Why you should love toads (and other amphibians!)

Common toad (Bufo bufo) in a garden flowerbed next to a conservatory, Wiltshire, UK, March. Property released. Photographer: Nick Upton - Nick Upton/2020VISION

Communities & Wildlife Officer Rebecca Neal gives us the lowdown on why amphibians are important, why they are under threat - and how you can help this spring

Toads are my favourite, but don’t tell frogs

I have had a passion for toads for many years. I love them for all kinds of reasons, but when a big part of your job is connecting people with wildlife, it’s great to find an animal that sits still long enough to be scrutinised by a young person (this is definitely not a frog’s strong point)

They are majestic (they have definitely got that regal pose going on), tough (they can walk over 3 miles to get to their breeding pond in their spring migration), and have beautiful coppery metallic eyes. Also, if you tweak a boy toad’s bottom in spring, it chirps! (Not that I am endorsing toad molestation!)

Why are amphibians important?

I love amphibians; just for being cool, but frogs, toads and newts are also great pest controllers: they eat slugs, snails, beetles and flies in your garden and in our crop fields. Some people call this an “ecosystem service” which just means a free benefit to humans from nature (other examples include pollination by insects, and flood prevention by plants.)

Amphibians are also important in the study of ecosystems. Frogs in particular are considered keystone species because they are connected to lots of other species in their foodweb; they eat a variety of things and many things eat them. The important thing about this, is that it means they can be used as an indicator species; if they are in trouble, it means other, less obvious, species are likely to be also.

Threats to amphibians

And they are in trouble. A piece of recent academic research suggests that common toads have declined by 68% in the UK in the last 30 years despite being classified as “Least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species. Citizen Science using gardens also shows common frogs declining.

The main threats to amphibians are:

  1. Loss of habitat (ponds and terrestrial habitat are being lost as we build more houses and roads, and change the way we farm allowing less space for wildlife)
  2. Habitat fragmentation (roads or buildings can create a barrier between wintering and breeding areas, thousands of animals are run over on their spring migration every year)
  3. Climate change (warmer winters affect hibernating animals meaning they sometimes wake up when there is limited food available)

The Wildlife Trust BCN is fighting back by creating wetland habitat, restoring terrestrial habitat, standing up for wildlife affected by development, educating people about how to make better choices for our climate, and coordinating volunteers to carry out toad patrols.

Toads on Roads

This time of year, toads will be beginning to wake up from their winter sleep. At the end of February and into March, depending on the weather, toads will migrate, sometimes several miles, to their favourite breeding pond. When migration routes take animals over roads, they are often knocked down. This is where volunteer toad patrollers come in.

Toad crossing sign Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

How you can help

Not everyone is going to be able to have a big impact individually, but if everyone did a small thing, we can make a difference together. Just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. Here are a few ideas:

Volunteer as a Toad Patroller

Learn and share

Record and report

  • You can register a toad crossing point if you know of a place where animals are getting knocked down a lot. Simply registering the site does not mean it will be patrolled though.
  • Here are three different ways you can record your sightings of amphibians:
  1. iRecord: this is a free app you can put on your phone that allows you to record any species that you see. The records get sent to your local biological records centre. You can also send records directly to them through their websites:
    Bedfordshire: BRM
    Cambridgeshire: CPER
    Northamptonshire: NBRC

You do need to have correctly identified the species to record it here, which you could do by sending us a photo, using a guide or signing up to the online wildlife identification community iSpot.

  1. Dragonfinder: this is an app that helps you identify as well as record amphibians (and reptiles)
  2. Garden Wildlife Health: this project allows you to report diseased wildlife. There are some new and spreading diseases of amphibians and it is important to know where these are.

Lobby

  • Here is some advice about writing to your MP. You could tell them how important wildlife is to you

Donate

Live wildlife friendly

  • Slow down on the roads, especially in March when amphibians might be crossing
  • Reduce your carbon footprint by using public transport more, flying less, eating less meat, buying less stuff, and thinking about your food miles
  • Make your garden amphibian friendly and part of our Nature Recovery Network by: adding water, leaving wild areas, creating log piles, connecting your garden to your neighbours’, using less chemicals, and making a compost heap. Find lots of tips and upcoming events to help.

Toad and Wildlife Gardening events