The Wren Wildlife Group, London Wildlife Trust and Wild Wanstead have compiled a list of 10 species at risk of local extinction. In the eighth of a series of articles looking at each species in turn, Liz Ranger explains why it’s time to give toads a helping hand
Poor old toads get a bad rap – accused of having warts, featuring in witches’ brews and being used as an insulting description of someone. It’s a shame because if ever there was a little creature to welcome to our gardens it’s a toad. They are the friend of anyone trying to grow plants or veggies, sneaking up on slugs, aphids, ants and other insects and using their sticky tongues to hoover them up.
Common toads can vary in colour from greenish to grey-brown – sometimes with dark markings. Their skin is dry and bumpy, and when scared or threatened, they have a neat trick of secreting a vile-tasting substance as a defence against predators.
Common toads spend much of their time on dry land, but in early spring, they return to the pond in which they were spawned to find a mate and reproduce. Toad spawn is laid in long strings and tadpoles emerge in 10 days. After breeding, toads return to drier areas where they may spend long periods over summer, hidden away during the day and hunting for slugs and other food at night. Toads sit out the winter, burrowed in mud or under logs or a compost heap.
It’s not too late to spot a toad – the best time is at night between February and October – but you’ll have to be lucky, because despite being called ‘common’, they’re actually getting rarer. It is difficult to accurately assess toad populations, but in Wanstead, people are saying they now come across them less frequently in their gardens. Common toads are classified as a biodiversity priority species under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act because of recent declines. The problem is loss of the habitats where they live, particularly the removal of ponds and vegetation, and the drainage of wet areas of land. As green areas become more fragmented and we build more roads, more toads are being killed by traffic as they migrate to and from their breeding ponds.
How to help
- Create habitats in your garden where toads can live and feed, like a long grass area or piles of old wood or leaves in a shady location. Have an open compost heap for vegetable peelings and garden waste.
- Build a wildlife pond – find out how at wnstd.com/pond
- Help minibeasts thrive in your garden to provide food for toads. Don’t use slug pellets or pesticides. Invertebrates love dense undergrowth where they can hide away, so why not leave a corner to go wild?
For more information about the 10 species under threat of extinction in Wanstead, visit wnstd.com/the10