A toad patrolling group in Cambridge has seen amphibian numbers fall even as local recruits have doubled in the last year.
The migration of common toads back to their breeding ponds in spring is one of the UK’s great natural wonders.
With people bound to their local areas during the pandemic, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group (CPARG) has seen a ‘surge’ in residents eager to join the Cambridge toad patrol.
More than 180 toads have been helped so far at the main site near Stourbridge Common.
Mario Shimbov, CPARG’s communications officer and principal field researcher, said: “It’s difficult to convince people to care about not a fluffy, cuddly animal – but a warty, grumpy looking toad.
“I’m not saying you necessarily have to love them, but as long as you respect those other creatures then that’s what really matters for us to really live in balance and harmony with the natural world around us.”
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The 26-year-old ARU zoology graduate, who works in a number of other conservation roles, is well-educated on the “invaluable” ecological importance of amphibians.
They are great natural pest controllers, he says, and provide food for many other animals such as raptors and bigger mammals.
Sadly the common toad (or Bufo bufo, as it’s called in scientific circles) is significantly less common than it used to be.
Its UK populations have declined by 68 per cent in the last 30 years, according to a 2016 study by Froglife.
“Multiple factors are responsible for the loss of this charismatic, often mythological amphibian representative,” said Mario.
Chief among them are habitat loss and degradation – depleting the number of suitable ponds used as breeding grounds – and the impact of milder winters upon hibernating toads caused by climate change.
Roads pose a serious threat too; the Wildlife Trusts estimate that 20 tonnes of unlucky toads are killed on the UK’s roads each year, and it is here that CPARG’s patrol group is making a real difference.
Cambridge’s most active toad patrol is around Stanley Road, a residential area between Logan’s Meadow and Stourbridge Common that bisects a migratory toad route.
There are around 30 volunteers signed up at this site – a 100 per cent increase on last spring – who walk the roads at night, looking out for toads to help return to the pond in Regatta Court.
As high numbers get run over en route, the goal is to carry them to the pond in a bucket, thereby avoiding an untimely death.
The amount of toads counted in recent years has fluctuated with the number of volunteers. But even with only around 15 volunteers in 2020, 426 toads were counted in early spring.
Suzanne Little, who coordinates the patrols at Stanley Road, successfully campaigned to erect toad crossing signs in the area last year.
Custom made ladders are another tool in CPARG’s toad-saving armoury. These special ladders are placed in drains to prevent toads, frogs and newts from getting stuck and drowning.
Volunteers are always welcome at CPARG, said Mario, and there is a particular need to resume patrols at inactive sites around the county.
“Of course it’s an opportunity for us to shine a light on the importance of conservation action at a local level,” he said.
“It’s also great because what we have as wildlife on our doorstep is usually taken for granted and definitely overlooked and underappreciated by many people.”
You can find more information about Cambridge & Peterborough Amphibian & Reptile Group here.
At a national level, Mario is supporting a petition for the creation of wildlife tunnels which go under roads to give imperilled toads a safe crossing. It has almost reached its target of 15,000 signatures.