Guide to British amphibians
Amphibians are cold-blooded vertebrate animals that start life as shell-less eggs (or spawn) in the water. They develop into tadpoles (or larvae) and breathes with gills, like their fish ancestors.. Then they grow four legs to turn into tiny froglets, toadlets or newtlets before leaving the water. Frogs and toads lose their tails, while newts retain theirs. As the larva grows into its adult form, the animal’s lungs develop the ability to breathe air and the animal can live on land.
As an island we only have seven amphibian species native to Britain. Two species of frog (common and pool), two of toads (common and natterjack) and three species of newt (great crested, smooth and palmate).
Common toads are absent from Ireland. In Jersey (Channel Islands), the similar-looking Jersey toad (Bufo spinosus) is found
In Britain, the common toad population is ‘seriously threatened’: pool frogs became extinct in the 1995 and have been selectively re-introduced in two locations. Natterjack toads have declined by 75 per cent in the past century. The UK’s populations of the great crested newt are internationally important. They’re numbers have declined by over 60 per cent since the 1960s, due to habitat loss and intensification of farming practices.
All amphibians and their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are protected by law and it is illegal to sell or trade them in any way.
Natterjack toads and great crested newts are also European protected species and a license is required from Natural England to handle them.
By comparison we do unfortunately have more non-native than native species living in our countryside, these have been introduced or accidentally released into the wild, including: African clawed frog/toad: American bullfrog: fire-bellied toad: midwife toad: alpine newt and Italian crested newt. In addition we have the ‘Green Frogs’ [The edible frog (Pelophylax kl. esculentus) is a hybridogenetic hybrid of our native pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae) and the marsh frog (P. ridibundus).].
All these exotics are a cause for concern, for various reasons.
The African clawed frog was traditionally used in medical testing (particularly pregnancy tests) and many were released from laboratories, hospitals and through the pet trade. It is thought to be one of the species responsible for bringing various amphibian diseases into the UK.
Alpine newts are known carriers of the chytrid fungus Bactrachocytrium dendrobatidis and this disease can seriously affect native amphibian species. The Italian crested newt is closely related to our native great crested newt, and the two species can hybridise.
N.B. The release of exotic species into the wild is a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.