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Toad’s Most Perilous Journey

Posted: Friday 13th March 2015 by Community

Every year toads look for love. Over just a few short weeks and when conditions are just right there is a mass migration which can see hundreds, if not thousands, of toads returning to breed. Unfortunately many never make it – where once forest and field stood, now tarmac cuts harshly across the landscape and flows with traffic. UK traffic kills an estimated 20 tonnes of toads each year, a massive figure. Here Ellen Winter, Stroud Area Community Officer, tells us just what it’s like to be a toad patroller.

Q How can you tell the difference between a toad and a frog?

It’s easy really to tell toads and frogs apart. Frogs hop and toads crawl. In Dutch they are known as kikken and padden – frogs kick and toads pad. All of which doesn’t really help when it’s dark and raining and there’s something in the pile of dead leaves on the pavement in front of you that needs rescuing from being squashed by traffic.

Q So when you see a toad what do you do?

You reach down, really hoping you’ve got a toad that won’t explode out of the leaf litter (like a frog might) and into trouble before you can get it safely in the bucket. You expect it to be hiding under the leaves but as you shine the torch on the clump of muddy leaves it gradually becomes clear – there’s a perfectly camouflaged common toad sat there and what’s more he’s puffed up and making himself as big and formidable as possible. A wonderful defence technique if you happen to be a weasel but far less impressive to toad patrollers who know that it’s all bluff. You gently pick up Mr Toad and pop him in the chirruping bucket, which already has plenty of male toads, all sounding uncannily like the cries of distant seagulls – another one is safe.

Q So are all the toads you rescue male?

No, but the males move before the females, wanting to be in place in their breeding ponds for when those big mamas laden with spawn arrive. If they find a female on the way and can hitch a lift on her back while getting a good position for the action, all well and good. Other males stop in brighter, clear areas (that would be roads then…) to watch for passing females, sitting up like little china dogs – until a car passes at least.

Q So what do you do with the toads you collect?

When the toad numbers have quietened down you and the other patrollers take your night’s haul across the road to the relative safety of a hedge (you often can’t get to the breeding pond and you’ve done your part – the rest is up to them). Whether it’s two or 20 (or 200!) toads – plus frogs, and newts – you count them as you release them.

Q How does it feel to know you’ve saved lives?

You feel utterly privileged to be able to help these private and conservative little creatures, even if only for a few evenings. As you hold the last toad up and look into its big golden-copper eyes – you’ll be left thinking “someone already kissed this one, and it turned into a magnificent, fascinating … toad”.

How you can help!

Hidden away in the Forest of Dean are many small ponds and lakes, some, so well hidden they are known only to a few who stumble upon them when out for a walk. We would like to build a picture of the condition of these ponds, and one way to do this is to record what is found in them. Amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts are good indicators of the health of a pond.

If you can tell us where you see frog and toad spawn we can plan the future of these ponds and how best to look after them.We also want to know about the ponds in your community, your garden, your school grounds, village green etc where frog and toad spawn are found.

This is part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Scheme which aims to create a network of wildlife habitats throughout the forest.

Why did the toad cross the road? Common toads are declining in the UK. Thousands are killed crossing roads each spring as they make their way to breeding ponds they have used for generations. Can you spare some time to help local toads cross a road?

Volunteers are needed to help local ‘Toads on Roads’ patrols on mild wet evenings. If you are interested in helping please contact Gloucestershire Toads on Roads network

All you need for patrolling is warm clothes, something reflective, a bucket and a torch. You can take part as little or as often as you like.

Supported by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, Froglife, Cotswold Water Park and Gloucestershire Amphibian and Reptile Group 




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