By Charlotte Owen, WildCall Officer at the Sussex Wildlife Trust
If you are driving home after dark one March evening, you might be surprised to see a group of people gathered at the roadside. They are decked out in hi-vis clothing and brandishing torches and buckets, undeterred by the drizzling rain. This is a toad patrol, a group of intrepid volunteers who are helping toads to cross the road safely and saving thousands from death or injury every year.
Toads are on the move as they return to their ancestral breeding ponds, ready to spawn. Their annual migration is one of the first signs of spring and there may be toads on roads from late January onwards, depending on the weather. They like it mild and damp, so often emerge from their winter hideaways after a spell of rain, and what starts as a trickle can turn into a surge of hundreds of toads all making their way back to the water. Some may only need to walk a few metres to reach their pond, while others will embark on an endurance hike of several kilometres – which is a very long way when you’ve only got little legs. Toads migrate at night and they faithfully follow the same traditional routes year after year. When they encounter an unexpected man-made obstacle like a road, they just keep on walking and huge numbers of toads are tragically squashed each year.
Sometimes, local roads are temporarily closed to cars during the toad rush hour to safeguard key migration crossing points, and you might spot triangular traffic signs warning of toads crossing ahead. Toad patrols will carefully monitor key sites for the first signs of activity, then gather on a nightly basis to save as many as possible, collecting a bucket full of toads on one side of the road and releasing them safely on the other. And given the drastic decline in our toad population in recent years, every toad counts.
If you’d like to get involved, toad patrols are coordinated by the charity Froglife (www.froglife.org) via their Toads on Roads project. Last year, patrols saved 98,483 toads. Maybe you could help save even more?