Frogs, toads and newts
Frogs and toads are amphibians but are quite separate species. Amphibians are cold-blooded, egg-laying creatures that require water for the development of eggs and larvae. Their skin is not waterproof and needs to remain moist. There is one species of frog, the common frog, which is generally widespread over the country and two species of toad, the common toad and the natterjack toad which is a rarer and protected species that only occurs in a few specialist and mostly coastal habitats across the country.
Frogs have a moist skin that is variable in colour from green to brown or grey with yellow and orange mixed in. They have pointed noses, humped backs and move by leaping.
Toads are plump, warty and move by crawling rather than jumping. The natterjack has more warts and a greenish tinge and a yellow line down the back. They have shorter legs and move by running about across the sandy soil where they live.
Frogs and toads hibernate through the winter mostly on land, although some male frogs may remain in the water. (Although this isn’t true hibernation but a special physiological state with no metabolic changes.) They spend winter inactive in various places under logs, sheds, greenhouses or in undisturbed vegetation on waste ground. They all emerge in late winter, early spring to mate and lay spawn in nearby ponds and then soon leave the water. Then they forage for food in shady damp vegetation and by early summer, any surviving tadpoles that hatched from the spawn laid earlier will have become tiny froglets or toadlets and will leave the water to forage on land.
Toads are not a protected species but are considered a Priority Species with regard to Biodiversity Action Planning.
There are three species of newt in the UK: smooth newts which are the most common; palmate newts; and great crested newts, which are rare.
Each type of amphibian is utterly dependant on just the right sort of pond or lake for the breeding and early juvenile part of their lives. Also for their best health and survival, a conveniently nearby terrestrial home is needed in the out-of breeding seasons when they are either feeding or hibernating. And if the Summer is long and dry they all need a cool, moist place in which to 'switch off' until the rains return.
What's happening to frogs, toads and newts in Maidenhead?
In Maidenhead, and in most other places, these creatures need enough quality habitats to survive. Any pond which is already known to be a spring breeding site for any of them should be recorded, and often left relatively alone - these creature are known to be very loyal to specific ponds for many generations, and even an outwardly similar pond next door is ignored.
As in all locations, frogs, toads and newts in the Maidenhead area are declining generally.
Maidenhead has one of the largest urban toad populations in the south of England in the vicinity of Ray Mill Road. Each spring thousands of individuals make their way across the road to breed in a lake near Summerleaze. The toads have to cross busy roads to reach the lake, including females laden with 150 eggs, and unfortunately many used to be killed by traffic in the process. However, experts and residents have been on hand to help: a toad patrol was set up in the 1990s with volunteers helping to move toads across the road at night for a two or three week period in late February and March. In 1997 the site was registered with The Secretary of State as the Deerswood Toad Patrol Crossing. Similar sites occur in other parts of the country too.
Even with this help, sadly, with the effects of loss of suitable habitat and forage areas and with increasing development, the toad numbers at Ray Mill Road plummeted to very low numbers over the last ten years. However, the toad patrol is now very active again and everything is being done to support their population. Two acres of land at Deerswood Meadow is now a wildlife area and special considerations are being made to manage the land in a more sympathetic way for wildlife, including the amphibian population by a partnership between the land's owners, RBWM, and the Friends of Deerswood. Several hibernacula have been created for the toads and slow worms which are found on the site and local residents are being encouraged to make their gardens toad-friendly. We have been helped by the national charity Froglife, www.froglife.org.
Newts are also seen by toad patrollers around the lake at Summerleaze though we have no knowledge of newt numbers.
There is also a toad migration at the Strand in Cookham.
What can I do?
If you have frogs, toads or newts, your pond is truly special! Share your knowledge of such good ponds with Wild Maidenhead and we can give advice and practical help for their continued success. If you have a garden without a pond (and you can put one in safely if there are children about), you will help our amphibian population.
Make your gardens frog, toad and newt friendly. Simply leave a corner or two wild ('untidy') where slugs, beetles and other small creatures can provide them with a mixed diet. Don't have fencing without ground-level gaps to allow easy movement of these creatures. Please avoid putting fish, or any of the currently fashionable dyes, into your pond. If your dog swims in it, residues of your dog shampoo will damage the sensitive skin through which amphibians get much of their life-supporting oxygen.
Both of the Maidenhead toad patrols need annual volunteers in February/March and in June/July. Please get in touch here if you would like to be part of the toad patrol and see www.facebook.com/toadsonline
Read up on amphibians: this is an excellent website, www.froglife.org.
Great crested newt
This video shows toads being released into the lake near Ray Mill Road East in 2016 by volunteer toad patrollers