When was the last time you saw a toad in the garden? Writer Jane Adams raises the alarm call for our endearingly ugly, slug-loving splodges
As I drag out the recycling bin, a splodge the colour of pond water is looking up at me with copper-coloured eyes. A common toad. You rarely see them nowadays, but with their warty skin and bulging eyes, they’re an endearingly ugly and harmless creature. This one’s no bigger than a two-pence-piece and it’s winking at me.
Are they doomed?
If you have an abundance of plants in your garden, with maybe a few areas of longer grass, the chances are you’re already sharing it with frogs, newts and toads. Many amphibians spend their lives away from water, only meeting at ponds to mate and spawn. The rest of the time, they’re surreptitiously chomping their way through considered pests, like slugs and snails.
My toadlet lollops under a hydrangea and instantly disappears. If it keeps away from predators, it could survive ten to 12 years – longer than most people keep a car or live in one house. However, their numbers in the UK are declining (by 68 per cent just in the past 30 years) and in the last 100 years, thousands of the ponds they once used for spawning have been lost. Pesticides are killing slugs and other invertebrates they rely on for food and they’re being run over on the way to the few remaining spawning ponds.
Toadlets emerge from ponds in June and July, so if you find one, think yourself lucky. This ugly Prince Charming could be a long-term, pest-eradicating tenant if you provide it with the habitat it needs to survive. If you don’t, it and the other amphibians we think of as ‘common’ could be gone in the wink of a coppery eye.
Encourage and protect garden toads
Don’t use pesticides. Let amphibians, birds and slow worms do the work for you.
Provide them with a cool, dark, damp shelter. Let grass grow a little longer and pile up stones, logs and leaves in a shady area.
Include water. A pond (of any size) is not only vital for amphibians but also for insects, birds and mammals.
Be careful when you cut. Toads, slow worms and even hedgehogs are hard to spot – check before cutting longer grass.
Drive carefully in areas near to spawning ponds – especially between January and March.