The Annual Toad Migration
The annual toad migration is an extraordinary event. It may happen after dark and go unnoticed by many, but it is an incredible thing to witness. We, in Stratford Sub Castle, are lucky enough to have a major toad migration route passing right through the village.
The common toad spends a surprisingly little amount of time in water. They are generally solitary creatures who prefer living and hunting in woodland and hedgerows. However, from mid-February to early April that changes. As the sun sets on mild, damp evenings they suddenly join with hundreds of other toads and march back to their ancestral breeding ponds.
It is not fully clear how they know which pond they were born in, but they confidently make a bee line to it from up to two miles away. That is an extremely long way if you happen to be only 10cm (4 inches) long. Toads have been following the same route back to where they were born, generation after generation for hundreds of years. Our local toads up sticks from Old Sarum and the surrounding area before heading through the village towards the ponds and watery areas next to the Avon. Perhaps even to the ponds in your back gardens.
A herd of 200 toads marching on a drizzly night is a sure-fire signifier that Spring has arrived. If you haven’t seen them in action it really is worth looking out for.
Unfortunately, modern humans have a knack of putting obstacles in the way which makes the whole journey incredibly perilous. Most notably roads and cars. Toads tend to make their move just after dark, from around 6pm to 8.30pm. The darkness makes it much harder for predators to spot them, but in our modern world it also coincides with rush hour traffic. This rarely ends well for the toads. Froglife, the amphibian friendly charity, estimate that 80 tonnes of toads are killed in the UK every year on the roads. Nationally, toad populations are dwindling and this cannot help. Do look out for them when driving through around these times.
It is also during this early Spring period that you may notice a small number of volunteers with hi-vis jackets, torches and buckets walking up and down the road from the Devenish Reserve in Little Durnford to Castle Keep in Stratford Sub Castle. They are ‘Toad Patrollers’ who try to ensure that we only contribute a small percentage of that 80 tonnes. Most years they help over 2000 toads (plus a fair number of frogs and newts) get across the road and on towards the breeding ponds. Inevitably plenty of toads still meet their end on the Stratford Road, but at least the volunteers stop it being quite such a massacre. Extra ‘toad patrolling’ hands are always needed so look out for a call for volunteers at the start of February.
The toads who make it to their ponds in one piece select a suitable mate and spend a couple of weeks there, before dispersing back to their territories for the rest of the year. They leave behind strings of spawn, shoals of tadpoles and eventually little toadlets, the size of a 10p coin. In early summer these little toadlets make their way out to find a territory of their own. When they reach maturity after four years, they too will join the march back to the place where they were born, and so this astonishing cycle continues.