General Wildlife Information

Locally relevant wildlife information


After a few short preliminary patrols towards the end of February 2015, this year’s Toad Watch patrols started in earnest on Friday 6 March and finally finished on Saturday 11 April, with twenty-four volunteers coming forward to ferry toads across the main road through Ashwellthorpe. The toads migrate from their year-round habitat in Ashwellthorpe Upper Wood to their breeding pond on the other side of The Street, near the end of Greenwood Close. The patrols consist of two people armed with hi-vis jackets, torches and buckets to put the toads (frogs and newts) in, to take them to safety across the road to avoid the amphibians becoming a roadkill statistic.

The number of toads (89) was a 67% increase over last year (53); this year’s frog count was 24 – a 100% increase over the 12 ferried in 2014 and 6 newts were helped this year compared with zero last year. There were, unfortunately, 5 toads and 3 frogs as roadkill this year along with 3 unknown, compared with 9 toads and 3 frogs last year. The first year the “new” patrols started in 2010, 11 toads and 4 frogs were helped, so it is good news that the Ashwellthorpe Toad patrollers have helped so many more across the road this year.

Once again this year, the weather was not quite right for the toads to want to move all the way from the wood to their breeding pond with the weather being often too dry when warm enough and too cold when damp enough! Patrols were arranged slightly differently this year, paying heed to the BBC Norwich 5 day weather forecast and not arranging patrols when the temperature was going to be below 5C at the time of the first patrol of the evening. At the beginning of the patrol period, the start for the volunteers is at 6.30 p.m. through to 8.30 p.m. and, gradually as the daylight hours increase, start later so that by the end of the toads’ breeding period, the times are 7.45 p.m. through to about 9.00 p.m.

Thanks to all twenty-four patrollers which included six children this year.

Jennifer Robbie





The report on the success (although low numbers involved) of the Toadwatch patrols in February and March 2014 are now posted and can be seen by clicking below..


TOADWATCH 2014 – PROGRESS REPORT on Saturday 15 March 204

As mentioned in previous years, the Ashwellthorpe colony of toads spends most of the year in Ashwellthorpe Wood but, in February/March each year, toads return to their breeding pond, which is on the other side of the main street through Ashwellthorpe. Concern grew at the number of toads which were being killed by traffic on the Street and volunteer patrollers have helped them across the road (by lifting them and placing in a bucket) each February and March since 2010.

This year’s first TOADWATCH patrols started on  Tuesday 25 February and are continuing. There have been several evenings when the weather has been too cold for toads to move around – toads will move on damp evenings with the temperature above 7 C – but, overall, this breeding season has been much warmer and damper than the last two years, although it is getting rather dry now. The volunteers patrol between 18.00 and 20.15 at the start of the season; then, when daylight hours increase, from c. 18.45 to 20.45 until the end of the period.

It is worrying this year that the numbers of “rescued” toads are lower than in previous years (apart from 2010) although there may well be another two weeks of migration to occur. Up to and including Friday 14 March, the numbers are: 22 TOADS, 6 FROGS; with 7 amphibians killed on the road.

How to identify between Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and Swifts

How to tell the different between……………….

Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins, and Swifts!

These are all summer migrants (visitors) arriving from a long journey from the southern hemisphere….often different parts of Africa in early April and May for the Swifts –the last to arrive.

Most people know the Swallows and House Martins soaring about our heads in the summer months and to some extent the Swifts screaming above us especially on warm summer evenings but the Sand Martin is not so well know!

Sand Martins take their name from their nesting habit   in sandy banks either at the coast….Minsmere in Suffolk is a good place to see them just after the Reception building or railway embankments and sand or gravel quarries. They are smaller than the House martins and have brown upper parts , if seen from above, less forked tail and a brown band across the White breast if seen from below.

The House martin is seen more in towns and villages and as their name suggests they commonly build their nest just under the eaves of a house.

