Where did the midwife toads come from?

Regular readers of this blog and those familiar with the projects we are currently involved will know that we are heavily involved with research into the midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans). We have been studying a population of the toads in central Cambridge since 2015 and have so far conducted population surveys and disease screening. We were also curious about where the toads originated, so last year we took some DNA samples from some of the toads (by using a cotton swab to remove loose cells from the mouths of the toads) for analysis. Using our CSI-like approach we were able to deduce that the toads originated in northern Spain, after comparing their DNA sequences with a online reference database.

This was a surprising result as it has long been assumed that all midwife toads in the UK have a French origin. After presenting the results at a couple of conferences, it got us thinking. How many independent introductions have there been of midwife toads in the UK and are they all the same species? Now we are involved in national monitoring program with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and the Herpetological Society of Ireland in order to answer these questions. We are currently crowdfunding the lab costs for this project, a link to our GoFundMe page can be found here. If you you could please share the link among your networks we would be very appreciative.

The project is only possible thanks to the cooperation and collaboration from other ARGs and interested individuals – so thank you.


One of the Cambridge midwife toads from which a DNA sample was taken


Midwife toad surveys resume!

As I’m sure many of you are aware, we are currently swabbing the Cambridge midwife toads for the presence of a deadly fungus. The results from our 2017 swabbing efforts have recently been published online and they can be found here. With the unusually cold start to the spring, the toads have only just started to become active. Luckily, on our first survey we found  toad and we will continue to survey them until the end of the survey season. Keep an eye out here for updates!

Toad 1

One of the toads swabbed so far during the 2018 season

Wandlebury Slow worm Surveys Continue!

This May saw members of CPARG returning to Wandlebury Country Park to continue the monitoring for a second year of an introduced slow worm population within a small area of the site.  Two surveys have been carried out so far and will continue throughout the summer and early autumn on a bi-weekly basis.

Already the results are up on numbers found last year, with a maximum count of 15 during the late May survey.  These were mostly juvenile reptiles; however, adults were also found, including a mating pair, which is positive sign for the continuation of the population found there.

In addition to the count we are also recording basic biometric information including weight and length (using photographs and ImageJ software) as well as keeping headshots of the adults to help build up a record of the individuals within the study area.

Slow Worm

Slow worm in a tupperware box

Guest CPARG Blog by Iain Bray

CPARG at the 99th Conversazione

I’m sure that many of our readers from around the Cambridge are will be aware of the annual event that the Cambridge Natural History Society (CNHS) puts on each year, called the Conversazione – the Italian word for conversation. CPARG has been in attendance for the past 3 years now and this year was our biggest and best year yet!


A view from one side of our stand

This year, on the final event before it’s centenary (or should that be centenario?), we had the highest number of engagements with members of the public. We also had the largest stand we’ve had at any event, that may have something to do with it – but my personal opinion is down to the moved timing of the event. Usually the Conversazione takes places in July, but this year it took place on the 6th and 7th of April. This is important to our success as this is about the time when people start to notice that amphibians and reptiles are active in their gardens. Hopefully we will have an even bigger stand next year and even more engagements!


The other side of our stand – it really was something!

If you’d like to help out a similar event then please do get in touch!

CPARG’s 2018 AGM

CPARG successfully held it’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Wednesday 4th April at All Saints Church, Milton. At the meeting a new Toads on Roads Officer and Secretary were elected, due to the previous position holders stepping down from these roles. Treasurer Helen Moore provided everyone in attendance with new’s of CPARG’s finances before Chairman Steven Allain gave a talk about the past 5 years in which CPARG has been active following it’s reformation in November 2012. The talk went down a treat and hopefully a number of new people will be getting involved with CPARG’s activities across the county in the coming year. If you’d like to get involved with any of our events or training then please get in touch!

AGM 2018

Chairman Steven Allain about to start his talk – Photo credit: Sarah Coulson


Newt crossings made visible!

