Postgraduate Lives: 'Toads are not cute, but I like them'

John Wilkinson, PhD student at the University of Kent


John Wilkinson, 34, is doing a PhD at the University of Kent, researching the ecology and conservation of the European toad on the island of Jersey.

John Wilkinson, 34, is doing a PhD at the University of Kent, researching the ecology and conservation of the European toad on the island of Jersey.

There are very interesting things going on here in Jersey. There used to be plenty of toads, so many that islanders were called crapauds, from the Jersey-Norman word for toad. Toad populations have declined on the island for decades, and now there are very few natural toad ponds, but toads are still synonymous with Jersey and many still think of themselves as crapauds. It used to be a derogatory term; now people are proud of it. A statue to a toad was recently erected in the capital, St Helier.

Toads are not cute and cuddly, but I like them. I remember being fascinated by the toads which bred in a fishpond near my parents' house during my childhood in Shropshire. The dramatic transformation from tadpole to toad still gets kids excited today.

I did my undergraduate degree in zoology at Aberdeen and wrote my thesis on amphibians in northern Italy. I then worked as a research assistant for a few years before getting a job as co-ordinator of the declining amphibian populations task force, a global organisation based at the Open University. My PhD research means I can spend more time in the field, which I love.

Toads usually prefer to breed in large bodies of water, like lakes and reservoirs. In Jersey they used to breed in small, temporary ponds behind sand dunes, which is exactly where developments, such as housing estates, have been taking place. Now they are breeding in garden ponds. It's a modern conservation phenomenon; without garden ponds they would disappear.

Until recently I've been visiting ponds at night and catching toads with a net. I give them a blue spot - a dose of dye under the skin. It's not invasive; it's done without using a needle. I then weigh and measure the toad and let it go. So far there are 900 toads on Jersey with blue spots. The ones I recapture will help assess the size of Jersey's populations.

In the next three years I'll be comparing the dynamics of wild and garden toad populations to see if garden ponds are the toads' last refuge. I'll be mapping Jersey toad populations using GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and comparing them with those in southern England and northern France to see if the factors affecting them are the same. I'll also take genetic samples to see if Jersey toads suffer from any genetic problems. Hopefully the research will lead to a conservation plan for the toads of Jersey and shed some light on parallel toad declines in central and southern England.

There's been a lot of interest in the project - from the local media and from residents - and we've set up a toad hotline for people to report their sightings. We had 200 phone calls and 100 emails in six weeks. This has helped to identify over 100 new breeding sites. We're also producing a car sticker that reads: "Here toady, gone tomorrow".

caitlind1@aol.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Life and Style
life
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40 - £50K first year: SThree: SThree Group an...

Recruitment Consultants - IT - Trainee / Experienced

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40-50K first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

KS2 Teacher Plymouth

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone