Amphibian emergency escape route installed

I have posted several times about our old well that is just outside our patio doors (The old well, The well in winter, Well shock).  I had always considered it a good environment for the newts, frogs and toads that appeared to be making their home there.

I was, therefore, quite upset and resistant to a comment that suggested that amphibians could be trapped inside the well.  However, as confirmation of this possibility came from Arc Trust , a respected amphibian and reptile organisation, I took heed.  I could not bear to think of harming the very creatures we are so fond of.  However, I would like to point out that I have never found any remains of animals in the well.

Certain creatures such as toads and lizards can fall down straight sided pits and be unable to climb out.  Examples of such pits are drains, that you frequently see by the roadside, meter pits, external basements and old wells.  Wildlife organisations have been trying to highlight the need for the placement of materials to allow the animals to escape.  One of the most promising materials is a capillary matting called Enkamat which is actually used for erosion control, among other uses.

enkomat matting in well

In the interim period I had placed a very bendy branch which I had notched at the suggestion of Tim from Art en Saule.  I think I will leave the branch in place now that there is free access and exit for all.

The netting dropped over the side easily.

Enkamat netting

This closer photo shows the 3D nature of the matting that provides a good grip for toes.

secured on grill

The grill was then replaced on top of the matting and the matting attached to the grill with a plastic garden tie.

bottom of well

Yesterday was cold and any well occupants were not to be seen probably tucked up in the crevices.

I would also like to thank Susan of Days on the Claise who (as always) has supported me with extra information and the benefit of her wide experience with the natural world.

In addition, I would like to recommend to anyone who would like to learn more about amphibian and reptile conservation to visit the Arc Trust site.  I am particularly grateful to all the help Peter Hill the South Wales Habitat Creation Officer has given to me enabling to make a habitat safer in France, which is a bit outside his area.


I’d like to think all the reptiles and amphibians in the garden are as happy now as this Mediterranean tree frog (Hyla meridionalis).  I took this photograph a few years ago in March, the garden is not as green as this, yet!

A small event

Sometimes the smallest event can trigger a chain of events that seems to take on a life of its own.

Flock in distance

I was walking near the house last week when I saw an unusually large flock of small birds.  Luckily I had my camera but I soon had a glimpse of colours and had a good idea of what they might be.

Cropped flock

The closer photograph is not good, as I do not have a telephoto lens (I don’t really need a telephoto lens, but then need is a strange word).  However, it is perfectly good enough to identify the birds as goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis).  They were eating the seeds of a funny plant.

April 2013

This is a photograph of the same field, only a few yards away from our house, that I took in April 2013.  It looked beautiful at that time of year covered by these red flowers.  However, the bees did not find them particularly attractive so I lost interest in them without being able to find out what they were.

Sorrel seed head

This time the Goldfinches prompted me to take a closer look at these plants whose seeds were providing their meal.  Usually, it is the flowers that make a plant easy to identify but here it was the seeds that gave me the clue.  It reminded me of the dock seeds I used to collect and give to the budgie when I was young.   Dock and sorrel are closely related and belong to the same genus – Rumex.

Sorrel leaves

The leaves are not so broad as the dock that I knew but this led me to identify the plant as a type of wild sorrel. That rang a bell as I had just discovered the wild version of what everybody around here seems to grow in their garden.

Annie's sorrel

My next stop was to compare the wild sorrel with the cultivated variety and I was confident that my neighbour Annie would have a good patch.  She did not let me down and her sorrel looks much more tempting to eat than the wild variety.  I asked her what she used it for and she told me she uses it is sauces and that it also makes a very good soup (although I might add anything Annie makes is very good.)  I told her that I had seen the goldfinches in the field eating the wild sorrel seeds.  She said that reminded her of when she used to go to school in Normandy and that she would pick and eat the wild sorrel leaves as she liked their tart taste.  The local name for them in Normany was “surelle”.

