Tuesday 2 April 2019

Hogs and toads

The clocks went forward an hour last weekend to British Summer Time, which to an early riser such as myself, means darker early mornings again for a while. This morning as I lay in bed between five and six waiting for it to get light, the wailing of fog horns out in the nearby Thames Estuary, also made me aware of what weather to expect when I did get up. And so it was, thick fog reducing visibility to around 100 yards, not the best of starts. It was a real shame because yesterday saw unbroken blue skies and warm sunshine from dawn to dusk and with rain forecast during mid-morning today, I was hoping to get down on the marsh early on.
So, unlike me, I lay in bed for another half an hour, I always find laying in bed such a waste of time and life. With the fog horns still eerily wailing, alerting ships passing in the gloom, I found myself thinking about the demise of two once common elements of garden wildlife - hedgehogs and toads.

The nationwide decline of hedgehogs has been well documented in recent years, with various examples given as the reasons. I don't want to debate all those reasons, although one can definitely be discounted here on Sheppey, we're an island that has never had badgers living on it and so they have not predated our hedgehogs. Out on the marshes two examples could be leading to their demise there. One of the arable farmers spreads large amounts of slug pellets across his fields every autumn, using pellets whose empty sacks warn of being harmful to wildlife and of course hedgehogs will eat those poisoned slugs. On the two large nature reserves, the management are given short licences each Spring to live trap hedgehogs prior to their breeding season. These hedgehogs are then released on the mainland and so are not harmed but it does reduce the local population. The reason being that hedgehogs are notorious eaters of the eggs and young of ground nesting birds such as endangered Lapwings. But even in our towns and villages here on the island, hedgehogs are being rarely seen now when once they were a common feature and it's very disappointing.

Then toads, d'you know it's around 25 years since I last saw a toad, despite living in a rural area. That toad was given to me by a friend and I put it into my garden, complete with pond and old logs, etc., and I never saw it again. When I was a child in the 1950's and living in the main town here, toads were still commonly found in many small back yards and gardens, any damp corner had it's toad in residence. These days, I have a larger pond, complete with frogs and newts and have made several wildlife friendly corners and yet numerous enquiries over the years, through friends and acquaintances, have failed to achieve any toads, no one has seen any.

To think that two, such once common creatures, could become so quickly uncommon, is very sad and there are probably others as well - when did we last see a slow-worm or lizard for example.