A very large common toad population lives on the Culden Faw estate. Toads, like frogs, spend the vast majority of their time on land, not in water. But each spring adult toads head for water, in order to breed. Toads show extreme site fidelity, meaning that they return to breed in the pond that they left, as a tiny toad, a few years previously. How they manage to navigate so accurately is unknown.

In densely populated areas, such as essentially all of southern England, toads often have to cross roads to reach their spawning ponds, then cross them again as they return ‘home’ after spawning. Toads move relatively slowly – they crawl, not hop, as frogs do – and hence are extremely vulnerable when on roads. Many are squashed by vehicles, and casualty rates can be so high that entire toad populations are lost. To support the toad population on the Culden Faw Estate, the estate kindly allows a group of dedicated volunteers to operate a so-called ‘Toads-0n-Roads’ scheme. In practise, this involves erecting a lengthy barrier early each year that runs parallel to the road, and which prevents most toads from being able to get on to the road. Each evening in February and March, volunteers walk along the barrier, collect any toads they find at the barrier in buckets, and carry them across the road, releasing them in the spawning pond.

Over the last 20 years the number of toads helped across the road has varied between just over 2,000 and 10,500. As an example, in the year 2020 it was 8,800. Each year a few hundred frogs and common newts are also carried across the road to the spawning pond by the volunteers. This toad population is the largest monitored toad population in the country, and also the one with the longest continuous record of its size, making it particularly important from a conservation point of view.

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