We all know Mr Toad loves the open road.
His thrill at careering along country lanes in car and caravan is immortalised in ‘Wind in the Willows’.
But up in Osmotherley Toady takes to the open road for different reasons.
He sits in the road in search of love.
The open road gives him a toad’s eye view of all the female toads coming down off the moors to cross over to Cod Beck reservoir for the spawning season.
He can see them so much clearer from the road than among the vegetation where he lives, so he sits and waits for a beloved to pass by. But waiting can be fatal. If he lingers too long he tends to get squashed by a passing and unsuspecting motor car. Toad carnage.
So every spring, when the mating season begins, North Yorkshire County Council’s highways office gets a call from the Osmotherley toad patrol and every year an officer goes up to put out the toad signs along the road where it runs above the village between the moor and Cod Beck. The signs act as a warning to motorists to look out and slow down.
And every evening when it is warm enough during the spring season Osmotherley’s toad patrol volunteers walk up and down the road picking up amorous amphibians to release them safely into the reservoir.
On one particularly frenzied night a few years ago, the patrol picked up 1000 toads from the road. On average, every season, over 3,000 toads, as well as some frogs and newts, are saved from possible death.
Osmotherley is a national toad hot-spot, according to Steve Rogers who has been in charge of the toad patrol for over 15 years. In season Cod Beck has one of the largest toad populations in the country – one of the UK’s top ten according to Froglife.
“The toads tend to come out to mate as dusk falls and the night draws in” said Steve Rogers. “And as the road gives the males a much better view of females than when they are among the bracken of the moorland they tend to sit there and wait. So many of them get squashed, because they are hard to spot in the dark. In any one year we can lose up to 400 toads on average, which is a tragedy.
Pat Duggan, another toad patrol stalwart said: “We are so grateful to the county council for bringing up the signs year after year. The signs are now up and we hope people will drive with care.”
“We do all we can to make our roads fit for purpose and try to accommodate all road users,” said County Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Highways, “and that includes toads. As soon as they get the call from the toad patrol our officers are only too happy to go up to Osmotherley to put up the signs. It’s important to protect the wildlife of this beautiful county where we can - and to keep our toads safe when love is in the air.”