for the project to be completed, (ii) suitability of machinery, (iii) the approach route for vehicles to the site,(iv) possible cost (due to time over-runs).
  • Plan spoil removal for maximum efficiency. Normally a dumper or tractor and trailer will be used to take spoil from an excavator working at the pond side. It is important to keep the transport system working efficiently as the speed of the job will normally be determined by the rate at which spoil can be removed (not by the rate of digging).
  • Spoil should be transferred directly from the excavator to a dumper or trailer to avoid double handling (double-handling is dumping the spoil on the ground and then picking it up again to put it in a truck for disposal off-site).

Spoil disposal

Before beginning a project consider carefully how spoil will be disposed of. Spoil disposal has a major influence on the cost of pond construction. Check how much there will be, where it is to be put, the method for transporting it, how the heap of spoil will be shaped once it is tipped and the cost.

Options for disposal of spoil are:

  • Spread thinly a little way back from the pond margin. Be careful not to create steep banks next to the pond edge. Remember spoil cannot be dumped on river floodplains (it reduces the storage available for flood water).
  • Use the spoil to create a clean catchment for the pond. For example where new groundwater ponds are created in agricultural landscapes, piles of spoil can be used to block polluted surface runoff from arable fields which would otherwise reach the pond.
  • Landscape a mound near to the pond for planting with trees and shrubs; effective landscaping requires that mounds are in keeping with the scale of the landscape.
  • Create carefully landscaped spoil mounds to provide habitats for basking reptiles; mounds with vertical edges can provide nesting sites for sand martins and kingfishers.
  • Tip spoil in a mound to screen unsightly buildings or to create a buffer against intensively managed land or busy roads.
  • If the spoil is suitable (i.e. has a high clay content), use it to create a lined pond in an area with otherwise permeable substrates.
  • Remember that waste disposal regulations require that excavated material may only be spread if it is of agricultural quality. Otherwise it will need to be removed to a licensed waste disposal site.

Dont dispose of spoil by:

  • putting topsoil into the pond (this will usually pollute the pond with nutrients).
  • making large tall islands, unless dense vegetation is wanted on those islands.
  • building-up spoil into high banks right next to the pond.


Box 9. Ponds and the law
Work through the questions to avoid falling-foul of the law when constructing a new pond. Note that these rules do not apply to garden ponds.
Question 1.Is the pond for non-agricultural purposes (e.g. wildlife, landscape, fishing, shooting)?
  • If Yes, check with the local planning authority if planning permission is needed for a change of land-use. The creation of a pond for purposes other than agriculture is defined as an engineering operation and will generally require planning consent. All applications for planning consent, with a few specific exceptions, are subject to a planning fee which is set nationally by the Scottish Executive. If approval is obtained go to Question 2.
  • If No, go to Question 2.

Question 2. Is the site designated for its nature conservation or archaeological interest (e.g. SSSI, Scheduled Ancient Monument)? This information can often be most quickly obtained from the local planning authority.

Question 3. Is the pond likely to be (a) filled with water taken from a stream, river or groundwater (b) a source of pollution during or after construction (e.g. from sediments washed into adjacent streams) or (c) a source of licensable waste?

Question 4. If the pond is fed by a stream or river, does the supplying water course have any migratory salmon or trout. This may need to be checked by professional electric fishing or other survey work (particularly to distinguish juvenile sea trout, which are accorded the same protection as salmon, but are indistinguishable from juvenile trout).

Question 5. Does the proposed pond exceed 25,000 cubic metres in volume (equivalent to five and half million gallons)?

  • If Yes, the pond falls under the provisions of the Reservoirs Act 1975. It must be constructed under the supervision of a qualified civil engineer and regularly checked. Ensure that provision for a professional engineer is made and go to Question 6.
  • If No, go to Question 6.

Question 6. If the pond is stream fed, have you informed downstream riparian owners, and others who might be affected, about your plans?

Question 7. Have you informed SEPA of your plans? Asking SEPAs advice and keeping them informed of your plans from an early stage will prevent any unexpected problems from occurring and may save money.

Question 8. Are there plans to introduce salmon or non-native fish?

  • If Yes, consult with the District Salmon Fisheries Board (salmon only) and SEERAD (salmon and non-native fish). Non-native fish may not be released to the wild except under a license issued under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (contact SEERAD for further information). If permissions are given, go to Question 9.
  • If No, go to Question 9.

Question 9. Are there any plans to introduce wildfowl?

  • If Yes, it is illegal to release non-native waterfowl into the wild unless they are pinioned or clipped (i.e. flightless). Make sure that plans are in place to pinion any introduced waterfowl then go to Question 10.
  • If No, go to Question 10.

Question 10. Do you intend to introduce plants and animals from another pond in the area?

  • If Yes, it is a provision of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 that no plant may be dug up without the permission of the landowner. Certain rare plants are completely protected and may not be dug up even by the landowner. Ensure that you have permission to collect any plants that you use from neighbouring ponds and streams. Note that protected animals (e.g. great crested newts) can only be moved if licensed by SNH.

If you have successfully completed the questions the planned pond creation will be a legal operation.

11DETR: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

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