When seen from above the house martin can be distinguished from the Swallow by a shorter, less pointed tail and a white rump standing out between the rest of the blue – black upper parts.  Adults have pure white under parts including chin and throat.

The old saying “one Swallow does not a summer make” is justified for although the swallow is popularly regarded as a harbinger of summer the first bird may appear as early as the beginning of March .

They make their nests on ledges and beams inside sheds, stables, other buildings and under bridges but are not generally found in cities! Like the sand and house martin they try to return to the same nesting site each summer.

The Swift is the bird that spends more of their life on the wing than any other! They can be seen hunting over a wide area and range of habitats from meadows, open water, woods to the skies above towns and cities searching for insects. Swifts are superb flyers and in wet weather will travel between 1000and 2000km (620-1240miles) into continental Europe to feed! In order to breed they require access to roof space and this is the only time they land.

Most people would have seen then at dusk flying around in a mob circling higher and higher “screaming “as they go to spend the night on the wing. The adult’s sickle- shaped wings and dark under parts distinguish them from swallows and martins.

Swallows fly gracefully, constantly swooping up and down, side to side catching insects on the wing.  From underneath you can see the long pointed tail and a russet throat.  Their upper parts are bluish–black.

Throughout the summer months when you hear   pleasant chirrups and twitters high up in the sky or the screaming excited call in early evening look up and enjoy our feathered friends whilst they are with us and see what you can identify!


The word Amphibian is derived from the Greek word amphibios, which means ‘a being of double life’. It is a very apt name for amphibians and refers to their ability to live both in water and on land in the various stages of their life cycle. Even amphibians, who spend the majority of their lives on land, will return to the water to breed. Amphibians are thought to be the first vertebrates to leave the water and start life on land over 350 million years ago. They played an important part in the evolution of all vertebrates and have adapted to life in many habitats throughout the world.

There are certain characteristics that define an amphibian. Generally they have skin which is permeable to water, so they appreciate life in or near water sources and in damp places. They are cold-blooded and rely on their surroundings to control their body temperature. They usually spawn jelly-like eggs that hatch into aquatic young in the form of gill-breathing larvae or tadpoles. The young will undergo metamorphosis to take on their adult form, which usually allows them to adapt to life on land.

The main Amphibians we know in this country are Frogs, Toads and Newts. The first two are fairly similar, frogs are smooth and moist and toads are dry and warty. The newt looks more like a lizard! Britain has 3 different types of newt. These are:

  • Crested Newt – the largest and rarest of the species which has a crest
  • Smooth or Common Newt – this has an orange belly with dark spots on its throat
  • Palmate Newt – this has a yellow belly and no spots
  • Firstly, it’s important to remember that all newts are partly protected species and the crested newt is fully protected so you should never remove them from the wild to bring back home to your garden.

Over the last few years there has been a decline in all of them due to changes in the environment farming etc. there has been  massive losses of ponds and lakes across the whole of Britain and the  amphibians  are  having a rather hard time of it. Frogs have made an inroad into our artificial garden ponds. Toads have been slower and less certain to use them as they prefer large deeper water than what is normally found in garden ponds. Newts prefer standing water with plenty of weed like lake margins, ditches and ponds.

The spawn, which are the eggs ,are also easy to distinguish as the toad lays theirs in a chain , the frog in a clump and the newt wraps each egg singly in a water plant leaf.

Usually, about 6-21 days (average!) after being fertilized, the egg will hatch into tadpoles. The tadpole at this point consists of poorly developed gills, a mouth, and a tail. It’s really fragile at this point. They usually will stick themselves to floating weeds or grasses in the water using little sticky organs between it’s’ mouth and belly area. Then, 7 to 10 days after the tadpole has hatched, it will begin to swim around and feed on algae. After about 4 weeks, the gills start getting grown over by skin, until they eventually disappear.  After about 6 to 9 weeks, little tiny legs start to sprout. The head becomes more distinct and the body elongates. By now the diet may grow to include larger items like dead insects and even plants .The arms will begin to bulge where they will eventually pop out, elbow first. After about 9 weeks, the tadpole looks more like a teeny frog /toad with a really long tail. It is now well on it’s way to being almost full-grown! By 12 weeks, the tadpole has only a teeny tail stub and looks like a miniature version of the  adult.  Soon, it will leave the water, only to return again to lay more eggs and start the process all over again!


