Garden ponds and bird baths help wildlife thrive

Image: Mark Timberlake / Unsplash

Providing water sources in residential gardens helps wildlife thrive, according to research from the University of Bristol in the UK.

The study, published in Urban Ecosystems, compared the quantity and variety of wildlife visiting urban lake water sources and residential gardens in England and found no difference in the number of small-bodied wildlife that visited. Researchers from Bristol Vet School, in collaboration with the University of Western Australia, wanted to find out how much garden water sources contribute to improving wildlife-friendly conservation.

During the summer of 2021, they recorded the amount, variety and potential value to animal wildlife of garden water sources such as ponds and bird-baths in 105 residential gardens in Hertfordshire, England.

Bird bath in one of the study gardens. Image: University of Bristol

The team used data from an online questionnaire completed by 105 people with residential gardens in St Albans, Hemel Hempstead, Hatfield and Harpenden. Of these, over 70% of questionnaire respondents said they had at least one water source in their garden and almost half had two or more. In addition to questionnaire data, 207 hours of field observations were taken, comprising 135 hours in 12 gardens and 72 hours at six lakes.

A total of 43 different species of birds, including five known exotic species, insects, mammals, amphibians, reptiles were observed visiting both urban lakes and garden bird baths, ponds and ground water-bowls.

Ground water bowl. Image: University of Bristol

The team’s analysis found there was no difference in the number of smaller species of wildlife visiting urban lakes and residential gardens, nor among individual water source types. Their results reveal garden water sources are as vital as urban lakes for helping wildlife thrive.

Dr Nicola Rooney, senior lecturer in wildlife and conservation at Bristol Veterinary School and one of the paper’s authors, said, “These results demonstrate garden water sources, especially for smaller-bodied animals, can supplement the wildlife values contributed by urban lakes, particularly during periods of hot, dry weather.”

Esther Gibbons, the study’s first author and a fifth-year Bristol Vet School student, who carried out the study as part of her MSc in Global Wildlife Health & Conservation research project, added, “Animals use water for several reasons, including habitat, drinking, bathing and reproduction

"As human populations within urban areas grow, the capacity of natural aquatic habitats to support biodiversity across multiple functional levels is reduced. In many regions, climate drying and warming compound these threats, further altering the capacity of natural habitats to support wildlife.”