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Frogs in a pond

Amphibians

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Frogs, toads and newts are facing threats including habitat loss, climate change, and pollution. Here's how to help them

Peer into a pond in spring, and it's possible you'll see some frogspawn – large clumps of jelly-surrounded eggs that are laid between January and April.


It's fascinating to watch the life cycle of a frog play out in a pond, as the spawn transforms into tadpoles, which then go through several stages of development before growing into adult frogs.

Tadpoles swimming

Tadpoles have a tough time though – female frogs lay hundreds of eggs because only a small percentage of tadpoles will survive to adulthood. This is largely due to the number of predators they have, which includes fish, newts, and water-dwelling invertebrates such as water boatmen and dragonfly larvae. Birds and small mammals may also eat tadpoles.


Frogs are amphibians – a group of animals that also includes toads and newts. There are seven species of native amphibian in the UK – common frogs and common toads are the two species you're most likely to encounter.


All amphibians divide their time between the water and the land. They breed, and sometimes hunt for food, in ponds – but also spend a lot of time hiding and feeding in cool, damp places such as long grass, hedgerows or woodland.

Toad in a pond

It's quite easy to tell the difference between frogs and toads. Frogs tend to be green or brown and have smooth, moist skin and long legs for leaping. Toads are generally bigger. They have dry, rough, warty skin, and get around by crawling rather than hopping.


When it comes to spawn, toads lay eggs in long strings, rather than the clumps of spawn that frogs produce.


Newts look different to frogs and toads – they have a long tail, which gives them a lizard-like appearance. There are three native species of newt in the UK: smooth, palmate and great crested. All three species can be found in gardens – as well as spotting them in a pond, you may also find them hiding in hedgerows, long grass and log piles.


Great crested newts are the rarest of the three species – they are easy to distinguish from smooth or palmate newts as they are larger and have rough and warty skin. The males have a distinctive crest running along their backs, giving the species their name.


Toads on roads

Frogs, toads and newts return to the same pond to breed each year – often the one they were themselves born in.

For toads in particular, this instinctive behaviour can cause a problem Their journeys are often long and dangerous, as they travel across fields, roads and gardens, covering distances of up to a mile. The migrations can sometimes consist of huge numbers of toads on the move – and, sadly, many fall victim to road traffic.


In some areas, special road signs warn drivers to watch out for toads. Be sure to drive carefully – particularly along quiet country lanes at dusk.


You could also join a toad patrol – a group of volunteers heading out at night, with torches, to help toads safely across the road. In 2023, 118,489 toads were helped by patrols. Froglife lists places that need volunteers – visit froglife.org/what-we-do/toads-on-roads to find out more.


Help amphibians survive

Amphibians play an important role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. They are predators for insects and invertebrates, and help keep slug and snail numbers in check. Their spawn and tadpoles provide food for birds and other animals.

Toad on a road
Large pond

Unfortunately for amphibians, though, freshwater ponds are a declining habitat. According to Freshwater Habitats Trust, 50% of ponds were lost during the 20th century – and of those that remain, 80% are in a poor state.


Alongside global wetland habitat loss and degradation through pollution, climate change – especially in the form of wildfires and droughts – can have a devastating impact on amphibians.


Great crested newts, in particular, have suffered a major decline in the past 100 years. The lack of suitable habitats makes it hard for them to breed, feed and shelter.


This is why garden ponds can play a crucial role in helping frogs, toads and newts survive. Building a pond in your garden is one of the best things you can do to help all sorts of wildlife – not just amphibians, but insects, birds and mammals too.

Southern hawker dragonfly

Ponds are full of life: pond skaters and water boatmen can often be seen darting around, and the water attracts many airborne insects – including beautiful dragonflies and damselflies. These in turn attract bats, swifts and swallows. Mammals like hedgehogs and foxes will stop by for a drink, and birds will bathe in the water.


Create a wildlife pond

You don't need a lot of space to put in a pond. Preformed ponds are available in sizes as small as a metre wide, and are easy to install. And even the smallest water feature will increase the biodiversity in your garden.

Small pond

When building a wildlife pond, there are a few important points to remember. It's essential to have areas of shallow water at the edges of the pond. If the pond's sides are too steep, visiting wildlife will struggle to get out if they fall in – and hedgehogs and other small mammals may even drown.


Putting in some native plants, such as starwort or water crowfoot, will oxygenate the water, keeping it naturally clear and clean. Certain non-native plant species, however, are invasive and should be avoided – some of these, including parrot's feather and floating pennywort, are so detrimental to wildlife that they were banned from sale in 2014.


All new ponds, big or small, will begin attracting wildlife almost immediately – and in many cases it won't be too long before you start to see frogs and toads.

Baby frog in long grass

Avoid the temptation to 'help' by moving frogspawn into your new pond, though. This can spread disease, and you may inadvertently transfer non-native or invasive plant species. If you have created the right conditions in your pond, the frogs will find their own way.


Planting some native plants around your pond is a good idea too. And having an area of long grass, a log pile or a wild area nearby will help keep amphibians hidden and safe when they're spending time on land.

Little Green Space March 2024

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