Bill Shaw – Ecology and Conservation Land Management Adviser
For us ‘herp enthusiasts’ (people who love amphibians and reptiles) this is a very exciting time of year. After 5 months of twiddling our thumbs, when all 13 of our native ‘herp’ species are hibernating, there is now a big build-up in the amount of activity as they are all frantic to breed!
In the amphibian world frogs hibernate under the mud at the bottom of ponds, absorbing sufficient oxygen through their skin to survive. They are the first to wake up and start spawning, generally in February. They are described as being explosive breeders as they cause quite a commotion in their breeding ponds for a week or two, with many croaking males visible at the surface.
Then it all goes quiet.
Well, at least until the common toads get going!
These endearing creatures (personal opinion) hibernate on land and then in March they move en masse to their breeding ponds, which is often the one they were born in. If there is a road to cross on the way there is the obvious potential for a lot of squashed toads, and this is where the organisation Froglife have stepped in to co-ordinate a national scheme of Toad Patrols. Last year it’s estimated that they helped nearly 81,000 toads to safely reach their home ponds.
One such patrol site is near Osmotherley, on the western edge of the National Park. I went up there a couple of weeks back to help out and what a satisfying thing it is to do. All you need is a bucket, a torch and a high-vis jacket and away you go, walking up and down the road in the dark, putting the toads in the bucket and taking them to the pond. The thing I really liked about it is the direct connection with nature. Just think about it – how often do you actually get to pick up any wild animal.