The eggs hatch in around two or three weeks to produce small, almost transparent yellowish larvae with long, thread-like gills, which attach themselves to plants for the first few days of life, becoming free-swimming later. Feeding on algae and other water plants at first, they gradually become carnivorous, eating water-fleas and other small insects and grow their legs in reverse order to frogs and toads, their forelimbs appearing first. The young, now having grown fully developed lungs, leave the water in August or September and search out a suitable place to spend the winter, usually under moss or in holes in the ground. Young newts will not return to the water again until they are sexually mature in two or more year’s time if they survive. Life is not easy

They are all one of a gardener’s best friends in the constant battle against slugs and other pests so we need to look after them.

Thanks to the people in the village involved in “The Toad Watch”  …….they are so useful to us all and need  all the help we can give them! See the ‘Toads’ webpage for information about Toadwatch. If you are interested why not offer to help next year!

Mad March Hare

Brown Hares (Lepus  europaeas)

Hares have declined  in recent years but we are still lucky in Norfolk  to be one of the areas in the country to still have them .Their decline is due to changes in agriculture ie, intensified farming, size of fields, lack of hedges  and the pesticides and weed killers used.

No other British mammal is better able to survive in a totally open habitat, where the cold, windy or rainy weather is as much of a challenge to survival as eluding predators, than the Brown Hare.

March is one of the best times to see them courting before the lush spring growth obscures them. They can be seen leaping around a lot, chasing each other and even standing on their hind legs and boxing ….no they are not Mad (“Mad as a March Hare”) they are just full of the joys of Spring.

Male and female Hares are know as Jack and Jill  and the boxing bouts  can be either two Jacks fighting over one Jill or A Jill seeing off an over-insistent Jack!

Firstly you need to be able to distinguish them from their cousin the rabbit!    Hares are much larger (about twice the size of a rabbit) with much longer black-tipped ears and  longer-limbed and swifter than rabbits. The brown hare can run at 50kmph (30mph) and relies on speed to escape.

Also a main difference is that it breeds on the ground rather than in a burrow. The young are brought up in hollows in the ground called a “form”

The babies called “leverets” are born in their own form and there can be two or three in a litter. What is more, the Mother (Jill) gently carries the leveret in her mouth away from the “form” to feed it so no smell of suckling can be detected by predators to lead them there.

Unlike rabbits they do not live in large family groups. It is strictly herbivorous. It eats grasses and herbs during the summer months but changes to feeding on twigs, bark, and the buds of young trees in winter making it a pest to orchard farmers.

The Rook

The Rook (Corvus frugilegus) is a member of the Crow family   the species name frugilegus is Latin for “food-gathering”.It is about 18 inches or 46 cm in length with black feathers often showing a blue or bluish-purple sheen in bright sunlight. The feathers on the head, neck and shoulders are particularly dense and silky. The legs and feet are generally black and the bill grey-black.  

Rooks are distinguished from similar members of the crow family by the bare grey-white skin around the base of the adult’s bill in front of the eyes. The feathering around the legs also look shaggier and laxer than the  Carrion Crow. The juvenile is superficially more similar to the Crow because it lacks the bare patch at the base of the bill, but it loses the facial feathers after about six months.

Very noisy communal flight displays are common and the call is usually described as “kaah”e call which has woken us up very early on many Spring mornings as they like to congregate in our oak tree in the garden!

A group of rooks is called a parliament.

