On the road with the toad patrol
TOAD patrols have been out and about in Suffolk again this year - helping the amphibians to cross the county's roads without being killed or injured.Throughout Britain tens of thousands of toads travelled along traditional migration routes to their spawning grounds, often using exactly the same route that they have used for many years, even if someone had built a road across it.
By David Green
TOAD patrols have been out and about in Suffolk again this year - helping the amphibians to cross the county's roads without being killed or injured.
Throughout Britain tens of thousands of toads travelled along traditional migration routes to their spawning grounds, often using exactly the same route that they have used for many years, even if someone had built a road across it.
Sue Hooton, Suffolk County Council ecologist, who co-ordinates the toad patrols in Suffolk, said some patrols had reported increased numbers of the creatures but elsewhere there had been fewer sightings.
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“On some sites numbers are crazily high but on others numbers are going down dramatically
“Nationally, toads are still in decline, mainly because of habitat loss,” she said.
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The creatures appeared to be starting to move to their breeding grounds earlier each year - possibly a result of global warming,” she added
However, early mating was fraught with problems because frost could kill off the spawn.
“February to April is the time of year when common toads leave their winter sleeping quarters and migrate to their local breeding ponds. Many of them face death or injury in alarming numbers as they attempt to cross the road.
“Unlike frogs, who are good jumpers and able to leap away, our humble toads cannot move so fast when confronted by danger and many thousands of them are killed or injured where their migration routes cross roads every Spring,” Mrs Hooton said.
Concerned members of the British public have been helping toads to safely cross the road throughout the country for the past 20 years in an initiative co-ordinated by the national wildlife charity, Froglife.
There are more than 600 toad crossing points officially registered through Froglife with the government's Department of Transport.
Mrs Hooton and her colleagues at Suffolk County Council have been working to ensure all 57 registered toad crossing points in the county have signs to warn motorists of the dangers.
This spring the county council's highways department has agreed to fund signs for four new sites - at Great Waldingfield, Thurston, Botesdale and Thrandeston.
“Some toads started migrating in the south of England, including those crossing Bobbits Lane, Belstead, Ipswich, in January probably due to the mild winter weather, Mrs Hooton said.
“Sadly the common toad is no longer as common as it once was. This harmless amphibian is declining in Britain for a variety of reasons, including habitat loss, pollution and of course, increased traffic leading to more toad deaths on our roads,” she said.
However, it was not all bad news, many people going out of their way to help toads cross the road safely by patrolling at known crossing points during the spring migration as part of Froglife's Toads on Roads scheme.
“People of all ages are taking the responsibility of protecting Britain's toads into their own hands. They are doing a fantastic job and making a great difference in raising awareness, whilst protecting a creature increasingly under threat,” Mrs Hooton said.
Patrols are needed when toads try to cross roads in large numbers on warm but rainy spring evenings when they risk getting squashed by traffic.
Volunteers under 16 must be supervised and reflective vests or jackets are advisable to ensure the safety of all volunteers.
Duncan Sweeting, who helps with patrols at Bobbits Lane, Ipswich, said 1,700 toads had crossed the narrow road this year, nearly double the number recorded last year when the project was set up.
However, about 200 had been killed both last year and this year - despite the efforts of patrol members.
“I went along the lane early one morning last year and found about 100 toads had been run over by traffic.
“As a result of that I got in touch with David Fincham of the Greenways Project and he helped set up a patrol group,” he said.
Last year a total of 872 toads were recorded as safely making it across the road but this year's figure has surprised everyone.
Mr Sweeting, who works for Anglian Water and is a member of the Suffolk Amphibian and Reptile Group, said the toads were migrating across Bobbits Lane from the Spring Wood area to water meadows where they spawned.
“They only start moving at dusk and when temperatures are above 6.5 degrees C and the air is moist, “ he said.
Members of the patrols pick up the toads and carry them across the road to safety.
Anyone wishing to help at a toad crossing patrol should contact Froglife on 01733 558960 or visit www.froglife.org
If you know of a toad crossing point that does not have signs, please contact Froglife to add it to the list of registered sites. Drivers can also help by looking out for the Toad Crossing warning signs and slowing down.