On the river this month...

5th April 2017 - General Catchment

Why did the toad cross the road?

On the River this Month is a monthly blog written by staff at West Cumbria Rivers Trust. We know you are keen to learn about rivers and lakes, and we want to feed your interest in the work we are doing in West Cumbria. We also want to share our appreciation of our beautiful landscape, and inspire you to take action to help improve it for people and wildlife.

We would love to hear what you think, please let us know on our facebook page, tweet us @WestCumbriaRT or email us at info@westcumbriariverstrust.org

This month’s blog is written by Rebecca Neal, West Cumbria Rivers Trust’s Education and Outreach Officer whose work is funded by Copeland Community Fund and United Utilities.

I’ve been working hard over the last few weeks in preparation for my first school sessions. In conjunction with Eden Rivers Trust I have been developing new programmes and resources to support children’s learning about lakes and rivers. It’s always a worry when you try things for the first time and, as a perfectionist, I am hard on myself when they don’t go completely right. Thankfully, there have been no deaths. Well not of children anyway. I wish I could say the same for amphibians.

My first education sessions have coincided with the spring migration of frogs, toads and newts from their hibernation quarters to their breeding ponds. Their migration routes may have been used for centuries. At this time of year, slightly mad people go out in the rain at night with high-vis and buckets, across the whole of the UK, and help these animals cross roads safely. I recently went out with long-term toad-patroller Johnnie Walker who has been manning two Keswick sites with his amphibian-phobic wife for nearly 20 years. We picked a warm wet night early in the season so he could show me the ropes before it all kicked off. Unfortunately, it had already started to kick off, and we found over 60 dead animals. I was horrified, especially as some were getting knocked down in front of our very eyes. We needed more people. I put out a press release which was taken up by several local papers, and in the middle of frantic school-group preparation, gave a radio interview. Many of you responded and I am grateful that you did. Over the last couple of weeks myself and a team of equally mad volunteers have saved over 400 frogs and toads, and animals may still be moving for a couple of weeks yet.

The Keswick sites are at Nest Brow, on the road to Thirlmere near Low Nest Farm, and Dodd Wood on the road towards Bassenthwaite. Even if you are unable to help with the toad patrols, please be aware that animals will be moving at these sites, and that there may well be a mad person with a bucket around the corner.

This citizen science project has been going for years. The amphibian and reptile charity Froglife coordinate the programme and collect the data at the end of the season. Have a look at their website for a piece of research that has used historic patrol data to highlight the significant decline of toads in recent years: http://www.froglife.org/what-we-do/toads-on-roads/

Did you know that toads chirp like a bird? If you download the free Froglife app, you can listen to their call, record casual sightings, and find out more information about reptiles and amphibians.

Much of the work that West Cumbria Rivers Trust does aims to reduce the levels of pollution flowing through our catchments and into our lakes. Find out more here. Pollution affects all wildlife and because of their well-connected position in the freshwater food-web, amphibians are considered keystone or indicator species.

Not all of our work involves slightly slimy animals, if you are keen to get involved in volunteering for West Cumbria Rivers Trust to help on this or other projects, please get in touch with rebecca@westcumbriariverstrust.org or call 017687 75429