Frogwatch: frog/toad crossing sign
By William Seale: Madingley Toad Rescue
"There are times I wonder why I go toading." William Seale talks us through the intricacies of patrolling Cambridgeshire's randy toads as they hurtle across busy roads to their mating grounds...
William Seale runs Madingley Toad Rescue and explains that every year, the urge to return to their breeding grounds - the lakes at Madingley Hall - causes the local toad population to risk life and limb on the busy village rat-run.
Find out more about why William became interested in saving the local toads:
And here, he tells us about the intricacies of patrolling and rescuing these horny creatures...
Toadie did a woo-ing go...
Some people imagine toads using a narrow crossing point to get to their breeding grounds - a bit like a zebra crossing. If only it was that simple!
Each year, early in February, we install several hundred metres of low temporary amphibian fence along the road verges. It is hard work because the base of the fence has to be buried all the way along to stop the animals wriggling underneath. This year, a local blacksmith has kindly made us a device to help cut a slit in the ground, making the job easier.
We can’t use fences over the whole site but, where used, they do dramatically reduce casualties. They also make it much safer for volunteers who would otherwise have to collect most toads off the road itself. We would like permanent amphibian barriers but we have not yet found a suitable type for Madingley, so we have been carrying out trials of our own designs, with varying degrees of success or failure.
Volunteers start to arrive just before dusk. Once they have donned reflective safety vests and collected a lamp and bucket from our trailer, they head off on their toad hunt. This usually entails walking along the verges and picking up the animals waiting behind the fences. Once they have a bucket full of toads (and the odd frog or newt), they decant their catch into a large holding tub.
We joke that the tubs are a sort of toad dating agency – many of the animals are single when they go in but have paired up by the end of the evening. There is always a lot of competition and jostling for females because there are more males in the breeding population. Overall, males can outnumber females by about five to one, but early in the migration there are evenings when there are fifty times more males.
When volunteers finish the patrol (sometimes in the early hours of the morning) the animals are counted, sexed, then taken across the road to be released in a safe place in the direction they were going. We refer to this as the ‘releasing ceremony’, the high point of the evening.
Since 1988 we have carried over 50,000 toads to safety across the road and on our busiest single night took 1,232. As is true at many sites in the UK, numbers have been going down. In Madingley there are now less than half that there were ten years ago.
There are times I wonder why I go ‘toading’. The worst evenings are when it is cold, the rain is lashing down, the wind howling and the roads are busy with traffic. To make things worse some drivers shout abuse or occasionally drive in a threatening way towards us. The reward though comes at the end of the evening if we have safely transported large numbers of amphibians across the road and our bags of casualties don’t feel too heavy.
For more information about Madingley's toads, read this...
last updated: 21/06/07
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