Two straight months of toads! – well, almost…

by Guest Author Wildlife Spotlight on

So, back in February I wrote a short piece introducing a newly-registered ‘Toad Crossing’ within my neighbourhood and the activities of a growing team of ‘Toad Patrollers’, who have been heading out almost every night to monitor amphibian numbers at the site (known locally as the ‘Cat Creep’, a long stepped alleyway), to spread awareness amongst passers-by and to help safeguard migrating toads, newts and frogs against the perils of using this popular pedestrian cut-though!

Since then I am astonished and delighted to report 782 amphibian sightings on the Cat Creep over the course of the last 2 months! It’s the first ‘official’ year of data-collection for the Toad Crossing, but what a mega migration!?!

First and foremost a massive thank you to my hardcore Toad Patrol team (and other members of the local community who posted their own sightings on our Round Hill Facebook page) – together we were out almost every single night over these last two months, a fantastic effort to protect and record these vulnerable amphibians.

The data will make for an impressive contribution to local record centres and amphibian groups and will help inform local and national amphibian conservation efforts. Records have been submitted to: Froglife (who coordinate Toad Crossings nationally), the Sussex Amphibian and Reptile Group (SxARG) and Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre (SxBRC). and?

[As an aside – if you’re looking for a productive way to spend an hour’s self-isolation walking, why not record the wildlife you see en route and generate some more valuable records for SxBRC?!]

What have I enjoyed most about coordinating my first toad patrol this year?

Other than hopefully helping reduce direct amphibian accidents underfoot (!) and of course collecting a bunch of useful data for amphibian conservation?!

Playing detective! Learning so much local knowledge through wonderful conversations with neighbours I may never have otherwise met, helping me piece together bits of the puzzle: where do we think the toads are coming from / going to? Are they travelling long distances or just hopping straight out of hibernation in one local garden, crossing other toads on the steps, and popping straight into a nearby garden pond? What does the network of ponds within the neighbourhood look like (special thanks to those who invited me to visit theirs!)? How long have these ponds been in existence? What do we know about newly-built ponds and semi-recently filled-in ponds locally? What picture are folks with ponds seeing on trends in numbers/species of amphibians?

While the data collected so far is a fantastic start, I feel I’m still only really beginning to scratch the surface of what I could easily let consume a lot of my time! Ha! Loser that I am… (But what about the hedgehogs, swifts and house sparrows locally too?! So much to discover when it comes to the natural world… even just around the streets of Roundhill!)

Lessons learnt

While many Roundhill residents are well-aware of our annual toad phenomenon, it was still news to a lot of folks the patrol team would meet on the steps. So I think a must-have for next year would be some improvements to our signage. (My sorry attempts to duct-tape some A4 print-outs in plastic wallets to the concrete didn’t exactly weather the storms…) It would be good to look into some hardier but still removable options – as we know the community use the Cat Creep for activities unrelated to the toad migration (whaaat?!); for example, it’s often a popular shooting location for film students, who might not want images of grinning toads as the backdrop to their movies scenes...

Perhaps producing next year’s signage could provide a nice opportunity to get local kids involved? We could of course also explore the appropriateness of a traditional ‘toad crossing’ red triangle road sign for this site. But personally, I think it’s important to use signage that includes newts! (The next big thing we learnt of the Cat Creep crossing site; a sad truth, this year at least… read on – but warning (!) this report contains images some readers may find distressing…)

Those of you with a beady eye on the data spreadsheet may have noticed the mention of newt mortality rates… Unfortunately, while our bigger and ‘hoppy-er’ amphibians seemed this year to escape any trampling-casualties, we found our newts took a bit of a pummelling… In fact, almost 10% of newt sightings were of squashed newts rather than live ones ☹. Awareness of newts seemed to be comparatively lacking amongst those whom patrollers met on the steps – and there’s no denying these smaller, well-camouflaged critters are harder to spot!

Quick game of spot-the-newt anyone? How many can you find?

Answer: 13 newts and 1 overcrowded toad

A sad, but not uncommon, sight for the keen-eyed toad patroller ☹ RIP my fire-bellied friend.

It made these sadder elements of patrolling easier to bear when we’d meet folks already prepared, with torches at the ready – sometimes with torches each for the kids too! So thank you so so much to all those mindful folks out there who got their phone lights / torches out and took the time to tread delicately!

(Personally, I would LOVE to be able to install wall-mounted buckets at each end of the steps filled with high-powered rechargeable torches, to be dropped back into the receiving bucket at the other end of the steps once users have completed their trip – however… probably rather naïve and wishful thinking perhaps… Although if the Japanese can do it with communal umbrella pick-up/drop-off points across building complexes, then why can’t we eh?!)

Looking ahead to next year, I’d be keen to team up with other happy toad-spotters in the community (such as those posting on the Roundhill Facebook page) to collaborate efforts and learn from each other’s experiences over the years .It would be great to grow the little team of patrollers and share the load (for example perhaps with a hyper-organised rota and live spreadsheet, rather than just a group message chat, from which I’ve been manually transferring the records)!

The investigation continues!

Was this year a ‘bumper year’ or will we see more/fewer amphibians next year? Will the migration start about the same date and last about as long? It will be exciting with data collected over the years to try to interpret any trends we may/not find! Can we also see trends across specific pond counts maybe?

And importantly, can we find even more effective ways to connect the community to this amazing spectacle and still do more to protect the migration route and reduce mortality rates?

Tune in again soon for the next chapter of this slimy saga…

And, as ever, feel free to get in touch!

Kate Wolstenholme.

Leave a comment
Nature 2020

This year is the end of the UN Decade of Biodiversity. Help us mark this by celebrating biodiversity in our biosphere.

Visit Nature2020 websiteProceed to the Living Coast