A motorist driving along the C1121 on a mild, damp evening from late February to mid-April might be forgiven for thinking they’d finally lost it. In front of them appears a strange apparition-a cluster of torches accompanied by fluorescent vests, next to ‘brew-your-own beer’ buckets that seem to hang in mid-air. Closer examination reveals that each vest encloses an individual of a particular (peculiar) species that can be found in the location on the ‘right’ nights – the Toad Patrol volunteers.
Toad numbers have fallen by around 68% in the last 30 years. The drainage of land for agriculture and the loss of ponds through land development have resulted in the disappearance of many Common Toad (Bufo Bufo) breeding sites, and it has also been found that milder winters are unfavourable for hibernating toads. Where desirable bodies of water still exist, toads use the same route to return to them each spring from their hibernation quarters just as their ancestors did, regardless of the establishment of roads or other obstructions. They simply amble cross any roads in their way and may be hit by vehicles or fall down drains in their quest to reproduce. The chance of being run over increases when male toads decide to sit on the convenient flat road surface while waiting and looking out for females to appear.
The campaign called Toads on Roads was initiated by national wildlife charity Froglife and is supported by ARG UK (Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK). The aim of the scheme is to help improve toad numbers by saving them from being killed by vehicles on roads near toad breeding sites. The GoToads! Community Project in Bodenham was spawned when Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (HWT), Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team (HART) and St. Michael’s CE Primary School received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to save toads.
Toad patrollers begin walking up and down the road at dusk on mild (7⁰C), damp spring nights collecting toads in buckets, counting the animals and releasing them close to the lake. Any frogs and newts are also collected, recorded and released. The number of dead amphibians found is also recorded.
The data collected over the observed toad breeding season is sent to Froglife which feeds the information into national amphibian surveys. Although there are variables such as the weather, number of volunteers attending patrols or motorists using the road on given evenings and times, the figures give a general idea of the national toad population or changes in numbers. Froglife has stated that in 2012 more than 62,000 toads on UK roads were collected and released. This year in Bodenham over 1000 toads were rescued.
Back in Bodenham, as in other locations, enthusiastic local children were involved in building refugia from logs, turf and leaf litter; these were positioned a short distance from the lake with the aim of encouraging at least some toads to hibernate near the water and eliminate the need to cross the road.
The earliest data for toads crossing the C1121 in Bodenham since the Toad Patrols began was collected on 18th February this year. A single-day record of 120 live toads was recorded the following evening. Bodenham has the largest migratory route for toads in Herefordshire.
Flyers, social media and training courses and introductory meetings, as well as information provided to local schools are used to generate interest for the GoToads! project within the community. It is hoped that the Toad Patrols will be instrumental in ensuring that GoToads! never changes to NoToads.