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Link to original content: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/how-to-grow/frogs-toads-fascinating-world-allotment-pond/
Frogs and toads - the fascinating world of my allotment pond | The Telegraph

Frogs and toads - the fascinating world of my allotment pond

The lifecycle of frogs and toads, from spawning to hopping and croaking, has become an annual obsession

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A common frog (Rana temporaria) rests in a small pond in Saltburn Wildlife Garden
A common frog (Rana temporaria) rests in a small pond in Saltburn Wildlife Garden Credit: Ian Forsyth / Getty

While my young garden is coming on brilliantly and I’ve had a lot of wildlife turn up to feed and breed here, I’m a bit sad that the local frogs and toads haven’t found me yet. I’ve every faith that they will, eventually – they’re definitely in the area – but it could a few years. That’s the thing about wildlife gardening: you build it and they will come, but they don’t always come straight away.  

No matter. Because, since the first week of February, I have been a woman obsessed. My usual running route, which takes me along Brighton seafront, has been abandoned for the parks, allotments and community gardens of Brighton and Hove, with much more established ponds than mine.

I head out in the rain, my waterproof jacket zipped as tightly as it can go, and run into the cold streets, stopping off at this pond, and then that pond, followed by the pond on the other side of the road and finishing up at the pond in that front garden where the people in the house stare at me as I scour their water for signs of frogs. The run covers about six miles and takes in nine ponds. Nine ponds that gradually, over that beautiful transition from winter to spring, fill up with masses of horny amphibians. 

I do this every year, counting down ‘frogspawn week’ from Christmas. It helps me get through January, through bleak cloud-filled days and endless darkness. In a mild winter, Cornish frogs may have spawned by Christmas Day, but they usually start a couple of weeks later. Gradually, blobs appear across the country in a north-easterly direction.

After Cornwall and Devon, frogs start spawning in south Wales and Hampshire, arriving in Brighton in the second week of February, ahead of the Midlands, the north and finally Scotland in April. Last year I saw my first clump on February 18, but I was pretty sure it would be early this year, due to the wet, mild conditions. So I started my ‘pond run’ on the 11th, and found my first blob on the 13th. 

There's so much to discover in a garden pond Credit: blickwinkel / Alamy

I always check my allotment pond first. I dug it three years ago and it took just 14 months for the frogs to find it. It’s the perfect frog pond, even if I say so myself: nice and shallow, with gentle sloping sides and little strips of wildflower meadow planted around the edge. Last year we had a dry spring so the frogs all spawned together when the rains came. I arrived one day and found four blobs in the shallows.

This year it’s been wet and the frogs have taken their time. First there was one clump, followed by three more 10 days later. Two more have appeared in recent weeks and there’s still a couple of frogs hanging around now. I rescued some more blobs from a neighbouring pond that has been filled in, so I have a record 10 blobs this year. 

After the allotment I run to a huge pond near Brighton’s Preston Park, which is home to thousands of frogs. Last year I would sit at the edge of the water and watch it boil with enormous writhing mating balls, as the croaking of frogs almost drowned out the sound of the traffic from the road. There was less of that this year, again due to the wet weather bringing frogs out at different times. But there’s still masses of frogspawn. As far as the eye can see. 

There’s another pond I visit that has a good population of toads. According to Froglife, the common toad has declined by 68 per cent in Britain in the last 30 years, so it’s wonderful to see them thriving in the city. It’s thought their demise could be down to a perfect storm of habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change and pollution. 

Dothill Nature Reserve in Telford, Shropshire, is attempting to conserve toads by providing an ideal habitat  Credit: Andrew Fox for the Telegraph

Toads are fussier than frogs. They seem to prefer spawning in larger ponds and are more likely to return to their ancestral mating grounds, while frogs will take a chance on a new patch of water if it suits them. With dew ponds and other habitats being lost from the countryside, they’re slowly disappearing. It’s therefore so important that we create habitats for them at home – our gardens and parks can provide a lifeline for them. 

The toads always spawn a couple of weeks after the frogs. This year they were early, spawning in the last week of February. They lay their spawn in ribbons, rather than clumps, trailing it around the submerged stems of pond plants such as marsh marigold. I love watching them, coupled up in amplexus (the mating position), waiting for the fun to start. 

You can tell the difference between frogs and toads in several ways. Toads crawl, while frogs hop. Toads squeak, while frogs croak. Toads have dry, warty skin; frogs have wet smooth skin. Toads have beautiful amber eyes, while frogs have beautiful golden eyes. Toads are slightly poisonous – if your dog picks up or licks a toad it might foam at the mouth. Frogs, along with their spawn and tadpoles, are eaten by virtually everything. 

I hope it’s not too long before the local frogs and toads find my perfect garden pond. But, in the meantime, I’ll be checking on the clumps of Brighton and Hove, encouraging fellow wildlife gardeners to dig ponds of their own, and hoping no more of these precious habitats are lost.

How to help frogs and toads

  1. Dig a pond – the larger the better. Make sure it has plenty of shallow areas and gentle sloping sides so amphibians can walk in and out easily.
  2. Don’t add fish to your pond as they will eat frog tadpoles, although they will avoid toad tadpoles as these are slightly poisonous.
  3. Grow low-growing plants or let grass grow long around your pond so baby frogs, toads and newts can hide from predators when they first leave it.
  4. Make a log, leaf or rock pile so amphibians can shelter here – on my allotment the frogs love my pile of bricks.
  5. Don’t move frogspawn or toadspawn into your pond – you might unintentionally introduce amphibian disease or invasive plants. Let them arrive naturally.
  6. Dig a hole beneath your fence on either side to enable amphibians to move between gardens easily.
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