Redmires Reservoirs are nestled in the fringes of the Peak District, less than ten miles away from the centre of Sheffield. By day, the spring breeze carries birdsong through the woodland and over the rippling waters. After dark, a different scene emerges. Hundreds of toads emerge from hibernation en masse as night falls, on a journey to their mating ponds.
But there’s an existential threat along the way. To get to the reservoir to breed, they must cross over a small stretch of road. Many of them don’t make it, falling victim to drivers who cruise across the country lane without a second thought.
Redmires Toad Patrol
This is where Redmires Toad Patrol comes in. The team come at dusk, armed with hi-vis and headlamps, with one goal – to scoop as many of the little creatures out of the path of vehicle tyres as possible.
Patrol organiser Tabitha Roach Osborne, originally from Plymouth, set up the group last year after finding hundreds of dead toads along Redmires Road. After reading about the decline in the UK’s toad population, the 28-year-old assistant at the University of Sheffield’s landscape architecture department felt she had to do something.
We stood by the peaceful waters of the reservoir waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. Fixing her torch around her head, she said: “It’s the most heartwarming, lovely thing. The toads are just so innocent and pure.
“It’s also about community. You don’t really get communities nowadays in modern society, so having people come together for a common cause to make a good change with such enthusiasm is a really nice environment to be in.”
Toads live away from the water and hibernate in wooded areas during winter. Known for their strong migratory instinct, they travel the same route every spring to return to the same ancestral breeding ponds.
Tabitha’s dedicated group of volunteers soon began to gather. Darkness drew in, and the beams of our torches bounced off from the new ‘toad crossing’ road signs. Installed last week with the help of the local wildlife trust and Sheffield City Council, she considered them a victory in the fight to save the animals.
“Hopefully, people will think twice about seeing little shapes in the road and actually acknowledge that they’re amphibians, because they are really tiny,” she said.
It wasn’t long before the first toad appeared. Hunched over on the tarmac, it could have been a rock or piece of mud to the untrained eye, but a closer look soon revealed its squat body and glinting eyes.
Jasmine Porter, one of Tabitha’s original patrollers, swooped down and cupped her hands around it. We spent a few minutes huddled around her, gasping in delight and marvelling at the nonplussed little creature. The 28-year-old archeologist from Wakefield soon released it into the verge beside the reservoir. She said:
“How can you not love their little faces? We built the roads and stopped them getting across to their ponds, and it’s great just knowing you’re helping something so innocent and giving a little back to them.”
Toads on roads
As the patrol pressed onwards, cries of delight filled the air. More and more toads started appearing, scattered across the stretch of road, followed by frogs and newts.
Each animal was swiftly helped across the road and logged. The numbers of amphibians found would later be sent to national charity Froglife, who monitor population sizes across the UK.
According to figures released by the charity in 2016, UK toad populations had declined by almost 70% over the previous 30 years. The organisation coordinates patrols across the country, as part of its Toads on Roads scheme, to try and reverse this.
Tabitha’s efforts to band together volunteers and organise outings has been no simple task. She said:
“It’s actually been quite difficult, especially around a full-time job that can leave me pretty burnt out. Completing all the administrative formalities has been endless, but tiredness becomes secondary to this pure joy.”
Since the group started last year, volunteer numbers have grown to around 50. For Fran Elliot, one of the new recruits, the outings are an opportunity to reconnect with nature, as well as helping the toads.
She said: “I grew up in the countryside, and it’s been much harder to see wildlife after moving to the city. I’m a data analyst, so in the office I’m just looking out of the window all day!”
Saving Sheffield’s toads
The glow of a car’s headlights suddenly rolled into view and the group sprang into action. Dashing into the road while the vehicle waited, engine purring, they scooped tens of toads out of its path in a matter of minutes.
Further on down the road, it was clear that we had not been able to reach some of them in time. The group were careful to tot up the numbers of dead amphibians as well as alive ones, moving them into the verge to avoid counting the same ones twice.
“The fact you have to see some killed was a reality I had to come to terms with when I started patrolling,” said Tabitha. “We can only do as much as we can do.”
By the end of the patrol, Tabitha and Jasmine alone had tallied 42 toads between them. With several other small groups out on the same evening, they estimate over 100 had been saved that night.
As the sharp temperatures of winter fade and the spring showers take hold, the toad migration will continue throughout April. Every night, no matter the weather, Redmires Toad Patrol will be down again – to give them a helping hand.