The charity Froglife is devoted to the conservation of British amphibians – frogs, toads and newts. As with much wildlife, they are under threat and the charity undertakes research and helps coordinate ‘patrols’ to safeguard amphibians in the modern world. The Common Toad, is a case in point. ‘Common’ is now something of a misnomer: a survey conducted by Froglife over the last 30 years has found a 68% decline in their numbers. Habitat loss is a major problem for them, specifically the ponds where they breed and surrounding land where they live terrestrial lives. But traffic road kill is also a big issue and is illustrated dramatically by a case in point in Hampshire.
A few years ago, Cufaude Lane was a quiet country byway. Running between Bramley and Basingstoke, it is single-track for much of its three-mile length. Ten years ago you could drive along it in the middle of the day with the reasonable expectation of not seeing another car. But the construction of a vast housing estate and business park at one end of the lane, and an increase in housing numbers at the other, have changed all that; it has now become a rat-run of appalling proportions.
This is all rather sad for the residents of Cufaude Lane, but the consequence of dramatically increased traffic levels is proving nothing short of catastrophic for the local amphibians: they cross the lane on their annual migration to and from spawning ponds on one side of the road, and non-breeding sites on the other.
Unfortunately, the toads, frogs and newts embark on their spring migration from dusk onwards; in March and April the numbers crossing the road are greatest just as rush hour traffic peaks. Prior to the new building work, and the ‘discovery’ of Cufaude Lane as a short-cut, the casualties were few and far between. But on a bad night now hundreds get squashed in the space of a few hours. Without the efforts of a valiant bunch of ‘Toad Patrol’ volunteers the losses would be far greater. For example, on March 9th 2018, 263 animals were rescued in the space of two hours but despite the best efforts of those involved more than 60 were killed. It is hard to estimate the real numbers of casualties because Brown Rats soon drag off the carcasses – by morning there is nothing left to see of the previous night’s carnage. Interestingly, most motorists on Cufaude Lane are supportive of the conservation work. But there have been a few instances of ‘Toad Rage’ where an unsympathetic motorist objects to being delayed by a few seconds by volunteers; fortunately, they are greatly in the minority.
The species involved are mainly Common Toads, Common Frogs and Smooth Newts. At the local level, there is a fear that local extinctions may occur and it is hard to see how the populations adjacent to Cufaude Lane can withstand the decimation for much longer.
Although it is illegal to ‘intentionally harm or kill’ any amphibian, this does nothing to prevent their destruction by cars. Local Planning Authorities are not obliged to consider environmental impacts of a development beyond the scope of its immediate surroundings. But there is a case to be made that increased traffic levels that occur elsewhere as a consequence of planning decisions are their moral responsibility and one that they need to address. Some authorities do, and roads have been closed, or toad tunnels installed in some locations. Theresa May recently talked about the housing ‘crisis’ in the same breath as the need to respect and enshrine conservation. It will be interesting to see how Local Authorities deal with the conundrum of addressing these seemingly incompatible objectives.