Toads are a major asset for your garden, so why not join in the fight to stop millions being killed on our roads every year? Freelance journalist Nick Larkin explains how you can join the toad patrol:
What on earth motivates thousands of people from all walks of life across the country to don a hi-vis jacket, leave their warm homes and, armed only with a torch, bucket and maybe a whistle to alert others spend dark, cold evenings scouring their local roads?
They are on toad patrol, which may sound vaguely ridiculous, but is anything but. Indeed it’s vital work to save as many of these fascinating animals as possible from being killed or mutilated on our roads, particularly from around February to April, when they head en-masse to ponds to breed. Many gardeners have much to thank toads for. Toads eat slugs, spiders and other insects, playing a vital part in Britain’s ecological environment.
But 2017 is, to put it bluntly, not a good time to be a toad. Their decline is astonishing. A study by amphibian and reptile conservation charity Froglife, working with the University of Zurich, has shown that the common toad population of the UK has fallen by 68% over the last 30 years.
The decline is more pronounced in the South East, which is also the region with the highest volume of traffic.
“There is a lot stacked against them”, said John Heaser, who has been on toad patrol since 2004. “I was appalled to see possibly more than 200 dead frogs and toads on the road one night and felt I had to do something.”
John works with Toadwatch in Norfolk, one of Britain’s most successful operations to save the creatures from being kills by traffic. Around 70 people are involved in the patrols which John reckons saves half or more of the country’s toads each year.
This may seem unbelievable, but in 2016, Toadwatch saved 22,256 toads, just in Norfolk. Sadly, 1,704 were known to have been killed. In Selbrigg, a village few have heard of, the figure saved was 5,492. In addition, 1,336 frogs and 256 common newts also got in on the act.
All this merely down to people with those buckets and torches who scoop up the amphibians, taking them across the road or to the pond where they want to go. John commented “the problem is getting far worse. Toads are losing their habitats as so many sites are being built on. Toads need to live somewhere frost-free, ideally subterranean. The problem is that a lot of gardens are being tidied up, so again this reduces the places for toads to live.”
Cynics can argue that toads don’t help themselves much. They migrate to their breeding ponds from normally February to April, depending on the temperature. They normally move from dusk (i.e. around rush hour) and need the temperature to be above five degrees centigrade. The weather needs to be wet or humid.
What is worse, John reveals, is that male toads genuinely do wait on the road surfaces to pick up a female, which, just as is the case with humans, is deadly. They also tend to move in droves, making a journey of up to a mile and half to their pond. They are not happy with any watery destination – it needs to be the pond in which they were born. Toad patrollers tend to know where these are, and when toads are most likely to try to get to them.
People of all ages and backgrounds are involved. They tend to not merely be hardcore conservationists – John works in IT. “It’s people who are united in not wanting to see these animals killed in huge numbers” he said. “Things can only get worse, even the change in cars in contributing by giving their occupants more insulation from the outside environment,” John added.
Froglife coordinates these efforts across the country, supporting people wishing to set up patrols and most importantly holding the Department for Transport database of amphibian migratory crossings. Registering a crossing with Froglife (crossing can only be registered if there are more than 100 toads crossing), can mean that local authorities will put up toad crossing warning signs during the migration period, unfortunately nowadays most local authorities say that they are too cash strapped to do this.
Froglife has a Year of the Toad Campaign and there are plenty of ways in which you can get involved. CEO Kathy Wormald said: “Our work with toad patrols is one of our most important roles and we are proud to co-ordinate the efforts nationally which save many thousands of these wonderful animals.”
Some facts and how you can help:
There are no official figures of the number of toads killed on British roads annually – it is quoted as 20 tonnes.
Toads began to evolve 20 million years ago, they can live for 20 years or more and do not breed until their fourth season.
You can provide a toad habitat in your garden. Ideally a subterranean environment of bricks and branches covered by old carpets or similar. You will probably find that you attract a lot of other wildlife as well, including frogs and newts.
Richmond Council is the only known authority to close roads at times of toad migrations. Warning triangles featuring toads are also put up.
If you live in Norfolk and would like to get involved or learn about a toad crossing, contact Toadwatch.
You can find your nearest toad crossing by visiting Froglife’s website. Froglife’s Toads on Roads work is unfunded, you can help by making a donation on the site.