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  • emmahealey

A Welcome Guest

I was clearing stones that had not been used for the pond, with the intention of forming an area of habitat near the pond with more cracks and crevices for creatures to hide in. I lifted one flat stone and found myself being glared at by a toad! I quickly replaced the stone and there it will stay until late Spring when toadie will come out to find water and a partner. I’m thrilled to have this warty amphibian in the garden as a consumer of slugs, snails and other invertebrates, which it catches with its long, sticky tongue. It goes to show how important it is not to use slug pellets in the garden. Although I see some slugs and snails about, it is rare they do significant damage before somebody eats them. If I resorted to poison there is a chance that I will kill or poison the wildlife that could naturally help keep pests under control. Whereas by gardening without chemicals I can attract a whole host of bugs and beasties which then support the more visible birds and small mammals. An ecosystem needs to be balanced to work, if we remove a ‘pest’ we unbalance this system.

In late Spring Bufo bufo, my resident Common Toad will crawl out of its winter hidey hole and make its way to the pond. In this case only a few feet! However toads will migrate long distances to ancestral ponds, sometimes having to make their way across roads. Unfortunately many don’t survive.

Common Toads will lay double strings of eggs in deep water ponds, even those that contain fish because they make themselves unpleasant to eat. All toad species secrete poisons from their skin on their back, even the tadpoles. The toxins are bufagenin and bufotoxin and vary in potency between species and between geographic areas in the same species. In the Common Toad the poison is irritant to larger creatures such as dogs, cats and us. If you handle a toad for some reason be gentle and wash your hands after as you don’t want to accidently ingest the toxin. Try and keep dogs and cats away from them.

Later in Summer the toadlets leave the pond and consume small insects and aphids. Toads are tolerant of dry conditions and only need water for breeding. Both toadlets and adults live under logs and stones during the day and hunt by night. It takes the toadlets three to five years to reach breeding maturity.

In Winter toads hibernate under logs or stones and in compost heaps - so its not a good idea to disturb your heap in hibernation season!

The Common Toad is widespread and is an olive-brown colour with a pale belly. It is in decline however and is now a biodiversity priority species under the Natural Environment and Rural Communties Act 2006 and should be considered during planning and development. It is protected by law from sale or trade.

Its much rarer cousin the Natterjack Toad Epidalea calamita is smaller and is distinguished by a yellow stripe down its back. It is a more olive-green colour and runs rather than walks on its short, sturdy legs. The spawn is laid in single strings in ponds warmed by the sun.

The Natterjack Toad is strictly protected by British and European law which makes it an offence to kill, injure, capture or disturb them; damage or destroy their habitat; or possess them or sell or trade them in any way. This also applies to larval stages and eggs. Habitat loss has led to dramatic declines in populations.

Our gardens can provide habitats for this charming creature, even if you have no room for a pond. In an out of the way spot a pile of logs, leaves and longer grass can provide a good hibernation place. If you have room for a pond try and have a deep spot as well as gently shelving edges to encourage this slug-slayer to breed.

For me toads conjure up wet evenings in the caravan on holiday, with my Dad reading “Wind In The Willows” to us, complete with voices for the different characters. Toad in the story is larger than life, good hearted and optimistic yet impulsive and conceited. In the end he rights the wrongs he has done to others and we find ourselves forgiving him despite his antisocial behaviour! So different from my garden occupant who quietly hibernates under a stone.