The Henley Toad Patrol’s army of volunteers are in place again this year to help the thousands of toads, frogs and newts get across the Marlow Road from Oakengrove Wood on the Culden Faw estate to the spawning lake in the Henley Business School grounds.
Our Editor, donned her high-vis jacket and took her torch and bucket along to find out what exactly is involved in this volunteering role on Friday evening at dusk. Accompanied by the head of the volunteers, Angelina Jones, she explained where and why the amphibians migrate to and from, how and where the volunteers pick up them up and how to identify toads from frogs.
Angelina said, “We have about 50/60 active adult volunteers who pick on average 5,500 toads per season. We put up the temporary plastic barrier up (490 metres) at the end of January which takes about 4 hours with around 20 volunteers. We have permission from Culden Faw estate to do this and in the last five years we have extended the barrier into the showground field next to the woods.”
“The reason the toads want to cross the road is that toads only spawn in the water where they were born. The toads won’t generally jump the barrier (frogs will though) and some females might arrive with a male on their back which they could have carried already for 3 to 4 miles. We ask the volunteers to pick up and keep the pairs in one bucket and the singles in another.”
Once the volunteers have a few toads in their buckets they cross the busy road to the lake in the Henley Business School, putting them down on the ground close to the water’s edge counting them as they go. Some of the volunteers also patrol the road to try and save any that have gone round the end of the barrier or down Benhams Lane (it is thought around 10% of the population could be lost on the road). They are then asked to record the number of toad pairs, singles, frogs and newts separately. Angelina explained, “The data is really important and is collated by Henley Toad Patrol founders Alan Parfitt and Professor John Sumpter who is also Head of Ecology at Brunel University . We have been recording it for the last 25 years and the Henley population is very important as it is one of the biggest migrations nationally. ”
All new volunteers are given a short induction. New volunteers Sarah and Bryan were being given an induction on Friday evening. Sarah said, “I really like toads, I did this about 25 years ago a couple of times. I’ve got more time on my hands now and I just really wanted to do something.” Bryan added, “It’s a combination of things. My whole life, I’ve been aware of nature around me and looked to do my bit if I can. Everything is under threat. When I was kid, we used to get newts and frogs out of streams and the populations have plunged since those days. I think we all need to do our bit. I’ve recently moved to Henley and I thought it would be a good way to meet people.”
Angelina is conscious that everyone has limited time and wants to encourage volunteers so makes it as simple as possible. She explains, “The joy of this is it is micro-volunteering. There is no hard sale. We’re always pleased to see volunteers turn up. It’s a balancing act to keep the volunteers happy and we want to keep them happy. Some people like to see a rota and put their name down on it and they like to know who they are coming with and others don’t want that and I say to them they can just turn up when they like. There’s no specific times or amount of time you stay. We have one volunteer who likes to come at 10.00 at night until the early hours on his own. On a busy night volunteers might save between 100-150 toads each.”
Any toads that aren’t picked up in the evening will embed themselves into the ground near the barrier. Angelina told us that there are two volunteers who live close to the barrier who often come along in the morning to do a sweep after a busy night.”
Unfortunately on Friday, the weather and temperature at below 7 degrees wasn’t right for the toads and we didn’t find any. Amphibians love warm wet weather. Knowing her amphibians well, Angelina said, “If you find a toad, I‘ll give you all £50!”