Impington Toad Rescue

March 30, 2010 by  
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Anita Joysey, tireless rescuer of 1000's toads!

Anita Joysey, tireless rescuer of 1000's of distressed toads!

It started Friday evening 19 March.  First there were a few. Then the migration began in full. The toads marched out of Impington woodland areas heading for their spawning lakes adjacent to the Holiday Inn.  Halfway along their path stood an unexpected obstacle – the new Guided Busway track – the toad equivalent of the Great Wall of China. Had it not been for Anita Joysey the scene would have been tragic – thousands would have died from dehydration and predator attacks.  

It now appears that Impington is home to an exceptional colony of common toads (Bufo bufo) as defined by the Natural Environment and Rural Community Act 2006. The common toad is a true gardeners friend living on a diet of slugs, and insects. So far, over 3000 have been rescued, checked and counted. Anita Joysey and Dave Seilly found the first wave of migration early Saturday 20 March and rescued 701 toads.  They carefully collected them from the sides of the busway where the exhausted animals had been trying to find a way around the endless track then gently carried them into the lake in large buckets.  Then they spread the word that more were likely to come.  It’s this time of year when toads are on the move from their winter hibernation shelter to spawn in nearby lakes. Like salmon they return to the place of their birth to spawn the next generation. Any stress is dangerous as they have limited energy resources. They will not have eaten from the time the went into hibernation in October until they return from spawning in mid April.

Failure to find a breach in the Busway track means slow death by dehydration, or terrifying death by predator

Failure to find a breach in the Busway track means slow death by dehydration, or terrifying death by predator

Upon hearing the news, Impington parish councillor Pene Nudds sprang into action alerting councillors at District and County level. Last year a far smaller migration left many toads crushed by Busway construction vehicles.  Parish, District and County councillors were determined to avoid a repeat of that incident. Soon help began to show up as Anita and her crew of volunteers collected stranded toads each morning. Dave Haxton, a representative from Atkins, the engineering firm that is acting as project manager for the Busway project, arrived bright and early Monday morning to see what could be done.  Last year a temporary toad fence was erected to prevent additional carnage as toads strayed onto the path of Busway construction traffic.  This needed repair.  Pitfall traps that had been used last year to safely catch and hold toads for short periods needed to be installed. Atkins moved swiftly to assist, sending several staff and ecologists to help Anita with the morning and evening rescue efforts. 

As impossible to climb as the Great Wall of China the busway track completely blocks the path to their spawning lake

As impossible to climb as the Great Wall of China the busway track completely blocks the path to their spawning lake

William Seale from Maddingly Toad Rescue told the HI Courier that this is a Biodiversity Action Plan issue.  The number of common toads, in spite of their name, are dwindling as development and habitat removal increases.  Impington now appears to be a site of significant interest. William has been working for over 20 years to rescue toads and provide safe and stable habitats for them.   

Toads emerge from hibernation on land in late February or early March and complete the migration back to the lake where they started the previous autumn. Once there, mating and egg laying occur over a brief period in March and April. The adult toads then leave the lake and head back to the land needing, once again, to cross the Busway track on the way. They live in the woodland for the remainder of the year, entering hibernation again in late September or early October.

Several permanent toad tunnels will be needed to allow this two way access between the woodland and lake. County council has assured us that they will begin construction when they officially take control of the northern section of the Guided Busway. Tunnels of the sort needed can be built after the fact while the busway is in operation. Until that happens mitigation efforts and daily toad rescues will be needed for the few weeks of back and forth migration that occur in March and late July.

Anita had helpers from the Regional College on the third morning

Anita had helpers from the Regional College on the third morning

What could have been a disaster has been avoided by the cooperation at all levels – parish, district, and county councils, Atkins, and most of all by Anita Joysey and her volunteers.  Our hats off and a ‘well done’ to all.  The HI Courier will be watching and reporting as this story develops.

Toads were checked for dehydration and sunburned skin before releasing into their spawning lake

Toads were checked and counted before releasing into their spawning lake

Click on photos for larger image
After rehydration and sensing the end of their ordeal the toads are anxious to get into the water

Sensing the end of their ordeal the toads are anxious to get into the water

Checking one of the pitfall traps where toads are safely caught at night and can be rescued in the morning

Checking one of the pitfall traps where toads are safely caught at night and can be rescued in the morning

Green toad fence built in 2009 is in remarkably good shape after a year of exposure to the elements and construction crews. In theory toads should not get onto the busway traack and should fall into the pitfall traps.  But many still manage to get through somehow. This will be replaced with a permanent barrier by Cambridge County Council when construction of the northern section of the busway is completed.

Green toad fence built in 2009 is in remarkably good shape after a year of exposure to the elements and construction crews. In theory toads should not get onto the busway track and should fall into the pitfall traps. But many still manage to get through somehow. This will be replaced with a permanent barrier by Cambridge County Council when construction of the northern section of the busway is completed.

This is the goal. The lake on the other side of the busway.  The A14 motorway forms one boundry and the busway the other.  This effectively cuts off toad migration during spawning season. Several toad tunnels under the busway are essential for protecting this large colony of common toads.

This is the goal. The lake on the other side of the busway. The A14 motorway forms one boundry and the busway the other. This effectively cuts off toad migration during spawning season. Several toad tunnels under the busway are essential for protecting this large colony of common toads.

A big 'thank you' goes to Hollyoak Veterinary Surgery in Impington for their financial and technical support. Without it this website would not be possible.

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