At this time of year the frogs, toads and newts are thinking about returning to their breeding ponds in order to mate. Our forebears were much more in touch with nature and no doubt the origins of St Valentines day owe something to the wildlife activity that is now happening all around us.
Last week, I saw the first newt of the year when the ice on my pond briefly parted. The newts appear first, followed by the frogs and then the toads. Toads spend most of the year up to 3 miles from their breeding ponds and spend the winter down old mole and rabbit holes, away from the frost. Amphibians are ectothermic and need the temperature to reach about 8c before they can move around on land.
Climate change has lead to earlier springs and this is bad news for the toads who wait until dusk before making their journey to the breeding ponds. Dusk in mid Feb occurs around 18:00 which is the peak of the evening rush hour. Many toads find that inconsiderate mammals have built roads next to their ponds and the toads are ill equipped for coping with ever increasing levels of traffic. Hopefully this year the cold conditions will delay the toad migration until a date when dusk occurs later in the evening.
In several places around Norwich volunteers use buckets to carry thousands of toads to safety. Without help, most of those toads would die and whole populations are being lost.
The problem has become much worse in the last 10 years as new roads have led people to make more journeys – particularly leisure related journeys in the evening.
Amphibians have been on the planet for 300 million years and can survive unaided in extremes of heat and cold that we humans can only tolerate with the aid of sophisticated technology. Because amphibians do not maintain a constant body temperature they have very low food requirements. Climate change will bring challenges for both mammals and amphibians but unlike us, the toads have seen it all before.