North Wales is host to two of the rarest amphibians within the UK, the Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) and the Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus), with both species having been the focus of much research and conservation effects of late. While both of these species are fascinating, my favourite species of UK amphibian is the humble Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and they are the topic of my current research as an MScRes student at Bangor University.
Common Toads have been my favourite species of amphibian since childhood, after all toads are far easier to catch than frogs! Thanks to their thick ‘warty’ skin, toads aren’t as confined to ponds as frogs so they’re easy to find by flipping rocks and logs within your own back garden or in the local woodland.
While once abundant, common toads are suspected to be declining across the country and while the reason remains unknown there are many factors such as road mortality and habitat fragmentation which could be contributing to the decline.
Within my project I focus on the possible effect habitat fragmentation could be having on the genetic diversity of common toad populations within North Wales.
‘Toad Patrols’ were setup by the amphibian charity Froglife and sees volunteers patrolling known ‘toad crossings’ to pick up toads off roads to prevent them from being killed by passing cars. These toad patrols have spread across the country with 165 patrols gathering data and there were over 98,000 toads seen to safety in 2018.
Within my research I have patrolled extensively with the North West Wales Amphibian and Reptile Group (NWWARG), going out on warm rainy nights to gather toads in buckets and taxi them to their breeding ponds safely.
NWWARG has ran the toad patrol within the Bangor area for many years, with the help of volunteers. The majority of our volunteers are Zoology students who are eager to gain experience and get involved.
My research is focusing on the difference in genetic diversity between urban and rural populations. Since amphibians are at risk of drying out they often struggle to disperse within urban areas resulting in little immigration and with a lack of immigration a population is prone to inbreeding which may be having a negative effect on our common toads.
To gather all the genetic samples, I need for my research I’ve been visiting different patrol groups across north Wales. Mouth swabs are taken from the toads successfully rescued, which some groups found quite amusing as it looks like I’m brushing the toad’s teeth.
Toad patrols often form their own communities, one group sees an entire village take turns in patrolling a small stretch of road and seeing their local toads to safety, sometimes gathering over 1000 toads in a single night! The community value of toad patrols can’t be overlooked; there’s no better bonding experience than being out in the rain while picking up toads, right?
Despite a lot of dedicated patrollers in north Wales there are areas that lack support. One location I visited sees a large amount of the migrating toads fall into deep highway drains, unless they’re fished out these toads unfortunately drown. With toad patrols ran on a volunteer basis there ends up nights where no one is available or sometimes a few dedicated people move away, and a patrol becomes inactive.
Luckily for NWWARG the steady stream of students allows our toad patrol to carry on even when regulars graduate.
I’m almost finished gathering the samples I need for my study and am about to start the lab work. My hypothesis is that the urban populations of toads are more inbred than the rural areas and it’ll be interesting to see the results!
Fancy helping some toads cross some roads? Look up your local toad crossing on Froglife’s website here: https://www.froglife.org/what-we-do/toads-on-roads/tormap/ and you can find your local ARG volunteering group here: https://www.arguk.org/get-involved/local-groups
Check out NWWARG here: https://groups.arguk.org/nwwarg