In recent weeks, a great Toad migration has been taking place in the countryside all over Britain, as our native Common Toads return from the land to the water, their place of birth. Unlike frogs, Toads spend most of their year away from water, living a solitary life in the open countryside foraging for insects and slugs in hedgerows, woodlands and gardens. When winter sets in they seek out a place of safety and protection from the elements. This is typically under a leaf pile, in an old rabbit digging, in the crevice of a broken wall or some similar secluded spot where they can hide and sleep through the cold until awakened by the first indicators of spring.
From February through March (and later weeks if early spring is particularly cold) Toads crawl out from their winter homes in order to seek out a particular pool or stretch of water in which to propagate their species in the rolling cycle of life. This place is held deep within the memory as their place of birth and even small ponds can attract hundreds of Toads, each using the Earth’s magnetic field like a compass to bring them home to their breeding waters on what may be a journey of up to two kilometres: quite some distance for a small creature to crawl across rough countryside. Once there, males will linger looking for mates, but females will only stay long enough to lay a long string of spawn in the water, before returning back into the wider countryside. Few people will even be aware of this enormous annual event in the life of Common Toads, for it happens in the dark on misty, rainy nights, while most of us are comfortably ensconced within warm homes.
When driving or walking down country lanes in the Bridge area late at night, the sight of a single Toad crawling over the road is not unusual, but, at this time of year, near breeding waters like the lake at Bourne Park and the Nailbourne, there are many more Toads trying to cross roads for their great annual get-together. Please drive carefully down country lanes; keep a look out for Toads; and if you see them crossing, for Nature’s sake, do your best to avoid running over them.
In this valley, an important question remains: what happens to those Toads that were born in the Nailbourne and its ponds, when they return in subsequent years for mating, only to find it dry? With this in mind, it is indeed good news for Toads (and other creatures) that the lake at Bourne Park now contains some water after a long spell without any.