Torrents of Toads

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Toads on roads

The first wet night in March is a moment of tremendous significance. Deep beneath the trees, the soil begins to move. Fallen leaves are parted by slow, clasping fingers. Toads haul themselves out of the earth like monsters and begin to creep quietly through the moss towards open water.

It’s a watershed moment for the seasons, but there are many places in Galloway where the toads swarm in a moving tide. These torrents can be disarmingly spectacular, and the creatures blur into a single, creeping mass which stretches for hundreds of yards. They are easiest to see on a tarmac road in headlights, and the highways can be littered with these creepy crawlers on a good night.

It’s hard to give an idea of numbers, but my wife and I once counted more than three hundred toads on a short stretch of tarmac. They mooch like zombies, and it can be impossible to drive past them without hitting one or two. It’s safest to avoid driving altogether when toads are on the move, but many must be killed in busier areas. At the same time, I rarely find dead toads on the roads in the daylight, and I often run along routes which are thick with creepers by night. This lack of hard evidence makes me wonder if the invasion of toads is all just a squeamish dream, and I can’t help but think that something must gather up the cadavers at dawn, whether it is a fox or a crow.

This mass movement takes place every year, and it’s a nice quirk. But this year the night coincided with a radio programme about the dramatic decline of toads in the UK as charted by the conservation charity Froglife. Many areas are recording the loss of more than two thirds of their toads in the last thirty years, and while there are all kinds of reasons for these declines, many seem to be driven by mass-kills on roads during spring migration. Perhaps these declines have not been so dramatic in Galloway, but they made me pause for thought.

I am an extremely ignorant person and don’t really understand what function toads perform in an ecosystem. I’m sure it can only be good and wholesome, but I’m afraid I just accept toads as fact and rarely give them a moment’s thought. So the day we have to worry about the commonplace, everyday, bread-and-butter toad is surely an extraordinary warning sign that things are not as they should be in the countryside.

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