All across the UK you may have seen road signs like the one below for toad patrols, or seen groups of people in hi-vis carrying buckets along roadsides, and wondered what does that sign actually mean and what are they doing? During the early spring months (potentially early January – late April) the common toad (Bufo bufo) migrates back to its ancestral breeding ponds. Common toads are very picky and will follow the same route to the ponds each year, journeying up to 5 km. This unfortunately means that as the widespread habitats of the common toad are fragmented by construction and developments, the common toad is forced to cross any roads which have blocked their migration route.
Thousands of common toad are killed each year from traffic mortality on roads, but traffic mortality is not the only danger, many toads which are able to cross the road fall short at the raised pavement kerbs, meaning that they cannot climb to safety. Most road drain covers in the UK are not designed with toads in mind and can become a pitfall trap for these critters which are unable to climb out.
Don’t let the name common toad deceive you, this combination of habitat fragmentation and road mortalities has caused a great decline in common toad numbers over the past decade equating to more the 50% in some areas of the UK, and common toad was placed on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species list in 2007.
Networks of volunteers across the UK, overseen by the charity Froglife, patrol these known migration road crossing spots each evening in spring waiting for the annual toad migration. As the toads emerge on the roadside (or rescued from drains) they are gently placed into a bucket and carried to the other side of the road or directly to the breeding pond. In 2019, 107,401 toads were reported as being helped across the road, according to Froglife.
So what can you do on your site to help?
It is important to think about the layout of your site. If there are obstructions to good terrestrial habitats for animals, make sure there are sufficient wildlife corridors through your site to allow creatures to travel safely. Keep in mind the use of culverts, tunnels, wildlife fencing and wildlife friendly curbs when installing new tracks and roads.
If these crucial breeding ponds and migratory routes are identified before major works are conducted these issues can be easily fixed. Check the Froglife website for the nearest known crossing route and see if the toads may be using your site too. Keep an eye out at this time of year for any toads around your site, particularly around ponds and crossings, and note down mortalities too. Another thing you can do is inspect any ponds on site for toad spawn which may identify a toad breeding pond. Unlike frogspawn, toadspawn is a long strings of eggs, rather than the clusters of spawn laid by frogs.
If you believe you have a breeding pond or migration crossing on site, then make sure you register the new toad crossing with Froglife.