Winter is traditionally a quieter time in the garden, but this is in fact the busiest time of year for habitat management for reptiles and amphibians. As the temperature drops, these animals become dormant, making it safer to clear out ponds and build shelters causing as little disturbance as possible.
For our winter campaign #WinterWildGardening, we have put together some tips and tricks on how you can make our species lives a little bit easier in your gardens and green spaces.
How to tackle icy ponds:
If you have a garden pond, the colder weather can cause it to freeze. The best thing to do is to periodically sweep away any snow so that sunlight can reach your pond plants and produce oxygen. This will help to prevent ‘Winterkill’ which is caused by toxic gases released in the pond (through natural decomposition of dead leaves) and not being able to escape, causing the water to become deoxygenated.
Melting a hole in the ice won’t necessarily affect the amount of oxygen diffusing into the water, but there is no harm in playing it safe! You can gently melt any ice with a cup or pan full of hot water to allow more active animals like newts to move to the surface to breathe.
You can also try floating a small object, e.g., a tennis ball, in the water or keep your fountain going (if you have one) to prevent ice formation.
If you have frog spawn, the upper portions may freeze, but the spawn which is underwater should survive. However, if you have a very small pond and/or it is shallow and prone to freezing throughout, you can temporarily place your frog spawn into a bucket of pond water and place in a garage, or similar place, out of the freezing conditions.
Remember that moving spawn to other ponds risks spreading disease, so once the cold weather has passed, ensure that you return the spawn to the same pond to allow it to continue to develop.
Creating overwintering sites:
Something as simple as a pile of leaves or areas of dense vegetation and scrub close to your garden pond will provide areas for amphibians to take refuge during periods of cold weather.
Log piles and rockeries are another simple idea to provide our species with somewhere to see out the winter months. As well as providing cover from adverse weather, dead wood attracts insects on which reptiles and amphibians will feed.
If you want to go further, you can build a hibernaculum. You can find instructions on how to do this here.
If you don’t have space to create a hibernaculum, you could consider a toad home. These can be made simply by upturning a plant pot and knocking a hole in the side for a door. Place old leaves or grass inside your toad home for extra protection. You can find instructions on how to build one here.
What to do if you disturb a reptile or amphibian during winter:
Reptiles and amphibians lie dormant during the coldest months but will take advantage of milder patches of weather to come out and forage. For this reason, if you do disturb an animal in winter, it should be unharmed if covered up and left undisturbed.
If you are unable to put the animal back where you found it, place it somewhere that offers protection from frost and predators like cats and birds, for example, log piles, under a shed or within your compost heap. It should not be somewhere ‘warm’, just a place that is frost free.
If you spot any of our species out and about, please remember to record them on our free Dragon Finder App. Data from the Dragon Finder App is crucial going forward to monitor the relationship between temperature changes and the behaviours of reptiles and amphibians in the UK.
If you spot any sick or injured reptiles or amphibians, please report them to our partners on the Garden Wildlife Health project.
For more information on how you can help reptiles and amphibians during winter, check out….
- Wildlife Gardening
- Pond Maintenance
- How-to guides (hibernaculum, toad homes etc.)
- Frequently Asked Questions