Some of you may have read a piece published in the Herpetological Bulletin in 2016 written by CPARG’s very own Steven Allain and Liam Smith. The piece of research reported on the mortality of smooth newts on a cycle path along the River Cam where newts were being struck by cyclists on their annual migration to their breeding ponds. Unfortunately the mitigation we planned to implement was impossible due to access rights and getting the right land owner permission. Instead we’ve taken a different approach to address the problem at Riverside Bridge. We’ve installed a small number of signs to let cyclists and other members of the public know that newts are crossing in the area (see below). We’re hoping that this will help to reduce the number of deaths and we will be monitoring the effectiveness of this measure over the next couple of months to see if this intervention is working or not. If you’d like to get involved with the monitoring then please get in touch!

Newt Sign

One of the newt signs in-situ – Photo: Mark Goodman

If you want to read the original research you can by searching for the publication online:

Allain, S. J. R. & Smith, L. T. (2016). Newt mortalities on an urban cycle path. Herpetological Bulletin, 138, 27-28.


Over 30 local residents have come together to help the plight of the Common toad

Volunteers are poised to help the once common toad to their breeding pond in east Cambridge. Last year, over 85,000 toads were saved across the country from the dangers of rush hour traffic and gritted roads.


A pair of common toads that were safely returned to their breeding pond last year

 Armed with torches and buckets, volunteers are set to wait a little while longer to scoop up the toads from the roads as they make their way from surrounding gardens and public areas to the very pond they were born in. With a freezing Artic blast forecast next week sending temperatures below zero, it is more than likely the toads will continue to put off their migration until temperatures rise again above 5 degrees Celsius. Something, I’m sure volunteers and toads alike will be looking forward to!

 To join the east Cambridge toad patrol, email camtoadpatrol@gmail.com for more details or follow us on twitter at @camtoadpatrol . Listen again to our BBC Radio Cambridgeshire interview at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05x0b1f

Guest blog by Robert Day – Coordinator of the Cambridge Toad Patrol

Cambridgeshire’s amphibians are active!

You may remember last week’s post regarding the fact that newts were active at Cambridge City Crematorium despite the cold weather. Due to the relatively warm weather and rain that we’ve been having we felt it was a good idea to check whether or not other amphibians from the other sites we monitor are also awake from their winter slumber. Four sites were checked on the evening of Valentine’s Day in the hope that some amphibians were well on their way to amplexus. Unfortunately some frogs were found but not in great numbers but it still shows that amphibians are starting to move towards their breeding ponds. It would seem we’ve managed to catch things just before the explosion of frogs, toads and newts that appear out of no where in order to breed. Please remember to take care when out at night near ponds not to disturb them and if you do see any, don’t forget to submit sighting reports via RecordPool.


One of the common frogs seen whilst checking the breeding ponds

The newts are active!

A couple of nights ago myself and a couple of our volunteers made a quick preliminary survey of the ponds at Cambridge City Crematorium. As you may remember they have recently been worked on and the two ponds we stripped out have now been relined. They have also full up with pond water and been fitted with some native vegetation that should start growing when the weather warms up. Something else you’ve probably realised is that the weather hasn’t been the most productive for amphibians but we decided to check the ponds anyway as amphibians have been active and have even started breeding in certain areas of the UK. It was -1°C when we visited the ponds (one of them was even frozen over) but despite this the newts were active!


Great crested newts in one of the ponds

You’ll have to excuse me for the poor mobile quality photos but it really isn’t what we were expecting. Over 30 smooth newts and 15 great crested newts were seen in the two untouched ponds, with most of them being male. Two two newly renovated ponds had no amphibians present but were slowly being colonised by other pond life. It’s likely that these will be used by frogs and toads to breed in this year due to the lack of predators such as newts (if the newts don’t gradually move in). We’ll keep you updated on future surveys and what we find as well as ways that you can help by getting involved.

Images © Steven Allain

CPARG’s Research at the JSM 2017

On the 2nd December, CPARG Chairman Steven Allain presented a talked titled ‘Investigating the presence of the amphibian chytrid fungus in a non-native species’ at the Joint Scientific Meeting. This was held at the Bournemouth Natural Science Society museum and organised by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) and the British Herpetological Society (BHS). The event is always a very popular one day conference with science and research based presentations from the UK and overseas. Steven presented data from the Cambridge midwife toad project from the past two years including the origins of the project. The talk was very well received and there were a number of questions asked afterwards regarding the future of the project.

Steven presenting his talk – Photo credit: Darren Naish