Toads start early wooing - but it could be the death of them

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YOU know what it is like. It feels like spring, the temperature is rising and you get that powerful urge for a jump. But if you are a toad, an early heatwave can turn that desire for a hop into a death mission, writes Steve Boggan.

The unseasonally warm weather is causing just such problems at Madingley Hall in Cambridgeshire, where temperatures averaging 10C higher than usual are driving thousands of toads to head early for their breeding ponds. Unfortunately, however, that involves crossing a busy road.

The mating season is always a problem at Madingley but this year it has come early. Volunteers report sightings of up to 600 toads a night crossing the road on their way to ponds built by the landscape architect Capability Brown. Fortunately, a "toad patrol", established in 1988, has built tunnels under the road between the toads' feeding and mating areas and volunteers are scooping up any that risk dodging cars.

The fine weather is caused by a high-pressure system which is drawing hot air from north Africa. A spokesman for the London Weather Centre said yesterday that temperatures in Cardiff and Aberdeen reached 16C, compared with a seasonal average of 7C. But it is not good news for everyone. The warm conditions have caused heavy rainfall in northern and western Scotland. Fort William reported 5in of rain in just 24 hours. Perhaps the toads would prefer it there.