Recent studies have shown that the number of toads and frogs across the country have been in decline at an alarming rate. The RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch, which also lets participants submit sightings of non-bird garden visitors has shown that since 2014 toad sightings have dropped 17% and frog sightings by a third. This decline has been reflected in other surveys, with data from Froglife’s ‘Toads on Roads’ scheme finding that toad sightings specifically have dropped by two-thirds over the past thirty years. It is worth remembering that this data primarily concerns sightings of frogs and roads in urbanized areas; experts warn that in the countryside numbers could potentially have decreased in the hundreds of thousands.
According to the ‘Toads on Roads’ data, areas in the South-East of England have seen the largest and most consistent decline; whilst numbers in Wales, South-West and West England have declined they have stayed at a consistent level for the past ten years. However, it is not just this country where we are seeing a rapid decline of both frogs and toads; Switzerland and the USA have also reported a decrease in population numbers. The team’s results, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE can be found here: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0161943
The evidence is undeniable, but what are the causes and what can be done to prevent this decline any further? Considering that toads in particular are usually very adaptive this continuous decline has experts worried. Unfortunately there is no clear evidence which allows for the direct identification of any specific issue or element which may be contributing to this decline. Among those that have been suggested, urbanization, loss of ponds and even changes to farming practices could be aggravating matters. Climate change is also believed to be having an impact as warmer winters have a negative impact on hibernating toads. Disease could also play a factor; around 2010 an outbreak of the Ranavirus disease caused large numbers of frogs to die across the country.
The RSPB are encouraging people to install ponds in their gardens to help try and combat this decline and ensure that frogs and toads have access to environments that support their way of life. Whilst for a lot of people a garden is a luxury, let alone a garden big enough to support a pond or the money to build and maintain a pond, even just a washing up bowl of water in the garden will do. As long as there is some sort of access for the creatures (a ‘platform’ of sorts – although it is recommended to try and avoid stone, as this can get extremely hot in high temperatures) then it could make a difference. If you can place it by long grass, a pile of logs or even an upside down plant pot then this could additionally serve as a place for toads to hibernate during the winter, and provide additional shade in the summer.
Frogs and toads eat insects, spiders, and other garden pests and are an important part of our local ecosystem. Whilst conservation efforts have in the past been more commonly focused on rare animals, the declines seen in many species that were once considered abundant and ‘safe’ – frogs and toads being such examples – have meant that researchers are now paying more attention to more traditional British wildlife. Long term plans to monitor their numbers as well as research into the causes of these declines and possible solutions are gaining more traction in the hope that action can be taken before it’s too late.
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