By Jess Cartwright
You’ve heard of helping elderly people across the street as an act of chivalry, but have you ever helped toads cross the road? As spring approaches, common toads begin to migrate to their breeding grounds, without a care for what obstacles might be in their way, including cars.
As amphibians, common toads spend most of the year hibernating or feeding in woodlands,
hedgerows, grasslands as well as gardens but go on to breed in ponds during the spring. They are attracted back to their ancestral breeding grounds where their families have bred for generations. From their hibernation sites, toads will travel more than half a mile to reach spawning ponds, with many having a favourite spot.
Toads start migrating when the weather begins to get warmer, usually on wet evenings when the temperature is higher than 5C. This typically happens in February, with the peak of migration being the last week of February and the first week of March. The migration can last up to six weeks and is a crucial time for toad populations.
On masse, toads will follow the same routes every year, which can become an extremely dangerous adventure. As so many toads are travelling to the same ponds, they’ll often meet their mates on the way. This is good news for the males, as they will sort of piggy-back onto the female for the rest of the journey, a tight embrace known as amplexus. But it doesn’t increase their chances of survival, as they can only reproduce in the breeding ponds.
These fussy toads will encounter a range of obstacles. Their favourite ponds often do not have a direct route as they once did, with buildings and roads constantly being built and landscapes changing. But this doesn’t deter the toads. Regardless of curbs, fences, drains and literal roads in their way, toads will valiantly continue onwards, not knowing how to take a different route. This means they are extremely vulnerable - they have not been taught road-traffic rules like you and I have and they do not know what a drain is, or that if they fall into one they won’t be able to get back out. Toads rely on us to make sure they get to their destinations.
So, what can you do to help? Frog Life is an organisation of volunteers that help toads cross well-known roads that block popular migration paths. These are known as ‘toad crossings’. There are well-known toad crossings that need to be monitored, but smaller crossings could be anywhere. Using buckets, volunteers pick up toads, as well as frogs or newts found on the way, and safely carry them across roads, or around drains. This helps eliminate how many toads die, with an estimated 20 tonnes of toads being killed on roads each year.