The 2023 PondNet Spawn Survey: what did we discover?

31st May 2023

As the 2023 PondNet Spawn Survey draws to a close, Freshwater Habitats Trust Director of Policy and Research Dr Naomi Ewald answers questions about this popular citizen science initiative.

What kind of response did you get to the 2023 PondNet Spawn Survey?

We’ve had a phenomenal response – in fact it’s been our most successful survey yet. In total, we’ve received 1,410 records from across Britain, which is the highest number we’ve gathered since launching the survey in 2012. It’s also been really exciting to see people sharing their spawn pictures and video on social media.

Large datasets, particularly when they span decades, are invaluable for wildlife conservation, so we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who’s taken part.

Close up of frog spawn in water.

Why do you think the survey is so popular?

There’s nothing quite like seeing that first spawn of the year – even for those of us who’ve dedicated our careers to freshwater ecology. So, for many people, the survey is a lovely way of engaging with the natural environment and looking for one of the very first signs of spring.

The PondNet Spawn Survey is also really easy to do. We’ve made the form as simple as possible and we know that people of all ages take part, with many people getting their children involved. Some people just check their garden ponds, while others use the survey as an excuse to get out and enjoy a countryside walk. And, of course, frogs and toads are very loveable creatures so people love connecting with them by looking out for spawn and tadpoles. I believe the public support that we’ve achieved shows how much people care about native species, like the Common Frog and Common Toad. The PondNet Spawn Survey helps us understand more about the breeding habits of these declining creatures and that’s very motivating for many people too.

We hope that taking part in the Spawn Survey will inspire some people to find out more about the many other freshwater species here in the UK, including the lesser-known rare and threatened animals and plants that inhabit our freshwaters.

What happens to the records now?

Each year, we give all of the PondNet Spawn Survey records to the Record Pool. This is the UK’s dataset on herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) run by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) and Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG UK).

This is very important because it means that each Spawn Survey record is added to a national dataset and helps to build a picture of how and where amphibians and reptiles are living in the UK. This dataset is made available for national and local conservation purposes, so the PondNet Spawn Survey records could make a real difference for amphibians.

Strings of Common Toad spawn under water.

What have you learned from the PondNet Spawn Survey?

With 12 years’ of records, we’ve now gathered a significant amount of data on amphibian breeding activity. Because this is a citizen science project, with different numbers of records each year, we have to be cautious about drawing conclusions based on these results alone. However, being part of Record Pool means they are adding to a bigger national dataset on amphibian breeding activity.

We have made some interesting observations. Perhaps most notably, records are being added to the survey earlier than they were a few years ago. The first this year came from Carole Cilia, who spotted frog spawn in her garden pond on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, on 23 December – and this was closely followed by sightings in North Devon.

In the New Forest, where I live and work, a Spawn Survey record was broken when local ecologist Paul Edgar added the earliest ever sighting for Hampshire on 9 January. We also saw the earliest ever Scottish entry to the PondNet Spawn Survey, when David Baird spotted spawn in a shallow ditch in Wigtownshire, South West Scotland, on 3 February.

On social media and in the news, we saw many examples of spawn freezing over as a result of the cold snap later in the winter. Not all is lost, because spawn can often survive these low temperatures – it is common for the top of the clump to be frozen, while the submerged eggs survive – but people are understandably upset to see any losses, particularly in their garden ponds.

While we can’t draw firm conclusions from these unusual records, it seems likely that climate change is bringing the breeding season forward. We don’t yet know how this might impact on Common Frog and Common Toad populations

How can people get involved in the 2024 PondNet Spawn Survey?

After such a successful year, we know that there is a high level of interest in the PondNet Spawn Survey so are already planning for next year. In fact, given the early sightings of the 2023 survey, we will launch the 2024 PondNet Spawn Survey earlier than ever before. Look out for announcements in the autumn for the launch in early December.

To keep updated, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, keep an eye on the Spawn Survey page of our website and sign up for news and updates from Freshwater Habitats Trust.

Thank you so much to everyone who got involved in the 2023 PondNet Spawn Survey. Let’s see if we can make 2024 even bigger and better!