I was not familiar with sorrel before I came to France but in this area everybody seems to have it in their vegetable garden.  I got so tired of confessing that I did not have any sorrel in mine, that the last time this happened I came home with a couple of plants wrapped up in some newspaper.  At least I will be able to hold my head high now that it is established although I’ve no idea what I’ll do with it.

My sorrel

My sorrel looks different from Annie’s sorrel.  Apart from the old leaves looking generally tattier the stalks are redder. It is not really surprising as there are so many different species of sorrel.

While checking up on its uses, and it has many medicinal uses, I noticed that the leaves were a favourite food of the caterpillars of the Small Copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas).  So that also explains why I find them sunning themselves in the garden in the summer.

Small copper, Lycaena phlaeas

Another unconnected fact is that in French argot  “avoir de l’oseille” means to have money, in the sense that “plein d’oseille” would mean loaded.

But I digress just as the view of the flock of birds made me digress.



Well Shock

While in the U.K. over Christmas I received a comment on an old post “Water, water everywhere…” from last February 2014.  Paul wrote:

The amphibians that end up in your well are trapped, in a short space of time they will drown, it would be good if you could help them out via a long reach net of maybe have some sort of ramp in place, they are certainly not in their element in there as you suggest. I would also suggest that you put some polystyrene sheets ( floating) 18 inch x 12″ in the well the animals will climb on them, and you will have fewer drowned amphibians.

Best wishes


There was also a comment from Peter on my 2012 post “The old well” :

Hi, interesting images, thanks for sharing. The amphibians are getting trapped in the well, and by far the majority of them will be unable to exit themselves. Some will have been trapped for longer than others, and individuals may tuck themselves away in unimaginably tight spots, undetected for the majority of time. The pair of common toads in the image with the marbled newts are both underweight, and the fire salamander depicted in the final image is emaciated — amphibians are also capable of surviving incomprehensively (at least for us) long periods of time without food, this particular individual may well have fasted for a whole year. For the amphibians, removing them and placing them in thick vegetation that has connectivity to further suitable habitat would be their best chance of survival. Taking measures to install a smooth sided barrier fence with an external overhang to prevent amphibians continuing to be trapped in the well would be the way forward for the amphibians. Best wishes, Peter Hill (Habitat Creation/Restoration officer, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust)

I must admit that I was panicked but surprised at the comments.

One point that I am not sure that they have understood is that it is an old well that has been filled in by previous occupants of the house and the first time that we had seen an appreciable quantity of water in the well was during a very short period in 2015 due to exceptional weather conditions.  Even then the water was not deep and there were refuges for them.  We have never seen any dead bodies nor have experienced any smell (it is just beside where we take our morning coffee on fine days.)

Covered well


The well is safely covered but that was to protect humans entering and exiting the house.

However, we have acted on Peter Hill’s advice and my husband went down the well today.  Yesterday, after a cold period the temperature was up to 14 degrees and today it was the same so we thought it safe to save the toads.

Frogs and toads

There were no bodies but there were two common toads, a frog (Rana dalmatina, I think) and lots of marbled newts (Triturus marmoratus).

Hyla meridionalis

And a Mediterranean Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis).


What was very interesting was that among all the debris at the bottom of the well my husband noticed two or three worms!  If my husband could spot them, I imagine that the other creatures are better adapted to find such juicy morsels than he is.

Well ferns

It is also not possible to show you how many “midges” or very small flies were active amongst the lush growth of ferns on the well sides.  In addition, I saw a large white moth make an exit as we lowered the ladder down the well.  I am not convinced that the well is such a barren an environment.


The two toads and the frog have been removed.


They have been released into the end of the back garden near the river Seudre.


I was very impressed by the camouflage – it was certainly, now you see me, now you don’t.

Well with log

The well has now been fitted with a log escape route.  There is no need for floats as the level has never been high enough, even in extreme conditions, to leave them completely stranded.

There was no sign of the Natterjack toads or the salamander that we had previously seen but thankfully no bodies either.


I just wonder if the frog is making a break for freedom or will it end up crushed on the nearby road cursing the humans that turfed him out of his safe resting place.