We are officially into spring – hooray! The mornings are brighter, the bird song is getting louder, the wood anemones and celandine are blooming and, if you’ve passed a pond at dusk, the water has been teaming with the amorous activities and song of our native amphibians.
This year at home we are busy studying tadpoles so the girls can watch first hand the life cycle and metamorphosis of the frogs they so love spotting in our tiny garden wildlife pond. All that pond gazing has taken me back to last year when I joined the Henley Toad Patrol to learn more about the perilous journey of the frog’s often overlooked and understudied fellow native amphibian.
Every spring toads undertake a journey of up to several kilometers to return to the ponds they themselves were spawned in, in order to find a mate. Unlike frogs, they spend much of the year outside of breeding season on land. Their return journey each spring often inevitably brings them into contact with our network of busy roads. Sadly, for many thousands of toads, this is where their pilgrimage ends and with it, any hope of making a serious u-turn on nationally declining toad numbers. It’s yet another tragic example of the impact of human activity on our native British wildlife.
Toad patrols across the UK exist to combat this problem – physically monitoring and escorting toads returning to their breeding grounds across main roads where they intersect with the busiest toad migration routes. In Henley the patrol volunteers are kept particularly busy. Barriers are used along the key crossing point to prevent the oblivious amphibians from meandering in front of cars. As dusk falls on damp, mild spring evenings, the toads become more active and teams of bucket-wielding volunteers arrive to scoop them up and safely take them to the edges of their destination ponds in the meadows opposite, where hopefully a whole new generation of toads will begin their own journeys.
This year, whilst thanks to a particularly tiny person I’ve not been able to join the toad patrol myself, I have been following the updates from Henley Toad Patrol with interest. It’s been a busy season – the Henley Toad Patrol have helped a total of 7798 toads, 1072 frogs and 236 smooth newts across the notoriously fast and busy A4155 outside Henley. That’s over 2800 more toads than last year! That’s a great reward for the dedication of the Henley Toad Patrol who have undoubtedly helped the local toad population in boosting their numbers.
Of course, all those toads take a lot of collecting and moving. Henley Toad Patrol, along with toad patrols nationwide, are always looking for new volunteers. All volunteers (except, for reasons of safety, young children) and any amount of support is welcome , even if it’s just popping along to help out for one night! For those local to Henley-on-Thames, just send an email to Angelina Jones at Henley Toad Patrol using the link here to register your interest for next year. For those based elsewhere, visit the Froglife website to search by postcode to find your local group. It’s a fantastic opportunity to help out our native wildlife and very much make a difference to the population of our British toads.