Toads are declining at an alarming rate in the UK

A citizen-science study has found that one of Britain’s best-loved amphibians may soon be a rare sight. 

Climate change could be a contributing factor to the toad’s decline, as milder winters have a detrimental effect on their hibernation. © taviphoto/iStock
Climate change could be a contributing factor to the toad’s decline, as milder winters have a detrimental effect on their hibernation. © taviphoto/iStock

A new paper led by Froglife along with experts from Switzerland revealed that the UK’s common toad population has dropped by a staggering 68 per cent in the past 30 years.

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The study was based on results from citizen-science research, which compiled data from millions of records taken from volunteers across the UK and Switzerland over the past three decades.

Results of the analysis were concerning, revealing that common toad populations have been in rapid and continuous decline since the 1980s in both countries.

But with an estimated 80,000 toads helped to safety on the roads in Switzerland and the UK, Froglife suspects that their losses could be greater: “Without the efforts of the thousands of volunteers that go out and move amphibians across busy roads we would have no idea that these declines had occurred and the situation could be much worse,” says Dr. Silviu Patrovan, conservation coordinator at Froglife, and one of study’s authors.

Each year, thousands of volunteers contribute to the research as part of Froglife’s ‘Toads on the Roads’ patrols, providing vital data for the study in addition to rescuing toads from the roads they need to cross in order to reach their breeding ponds.

Paul Edgar, senior amphibian and reptile specialist from Natural England, argues that habitat links are required to mitigate the damaging effects of habitat fragmentation, which is suspected to be a key factor in the toad’s decline.

“We’re working hard to do this through measures such as Countryside Stewardship in the rural setting,” he says, “and ensuring good quality green infrastructure is included in new developments.”

Although scientists don’t know the exact reasons why toad numbers have fallen so dramatically, they suspect that climate change, changes in farming practices, the loss of ponds and other natural habitat, and more deaths on roads as traffic increases are all contributing factors.

Find out how you can participate in Toads on the Roads.

Read the full PLOS ONE paper.

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