The garden pond market

If you were to offer a sample of people the opportunity of having a pond installed in their garden, those that would decline would be in the minority.

Perhaps it is that fact that our bodies are predominantly made up of water, or we have an innate desire to return to the comfort of our pre-born beginnings, either way, there is no denying that we are drawn irresistibly to water.

Whether we construct a garden pond or a self-contained water feature in an attempt to fill a hole that nature appears to have left in our psyche or to merely make an aesthetic addition to our flourishing garden, more of us are becoming pond owners than ever before.

A ‘best-guess’ estimate suggests that approximately only 15% of gardens in the UK contain a pond or water feature (leaving another 85% that may want one!) with significant growth being seen more recently in self-contained water features.

Why the boom in self contained water features?

Self contained water features offer many advantages over the traditional garden pond for introducing those hypnotic qualities to a garden, patio, back yard or even conservatory.  Their popularity over the last 5 years has increased at the same phenomenal rate as new and alternative designs of water features have been introduced for our selection.  Self contained water features have experienced this rise in popularity, for similar reasons that cats have overtaken dogs as the number one companion animal.  They are relatively easy to keep, undemanding and are cheap to run.  They suit our busy lifestyles.

Self contained water features make moving water accessible, without having to invest the time, effort and expense of building a pond.  They are not installed to house fish or plants and can be switched on or off whenever there is a call for that ‘instant atmosphere’.

Furthermore, problems that can be common in a pond, such as nuisance algae and green water can easily be managed in a water feature. 

Vital Statistics

Statistics that relate to garden ponds specifically are very difficult to source (if they exist at all!). However, informal sources of information such as garden centre floor space that is dedicated to aquatics, the increase in the number of watergardening TV programmes and specialist publications on newsagents’ shelves all act to reinforce that this sector is very buoyant at present. Speak to an aquatic retailer (particularly one based in a garden centre) and most will complain of being too busy at times to spend the time they would like to explaining and advising their customers. Yet more evidence of how busy this sector can be.

UK trade statistics give some idea of trends in the hobby as they describe the weight and value of ornamental fish entering the UK each year. These figures cover all ornamental fish (marine, tropical, and coldwater) but a little interpolation can give clues about the quantities of pond fish coming into the UK.

For example, in 2000, approximately £13M of fish were imported into the UK (more fish fly into the UK than people each year!). This value includes freight and insurance costs as well as fish. Assuming that the majority of fish imported from Japan, Israel and China are coldwater (32% of the £14M) then approximately £4.5M of coldwater fish would have entered the UK market from these 3 sources alone. Irrespective of the accurate value of the stock, it is clear that the trend in outdoor aquatics is definitely upward. In fact, recent figures from Japan have shown that exports to the UK have risen by 25% each year for the last few years. Now that’s a lot of koi!


Size of the UK, EU and US Markets.


Again, these figures are for total ornamental fish sales (and not simply coldwater pond fish), but in 1998, the USA imported $68M of fish compared to the UK’s $20M, which ranked 5th after the USA, Japan, Germany and France.

If the leading European countries were grouped together, then EU is by far the greater importer of ornamental fish (44%) followed by the USA (26%). In the same year, Japan and Israel (exporters of mainly coldwater pond fish) exported approx $14M of fish to overseas markets.

Customer Spend?

For the customer who feels they want a garden pond rather than a self contained water feature, before they can even consider buying some of these well travelled fish, they will need 3 essential pieces of pond equipment. Pond liner, filter/UVc and a pump.

1. Pond liner.

Pond liner is available in a range of different materials or composites. Essentially, the two different types of liner are uPVC and butyl.

Each of these materials will carry a similar guarantee of 25 years with uPVC liners typically being less expensive than the butyl. Liners are usually bought off the roll with a wider range of uPVC liners being commonly available.

Butyl liner is more flexible and is available in greater thicknesses than uPVC, however, if the excavated hole is prepared sufficiently well then either type of liner would suffice. Underlay is available for pond liner to protect against protrusive stones or roots but sand and old carpet make just as useful alternatives.

