British amphibians are suffering from diseases and an increase in the number of roads but help is on the way by with an interconnected pondscape
If you mention toads and roads to people of a certain age, they’ll generally think of the squire of Toad Hall and his cavalier driving habits.
Modern ecologists are more likely to think of ‘habitat fragmentation’ and ‘road mitigation research.’ That is: fewer ponds, and a lot more cars since the days of Wind in the Willows.
“There’s been a big reduction in toads over the last 30 years,” said ecologist Katie Rowberry from the Froglife charity, which also reports declines of British frogs and newts.
“Toads follow the same migration routes every spring, and as more roads are built, it means more frogs and toads will get caught.”
She added that farm ponds are disappearing as modern farming methods don’t need them any more. Ponds are being built over in towns and cities, and city council ecologist Angus Hunter said fears for toddler safety means many garden ponds have been filled in over recent years.
“It’s wiping out areas where amphibians breed. My advice is to put a pond in if you can: my daughter always had a pond in our garden. You just have to keep an eye on a child in your garden, or you can just fence it off.”
Katie added that teaching small children about water risks is a positive health and safety effect of having a garden pond that’s also full of educational frogs and pond skaters.
Richard Pearson of the Shire Brook Valley Conservation Group pointed out the practical benefits for gardeners. “Frogs and toads don’t do any harm, and they do a lot of good by eating slugs.”
Froglife is working with Sheffield Council on its ‘Living Waters’ project to build and restore dozens of ponds across the city, from Ecclesall and Leeshall Woods to Woodhouse Washlands and Parkwood Springs. Last Saturday the charity held an open day at Shire Brook Valley Nature Reserve to celebrate several new ponds already attracting dragonflies and pond dipping children.
“Toads have decreased over the last six years,” said Richard Pearson. “We used to see them every year, but hardly see them at all now.”
British amphibians are also suffering from the spread of diseases, often from imported pets like terrapins and alpine newts released by owners who don’t want them any more. (Richard and colleagues have fished out several terrapins from the Shire Brook over recent years.)
“Amphibians are in global decline, and as part of the council’s biodiversity duty we are trying all we can to stop this, by creating amphibian breeding habitat wherever appropriate,” said Angus Hunter. “We are looking to create a city wide interconnected “pondscape”, so that all our frogs, newts and toads have somewhere safe to live in the future.”
The idea is that lots of ponds in woods, gardens and other green spaces allow frogs, toads and newts to spread and thrive.
Froglife is also visiting Sheffield primary schools to help children establish their own watery wildlife areas and learn about our native pond dwellers.
“When I go into schools, people think frogs and toads are common species,” said Gail Lydall of Froglife. “But they’re not so common any more, and are in danger.”
There were no amphibians to be seen by the families visiting Shire Brook on Saturday, but the children were quite happy with swimming shrimps, water boatmen and tiny fish fry, and faintly disgusted by a tiny leech and its blood sucking feeding tube.
Froglife hope the public will take their advice to protect British frogs, toads and newts for the future. Their website contains help on building safe ponds large and small, with Katie’s simple frog-stocking advice of: “Build it and they will come.”
She’s also keen for Sheffielders to watch for migrating toads from February onwards, and perhaps even set up a ‘toads on roads’ patrol to rescue roadside amphibians in buckets on damp spring evenings. “The patrols are a social thing,” she said. “Some people might even go to the pub afterwards.”
Landlords: prepare your toad bucket policy now.