Out on Toad Patrol with one of our Non-Executive Directors, Sarah Armstrong

I joined my local Toad Patrol this year after hearing an article about it on the radio.  I live close to a very busy stretch of the A40 on the outskirts of Cheltenham which borders woodlands and fields to one side and a reservoir on the other – a lethal combination for amphibians making the annual migration at spawning season.  I’d always been aware it was a ‘toad crossing’ site as the red triangle warning road signs are opened up for a couple of months each year, but I had no idea there was an army of people also involved – and that their activity is replicated all across the country each Spring with more than 200 patrols across the UK helping common toads, frogs and newts during the migration season.

A small number of rural patrols do involve road closures as portrayed in our excellent campaign video but the majority, like mine, involve “in the moment” rescuing – that is, spotting a toad about to cross the road, scooping it up carefully into a bucket and safely depositing it on the other side to continue its journey to the water.  This is not a feat for the faint-hearted!  At rush hour – which unfortunately tends to coincide with the early spring ‘dusk to night’ transition time which is the prime migration period – our half-mile stretch of the A40 can see a constant stream of fast-moving cars, lorries and buses.  So picking your moment to cross safely is paramount – as is a high viz jacket, a pair of wellies and a very powerful torch (as well as doing our work in the dark it is usually raining)!

We are all volunteers in the patrol – some have been working this stretch of the road every spring for many years.  There are 21 of us in my group and during the season our patrol WhatsApp is constantly pinging – monitoring the early evening weather (the conditions have to be just right for toads to get on the move) and co-ordinating efforts. Typically there can be up to 8 of us patrolling each night and we make sure no one is out alone.  Each time I turned up I met someone new and, despite the fact that most of us have ‘day jobs’ and other commitments to juggle, I was humbled by how many came from far and wide to support this important cause.  We are all from different walks of life but united by a common passion for the natural world and a desire to stem the decline, and I was made to feel very welcome by everyone I met.

Sadly, many toads don’t make it and our role is not only to save lives but to count the casualties.  At the end of each season, each patrol feeds its data into a regional hub for central collation and monitoring by the conservation charity Froglife.  It’s widely acknowledged that the common toad population is in dramatic decline: This year our patrol saved over a hundred toads but the total (live and dead) was notably down on previous years – a trend sadly observed by most of the ‘Toads on Roads’ patrols in Gloucestershire.  Certainly, it would appear the changing climate is also making it difficult to predict the peak times for amphibian movements:  Amusingly, migration often starts on Valentine’s Day, but my fellow patrollers have commented on the unusually early movements this year fuelled by a warm early February prompting a premature hibernation wake-up. And despite patrolling usually continuing into the month of April, this year our activities were over by mid-March.  It will be interesting to see what the 2025 experience will be.

For more information on the ‘Toads on Roads’ project, including your nearest crossing and how you can get involved, visit www.froglife.org

📸 Photo Credit – Gloucestershire TOR (Dowdeswell Patrol)

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