2. Filter and UVc

A filter is the means by which pond fish are kept alive. It is bought to complement the size of a pond and installed at the same time as the pond liner. The simplest and most reliable way of obtaining an effective filter for a new pond is to buy a pre-fabricated filter, with pump-fed models more popular and easy to install. 

UV clarifier

Perhaps 15 years ago, a UVc would not have been considered an essential piece of pond equipment. However, pond keepers have received this innovation with open arms and a UVc is now widely regarded as an essential piece of pond equipment for guaranteeing clear water and most are sold integrated into an external pond filter.

A UVc is an ultraviolet light which makes the green water-causing algae to clump together. These clumps can then be removed by the filter leading to crystal clear water. The UV bulb will need replacing each season and is best done in spring time before green water begins to cause a problem.

3. Pond pump.

If the detoxifying functions of the filter is regarded as the liver and kidneys of a pond, then the pump must be the heart. The majority of ponds are recirculated reliably by a submersible pump. Placed in the pond itself, a submersible pump will circulate water to the filter. It is run continuously, night and day, servicing the hungry bacteria in the filter with a regular supply of dirty water and soluble food.

A pump must be the most reliable piece of pond equipment as a pump failure can soon put a pond’s fish under real threat. Customers are likely to ask you to recommend the most suitable and reliable pump, with many leading pumps offering a 3 year guarantee.

In a similar way to the filter, a pump’s size is dictated by the capacity of the pond. Pump selection must take 2 factors into account.

            a. The pond volume

            b. The head the pump is required to pump. (Head = vertical distance from the surface of the water to the top of the discharge pipe).

The higher the head, the lower the turnover of the pump and a pond’s volume should be recirculated at least once every 2 hours.

[Box Out –How much will a garden pond cost?

For an average pond (measuring approx 6’x10’x3’, containing 1000 gallons complete with fish and plants, a customer’s shopping list may look like this:

Pond Liner     5m x 4m =                  £80

Pump              800 gph                      £100

Filter/UV         1000 gallon                £75

Fish                 Mixed Variety            £150

Plants             Mixed                          £80

Accessories  Nets, Rocks, t-Kits    £150

Total                                                   £635

In addition, pond keepers will be regular returners for fish food, pond treatments and advice. END OF BOXOUT]

The Third Way


The third type  of outdoor aquatic customer (besides the Self-contained Water Feature and Garden Pond Keeper) is the koi keeper. Koi keeping equipment is traditionally more costly than garden pond equipment, with emphasis placed on larger, deeper ponds, requiring bigger filters, pumps and of course, koi. Where a typical spend for a garden pond may be £600, a koi pond can start at £1500 to £2000 even before koi are purchased.

The Future?

There is no doubt that the UK pond market has seen year on year growth for the last 5 years. More recently, a major segment of this growth has been attributed to the rise in popularity of self-contained water features. There has also been a slight move detected in new pond keepers setting up ‘conservation ponds’ to encourage wildlife, compared to those installed for ornamental value. One thing will not change, and that is our innate desire to have water nearby, which when combined with the thirst of TV’s Charlie for outdoor aquatics in ‘our extra room known as the garden’, is sure to see this sector continue to grow.

[Box Out: Pond Drownings – What can the aquatic retailer do?

Unfortunately, each year there are reports of tragic accidents with young children in garden ponds. This year alone, there have been 4 fatalities in garden ponds with a call for ponds to be filled in. One death through drowning in a garden pond is one too many, but rather than react to this very real problem by filling in ponds, the aquatic trade must play their role in protecting children around ponds.

1. Advise new pond keepers who are purchasing pond-related products that children should not be left unattended in gardens with ponds. This can be reinforced with posters or other point of sale material.

2. Advise existing customers that most pond tragedies occur where children are in a neighbour’s or friend’s garden which is unfamiliar. Just as children should not be left unattended at the beach or in swimming baths, so too should they be accompanied at all times near a garden pond.

3. Various measures can be taken with existing ponds to reduce their risk to children:

            a. Erect a low fence around the pond to prevent access.

            b. A wrought ironwork pond cover can be both ornamental and practical, taking the weight of a child if required.

4. Finally, advise customers that water features can also pose a risk, where children may be attracted by the splashing and sparkling water.

Kill blanketweed and string algae.