As the name suggests, the common toad was once among the most widespread amphibians in the British Isles, found in gardens, parks and woodland up and down the country. However, since the 1980s, numbers have been in sharp decline.
At Fradley Pool Nature Reserve in the West Midlands, Canal & River Trust ecologist, Shaun Pope, is doing his best to arrest this alarming trend. We caught up with him to find out more about the plight of the common toad and discover what his team is doing to restore valuable breeding grounds.
Fradley Pool Nature Reserve is situated near Fradley Junction in Staffordshire, where the Coventry Canal joins the Trent & Mersey. Created by the Trent & Mersey Canal Company in the 1780s to feed the canal with water, the site now also provides vital habitat to an array of wildlife.
For the common toad, it's the ideal breeding ground. As Shaun explains: “Common toads are very selective about the types of water they use for breeding. They need deep pools and a certain quality of water to reproduce successfully.”
With many ponds compromised by pollution, and habitats being lost to roads, industry and urban sprawl, protected sites like Fradley Pool are more important than ever. Shaun tells us: “The common toad is one of the species that are nationally in decline, so any viable toad breeding site should be looked after as much as possible.”
On average common toads have declined by 68% over the last 30 years in the UK.
Source: Froglife UK
The toads at Fradley Pool are facing their own unique struggle for survival. In recent years, their future has been cast into doubt by an unlikely invader. Reeds, growing at an exponential rate, are threatening to overwhelm the toads' natural habitat and destroy their breeding grounds.
As Shaun explains: “If nature is left to take its course, the encroaching reeds will eventually dry out the land, making for less favourable breeding conditions and leaving the toads exposed to greater predation. Without intervention, more and more suitable habitat will be lost, and each year we'll see fewer and fewer tadpoles.”
In a bid to restore the toads' diminishing habitat, Shaun and his team of volunteers have spent the winter clearing the reeds. “Our work involves thinning out the reed cover and maybe cutting back a few trees,” Shaun says. “It's not taking away the cover entirely, it's just creating a better habitat and giving the toads a bit of space to breed.”
And it's not just the toads that benefit from the team's hard work. “It's good for all species really,” Shaun says. “It creates a really good amphibian habitat, so things like common frogs and grass snakes will thrive. It's great for birds too: kingfishers, marsh tits and even willow tits – which again are in serious decline nationally.”
The job of clearing the reeds is extremely labour intensive, and without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, it just wouldn't be possible. “We literally get knee-deep in water and pull out the reeds by hand,” Shaun says.
Thanks to the tireless work of Shaun and his team, the future is looking brighter for the common toad at Fradley Pool Nature Reserve. The reeds have been cleared, and right now shoals of new tadpoles should be darting through the waters at this tranquil reservoir.