Wednesday 12 October 2016

Toads, frogs and newts

At this time of year we're doing a lot of tidying up, clearing dead stuff, cutting back bushes that have grown like crazy this year. We also rotate the 3 compost bins.

We have 3 large compost bays about 3ft square surrounded by moveable wooden boards. All the cuttings, lawn mowings, vegetable peelings, small apple fallers.... get piled into the empty bay during the year. Then that gets turned over and left to do it's thing and then when it's ready it goes on the vegetable beds, used for potting up things and so on. It's really good stuff.

More in this article on composting earlier in the year >>

On Sunday Paul was digging out the remains of the "done" bay to spread over the veg beds and discovered an enormous toad, about 4 ins long. Toad was rather annoyed, he (or she) had settled down in a nice warm spot for the winter. So we very gently lifted him out and placed him at the base of an old plum tree where we've seen toads before. There are holes going down into the roots and he didn't take long to crawl in and be completely hidden. We put a small pile of compost over the hole to give a bit more shelter and warmth for the winter.

When we first arrived here in June 2006 there were frogs and toads all over. There was ivy growing up the walls of the house and Russian vine over the back fence and shed which all trapped moisture and provided hidey-holes for all sorts of creatures amongst the living and dead vegetation. We'd come down in the morning to find slugs, big ones, in the middle of the kitchen floor and silvery trails all over the living room carpet. Opening the back door at night you'd have to be quick and careful to prevent little frogs jumping in.

There was a particularly big ivy growing at the back of the house, 2ft thick, and when we chopped it down we discovered several large black toads living in it.

Each Spring the air was full of mating calls of frogs and subsequently there would be big clumps of frogspawn in the the pond. Small brown newts lived in the rather damp boiler house and there were often toads over-wintering in the soil in the greenhouse.

Things do seem to have changed. We still have little frogs jumping around in the long grass up by the orchard and last week I disturbed a couple of newts and a tiny frog while weeding the front garden. There are toads under the pile of logs and timber by the hedge.

But for the last couple of springs we haven't had the problem of driving down the road through a moving carpet of amphibians as we did when we first came here, frogs and toads migrating to their breeding ponds. It's not called FROG-garts Cottage for nothing!

Maybe we've been too tidy in the garden. Also one of our neighbours did a lot of landscaping work and cleared bushes and trees from an established pond, and another has done some rearranging of the ponds and waterways at the bottom of his garden. But it's still very much a rural area with a lot of wild life.

Here's a BBC article about declining toad numbers "Toad numbers fall by two-thirds in 30 years".
The article doesn't have an answer, just highlights the issue. It's based on this research article >>

In our small patch we do our best by leaving quite a lot of wild space around the edges. We have old established hawthorn hedges and are surrounded by a field grazed by cattle. We don't use pesticides and only occasional weedkillers on pathways well away from the pond.

However, amphibian health will be on top of the agenda this coming year.

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