Their food is predominantly earthworms and insect larvae, which the bird finds by probing the ground with its strong bill. It also eats cultivated cereal grain, smaller amounts of fruit, small mammals, acorns, and small birds, their eggs and young and carrion. In urban sites, human food scraps are taken from rubbish dumps and streets, usually in the early hours when it is relatively quiet. It has also been seen along the seashore, feeding on insects, crustaceans and suitable food flotsam.

Very noisy communal flight displays are common and the call is usually described as “kaah”e call which has woken us up very early on many Spring mornings as they like to congregate in our oak tree in the garden!

Before the leaves are out in the Spring rooks congregate in large breeding  colonies high up in the tops of trees, called a Rookery . There are many rookeries locally with at least three in this Parish. Why not look for them! Their nests stand out against a network of bare branches. They are made of branches and twig broken off trees (very rarely picked up off the ground), though as many are likely to be stolen from nearby nests as are collected from trees. Eggs are usually 3-5 in number, can appear by the end of February or early March and are incubated for 16-18 days. Both adults feed the young, which are fledged by the 32nd or 33rd day.

Very noisy communal flight displays are common and the call is usually described as “kaah”e call which has woken us up very early on many Spring mornings as they like to congregate in our oak tree in the garden!

Long – tailed tit

The Long-tailed Tit is an adorable, small, fluffy pinkish bird.  It is easily recognized with its distinctive colouring, a tail that is bigger than its body, and undulating flight. Gregarious and noisy residents, long-tailed tits are most usually noticed in small, excitable flocks of about 20 birds. Like most tits, they rove the hedgerows, and are found in deciduous woodlands with significant undergrowth, are also seen on heaths and commons with suitable bushes and in gardens This is a restless species, constantly on the move as it searches for insects and other small food items .It is often seen amongst flocks of other tits. Long-tailed tits have a twittering, trilling song, but it is their high-pitched twittering contact calls will usually get them noticed; typically “tsee-tsee-tsee” but also “tsirrup

The shoulders and under parts are pinkish. The head has a white crown with black marks above the eyes and into the nape. They have red eye rings and a very small black bill. The black and white tail is very long, over half the length of the bird and the longest tail of any British bird in proportion to its body. The legs are black-brown.

Juveniles lack pink and have grey-black cheeks

.. During the breeding season (late February to July), Long-tailed Tits form monogamous pairs, and raise a single brood of six to twelve eggs in a woven closed nest, often concealed within a tree or shrub. It is one of the bird  world’s master builders .With an intricate oval -shaped  nest consisting mainly of moss  held together with spider webs, camouflaged with lichen and lined with feathers. The nest may take up to 3 weeks to build and be lined with more than 2000 feathers. Adult male birds will often choose to assist their parents or brothers in raising offspring if their own nest is predated.

They feed mostly on insects and their larvae, and spiders, but also on berries.

Increasingly, Long-tailed Tits are feeding from peanut feeders and suet cake in gardens.


Mistletoe has a special role, familiar to everyone, and can be the excuse for many a furtive kiss. Now that the leaves have fallen the mistletoe is especially noticeable.

It’s a parasitic evergreen shrub that grows in ball-shaped bunches high in the branches of old trees and extracts essential nutrients and water by sending roots into the bark. It does also possess chlorophyll, and hence is able to create its own food through photosynthesis. The most popular host is the apple tree, although it can also be found on lime, ash, hawthorn and other trees with soft bark. With the gradual decline of the apple industry in England, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find home-grown mistletoe. Most shop-brought mistletoe comes from Brittany or Normandy.

Mistletoe myths

Druids believed that mistletoe growing on oak trees was the most sacred form of the plant and that it offered protection from all evil, as well as being the source of much magic. The early Christian church banned the use of mistletoe because of its association

The plant is associated with the mistle thrush which is supposed to love the sticky white berries.  The bird spreads the plant from tree to tree by wiping the excess seeds and berries from its beak onto a twig of another tree Their droppings, which contain the seeds also land on a tree’s bark and germinate.