It’s been a tough spring for frogs. Here’s how you can help

Game Changers: Ponds are a great way to give wildlife a helping hand

The common frog (Rana temporaria), the only species of frog found in Ireland, which is listed as an internationally important species. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

It’s been a tough spring for frogs. Wildlife expert Collie Ennis rang the alarm bell last month. The science officer of the Herpetological Society of Ireland said he had seen a mass die-off of frogspawn in ponds in the Wicklow Mountains. Many frogspawn never made it to frogdom. Although pollution hasn’t been ruled out, it seems to be weather related. Mild winters and cold springs feel annoyingly topsy-turvy to us (when to unpeel the layers?) but can be life and death for the animal and plant worlds. A droughty February followed by frosts into April may have been lethal for a whole cohort of frogs. It feels like we have lost the gentle transition seasons of spring and autumn. Summer temperatures persist through the autumn months, and the winter chill lingers long into April. These extremes will, unfortunately, only get more extreme.

Ponds are a brilliant way to give wildlife a helping hand. Ennis’s Twitter feed is full of ideas for creating habitat to welcome creatures into gardens. The folks at Wildacres Nature Reserve run regular pond workshops to show how quickly and easily a healthy pond can bring wildlife into a garden of most dimensions. In even smaller spaces, Gobnait Ní Néill’s mini ponds are small things of beauty.

Earth Day: 55 reasons to be hopeful for our futureOpens in new window ]

Ní Néill is the brains behind the Grassroots Guild, an award-winning social enterprise that shrinks nature conservation down to the scale of an individual garden. Her workshops equip people with the know-how to make the smallest of gardens more nature friendly. Small buckets, some native oxygenating plants can help create a mosaic of mini ponds where urban frogs (who may enjoy milder winters than their country cousins) can happily exist.

You can buy a kit with all you need to start your own pond for just €25 at the Richmond Barracks Summer Fair on the last weekend in May (Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th). Ní Néill will also be holding weekend pond-making workshops throughout the summer which can be booked through her website. She also leads night-time bat walks for adults to give people the skill to identify some of our shyest flying creatures.

READ MORE

The greenest way to mow your lawn this summerOpens in new window ]

“The idea is experiential education where that acts as the spur to do more,” she explains. “Collie [Ennis] always says the first pond is the gateway.” The workshops will be seasonal, moving from ponds in summer to hibernation stations in Autumn to bareroot trees in winter.

Ní Néill is heartened by people’s attitudes to gardens as potential spaces for wildlife. “There’s a difference in the way people speak about their gardens now.” Havens for wildlife are also havens for people, as we are learning in my own social enterprise Pocket Forests. Enhancing green spaces for wildlife is the big leap forward that we need.

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests