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Toad patrollers hop to it in busy season

A “baby boom” has led to the busiest season yet for toad patrol volunteers who make sure the males can safely reach their breeding grounds.

Already this year, Smallwood Toad Patrol has helped more than 520 amphibians safely across roads in Smallwood and Church Lawton.

The patrol is now in its sixth season, started earlier this year due to a milder January.

During late winter and early spring, for an hour or two just after dusk, volunteers in high vis jackets and carrying buckets have been helping male toads reach the ponds where they themselves started out as spawn, to mate.

“We began this year’s patrols on 29th January, our earliest yet, which has been put down to climate change,” said Smallwood Toad Patrol co-ordinator Jane Smith.

“It will be a very long season for us and now we are in mid-March, we are in full swing.
“We’ve already picked up 523 toads during our patrols so far. By the end of last season, we helped 1,000 toads to reach their mating ponds and we are just getting into the swing of it this time.”

Explaining why there were so many to help across the road this season, Mrs Smith said: “During the first lockdown four years ago, toads enjoyed traffic-free roads. So four years on, the male adults who were toad spawn back then are going back to those ponds to mate.

“As a result, this year we’ve got something of a toad baby boom as those young males, born during the first lockdown, go on their first mating migration.”

Mrs Smith pointed out that the weather was mild in January but that cold snaps followed and as a result it would be difficult to know how many toads migrating so early had survived this time.

She said that in previous years, the patrollers would be out after the “pub run” later in the evenings but now they focused on rush hour (6pm to 8pm) because there was more traffic then.

They will be seen at the later time of 7pm to 9pm as the evenings get lighter.

The volunteers can be spotted in the Smallwood area: on Back Lane near the Legs of Man pub, as well as Pitcher Lane, Mill Lane, Brookhouse Lane and Moss End Lane.

The other toad patrol crossing is Cherry Lane at Church Lawton, near the junction with Lawton Heath Road.

Said Mrs Smith, of Alsager: “Smallwood is very rural but it only takes one tractor passing to wipe out a lot of toads. It’s the commuter traffic that’s the problem on Cherry Lane.”

She added that the recent mild spell would mean even more toads would be crossing the roads.

There has been a 68% decline in the UK population over the last 30 years.

“This has been due to a combination of pesticides – toads breathe through their skin – new roads, land lost to house building and climate change; our toads are up against it,” said Mrs Smith.

There are now 68 volunteer patrollers, the most since the Smallwood group launched, aged six to 83. Children are welcome to patrol in the company of a parent or carer.

She said that this season there had been a lot of first-timers following recruitment days when volunteers met at the Horseshoe Inn at Church Lawton, the Legs of Man and the Bull’s Head in Smallwood.

“Our patrollers are absolutely brilliant. They are patrolling busy roads, usually in the rain as toads migrate during wet weather; they are just great. And we have all been busy in the past week because the weather’s turned warmer. They are all really committed.”

She said she was “pleased to announce” that a toad patrol for Wheelock had launched this season.

Mrs Smith said that almost all drivers slowed down when they saw a patroller.

“We’ve had really positive comments from drivers, walkers and cyclists.

“Some roads in other parts of the country are closed during the migration season but here we rely on our patrol volunteers and road users.”

Mrs Smith pointed out that toads were the area’s oldest inhabitants, having been around since before the ice age.

“When you see them cross, it’s something that the species has been doing for 15,000 years and the males always return to the same pond to mate.”

One patroller even managed to take a prize photograph of a toad she helped across the road in Smallwood.

Mrs Smith said: “One of the Smallwood group’s patrollers Rebecca Wells, of Mow Cop, won the RSPCA Stapeley Grange’s wildlife photography competition with her picture of a toad she helped to cross Mill Lane. It was really great that Rebecca’s picture won!”

(Photos: Smallwood Toad Patrol).

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