100 years on and they're still going "peep"!

Photo of a midwife toad
Midwife Toad. © BRAG
We all know that in 2006 the BNHS is celebrating its 60th anniversary, but did you know that there is group in Bedfordshire which has reached the centenary of its foundation?

I am referring to the Midwife Toad (Alytes obstetricans) colony whose founder members arrived as stowaways in a shipment of plants from France. The plants were delivered to a nursery in Ashburnham Road, Bedford where the toads began their colonisation. As the colony grew two young brothers, Robert and Percy Brocklehurst, asked if they could have some of the toads for their garden. They were allowed to collect some and these were released into their garden in Bromham Road and so began their spread. No-one knows the exact date of their arrival, but when I asked Percy Brocklehurst if he could give me some idea of when he thought they had come here he was fairly certain it was 1906 and that they started their colony in 1908.

Many people have introduced Midwife Toads into their gardens over years and they are now very widespread across the north of Bedford. They are also in many of our villages.

Robert Brocklehurst later started colonies in Worksop and Oundle and it is thought these still exist today. There have also been reports of their calls being heard in other parts of the country too.

The BNHS is running several surveys this year and one of these is The Midwife Toad Survey. I am expecting most of the records for this will be of the calls as the toads themselves are very difficult to find. Occasional peeps can be heard at any time of the year but they donít really get started properly until the weather starts to warm up. This varies from year to year but is usually in April. They reach their peak during the months of June, July and August but can still be heard from time to time until the frosts start in October. They donít usually start calling until after 8 oíclock at night.

The call is a very difficult sound to describe; it is not like the croak made by frogs or our native toads, but is more like an electronic bleep. The sound carries quite well so you can do the survey by walking along a road and listening out for the calls coming from the gardens.

The toads themselves are tiny creatures being around the size of a 50p coin when fully grown. They are nocturnal and live in burrows concealed under rocks.

Whilst the survey is really for Bedfordshire I am also interested to find out their distribution nationally, so keep listening for them if you are out and about anywhere in the country this summer.

I look forward to seeing the results of this survey.

Helen Muir-Howie

County Recorder for Reptiles and Amphibians