It’s often said there’s a ‘canaries in a coalmine’ element to our garden reptiles and amphibians. The same way bats in your trees denotes good garden balance, the presence of them in your pond, rockery or under leaves and logs is a good measure of habitat health. A discerning lot, they only make the very best gardens their home, so if you have frogs and toads visiting you’re doing well. If you’re lucky enough to host some less common newts, slow worms – or even snakes and lizards – you can sit back and relax; your garden is a wildlife paradise!
I have a long-standing soft spot for newts myself, with their charming splayed feet and spotty pinky-orange bellies, but all reptiles and amphibians (often lumped together though different in several ways) are endlessly fascinating. They’ve been around longer than we have, evolving to perfectly fit their ecosystem. They’re busy predators of insects, slugs, tadpoles and snails, while they themselves are key food for birds, mammals and fish. If you see tadpoles and unformed froglets now, don’t worry, they’ll often stay that way until spring, when they’ll get a head start into adulthood.
It’s about now that both reptiles and amphibians retire for a rest. Many stay on land to hibernate, using cracks and crevices, so I’m leaving out prunings and piles of leaves now, plus a few upturned pots with holes for doors. Try a cosy ‘hibernaculum’ in a tucked away corner; simply pile up rubble, logs or bricks, fill in with a few wood or bark chippings, surround and cover with soil. You may never know it, but it could be the perfect overwinter home for your cold-blooded friends.