The main risk in having a garden pond is that young children could fall in and drown. Prevention is better than precaution, however, and it’s best to avoid building a pond until a child is at least 5 years old and can understand the inherent dangers associated with garden ponds.
If you’ve moved into a house that already has a pond and you have a child under 5, you should really consider draining the pond and turning it into a sand pit until your child is older.
If you do choose to have a pond in your garden then your first consideration must be safety, no matter what age your child is. It can’t be emphasised enough to parents of young children that even a shallow pond can be dangerous and a child can drown in as little as 2 inches of water.
Safety in Design
Firstly, when choosing a location for your pond, position it where it can be easily seen from the house and never let your children play near it unsupervised. Put a fence around the pond to ensure that children cannot get near to it and grow plants around it to make it harder for children to get near the edge. The fence should be high enough so that a child could not climb over it. It’s also a good idea to design the pond with gently sloping edges. This is safer than a sudden drop into deep water but you should take all necessary precautions so that a child cannot get near to it anyway. If the pond is smaller, cover it with a combination of heavy duty wooden trellises and steel mesh. It’s also possible to buy a safety grid that sits just below the surface of the water but it’s important to make sure that the trellises could not dip below the water level if they had a child’s weight on it. You should also check that it’s secured down and that a child couldn’t crawl underneath it.
Electricity and Chemical Safety
It’s also important not to overlook other safety aspects involved with the installation and maintenance of a garden pond. You may be using electric filters or pumps and may have electric lighting to enhance the appearance of the pond and illuminating the pond at night also increases its safety. If you plan on installing this kind of equipment only use a competent electrician.
Any cables and equipment should be checked regularly and any repairs or replacements should be carried out as soon as a fault is detected. Use circuit breakers which offer life saving protection and remember to switch off the electric supply if any routine maintenance is carried out.
If you’re using chemicals to treat your pond in order to keep the water clean, follow the instructions on the labels. Keep them stored in their original containers and keep all chemicals out of the reach of children. Also ensure you wash your hands thoroughly after using chemicals or after immersing your hands in the pond.
A better option would be to install a pond safety system, which would enable growing children to learn about and appreciate the wonders of pond life in a safe environment, without harming a wonderful ecosystem. A well-designed wildlife pond, with very shallow slopes and lots of edge vegetation, is far safer and much better for wildlife. (Note that young children should always be supervised around water).
Draining a Pond
When draining a pond, there are potential legal implications, as well as ethical ones to consider: ethically, you may be destroying an ecosystem and killing many different animals and plants; legally, you might want to consider protected species legislation such as that protecting Great Crested Newts.
Great Crested Newts are protected by European Protected Species legislation and the UK Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. This is due to the rarity of the breed in Europe and the UK, but certain areas contain high populations of this threatened species and draining a pond may cause a local decline in numbers, or if it is a breeding pond may cause the local extinction of a population. Draining a pond containing Great Crested Newts would be an offence under UK and European legislation and if newts (larvae or adults) were killed, a further offence would be committed.
If you’re considering draining a pond, seek advice from your Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation: Natural England; Countryside Council for Wales; Scottish Natural Heritage, or the Irish equivalents. They will tell you if Great Crested Newts are known to be in the area and if so, may be able to obtain a licence for you to drain the pond at the right time of year.
Garden pond safety should really begin with talking to your children and emphasising the dangers of ponds and what you expect of them. However, we all know that children can’t always be relied upon to heed advice and warnings so it’s crucial that you also put the necessary safety procedures into place to ensure that your garden pond is a feature which everyone can enjoy and not a tragic accident waiting to happen.