Country & Garden: Nature Notes

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COMMON TOADS hit the headlines earlier this week when their annual migration forced the closure of the village street at Oxton, in Nottinghamshire. Similar mass-movements are taking place all over the country, as the amphibians arouse from winter hibernation and head for their traditional spawning grounds in boggy areas, which can be several kilometres from where they have spent the cold months tucked down under log-piles or in thick undergrowth.

It is the seasonal warming of the air that gets Bufo bufo going. Toads tend to set off on their perilous journey when the temperature reaches 5C or more, and unfortunately they prefer to move at dusk - now around 5pm. Since they cannot jump, like frogs, but only hop or walk, they may take 10 minutes to cross a road, which puts them at high risk from rush- hour traffic. In recent years, to minimise casualties, well-wishers such as the charity Froglife have built them 15 underpasses at various danger points.

Adult toads are relatively safe from predators such as foxes because a chemical in their skin makes them foul-tasting; but mortality among tadpoles and toadlets is high, and the last attempt at a census, carried out by volunteer patrols and organised by Froglife in 1996, suggested that the species as a whole is declining.