Dr Naomi Ewald from Freshwater Habitats Trust shows how much joy spawn spotting can bring this spring

Can you remember the fascination you felt as a child, spotting frog spawn in your local pond and then witnessing the seemingly miraculous transformation as those little black dots turned into wriggling tadpoles and – eventually – fully formed frogs? 

Even as adults, it’s exciting to see the first spawn of the season. Maybe that’s because it’s one of the first signs of spring, bringing with it the promise of longer days and warmer weather that most of us crave as the winter drags on. 

Great British Life:

At Freshwater Habitats Trust, we’ve been mapping spawn sightings and collecting data on breeding frogs and toads for more than a decade. Through our annual PondNet Spawn Survey, we monitor sightings of Common Frog and Common Toad spawn across the country to better understand how amphibians use different types of waterbodies to breed. Each year, people across the country get involved by recording spawn they have spotted in their garden or community ponds, or in the countryside.  

After the first entries start to appear from Cornwall and Devon - sometimes even before Christmas - we don’t usually see New Forest spawn sightings being added until February. This year, however, we’ve had a record-breaking entry to our Spawn Survey with a sighting in Hampshire on January 9. Spotted by local ecologist Paul Edgar, this is the earliest ever recorded spawn sighting for the county and for the New Forest. 

Paul has surveyed 124 spawning sites across a 300-hectare patch of the New Forest each year since 2013. He noticed this year’s unusually early spawn in a shallow trackside ditch in a forestry inclosure, an area of the New Forest which is fenced off from roaming livestock for timber production. Although this sheltered habitat is typically the first place he sees spawn each year, this year’s sighting was a week earlier than any of his previous records. 

Anecdotally, frog spawn does seem to be appearing earlier each year. While this raises questions about the impacts of climate change on wildlife, we need more data to understand how amphibians use different types of waterbodies to breed. And that’s exactly what the Spawn Survey is about. 

I joined Paul to see if there had been any more action and was thrilled to see that the frogs were beginning to spawn again, now that the first cold snap is behind us. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve enjoyed that moment of spotting that clump of translucent eggs, but it never loses its appeal. Scanning ponds for frog spawn is one of the best ways to engage young children with the natural world. I was fortunate to have a garden wildlife pond, which my dad dug and perhaps it was seeing the frogs’ lifecycle there, which paved the way for my future as a freshwater biologist.  

For those of us who are lucky enough to live in or near the New Forest, looking out for frog and toad spawn is a wonderful way to start to connect with the Forest’s freshwater habitats. The New Forest is – quite rightly – famous for its ancient and iconic woodlands. But with its pristine, unpolluted ponds, pools and springs, it is also an internationally-significant landscape for freshwater wildlife. Many people are simply unaware that it’s home to ancient plant and animal species that no longer exist anywhere else in the UK. In fact, Freshwater Habitats Trust has named it an Important Freshwater Landscape, which means it is one of the UK’s best freshwater habitats. 

I hope the PondNet Spawn Survey opens people’s eyes to the amazing freshwaters we have here in the Forest, which we’re working hard to protect. And if you haven’t seen your first spawn of the season yet, why not get out for a walk and see what you can find? 

Take part in the PondNet Spawn Survey: www.bit.ly/NFSpawn23