09:21AM, Saturday 20 April 2013
Volunteers have been busy saving amphibians from being squashed by cars. Advertiser reporter Nicola Hine joined the Maidenhead toad patrol on Thursday night.
One of the most important lessons you can teach a child is how to cross a road safely.
It's trickier, however, to explain the principles to a toad.
And at this time of year, when the amphibians are - how do I put this? - amorous, their lack of awareness can lead to disaster.
Creatures of habit, toads usually migrate back to their ancestral breeding pond to mate after hibernating through the winter.
It's a journey which will often lead them across a busy road, meaning the course of true love does not always run smooth.
It generally gets them run over.
Step forward the toad patrol - volunteers who, for a few weeks each spring, set out to scoop up the toads before they reach the kerbside and carry them to safety.
There are about 400 patrols nationwide, including one in Maidenhead, which operates in Ray Mill Road East.
It was resurrected last year by father-of-two Ben Gammons, 29, who agreed to let Advertiser photographer Ian Longthorne and I tag along on Thursday.
Toads migrate to Summerleaze Lake in warm, damp weather, and usually after dark, so we joined the group shortly after 8pm.
Armed with torches, buckets and high-vis jackets, we split up to scan the area for any hopping highway-crossers.
It took about 30 minutes for the first toad to shuffle out from the bushes, but once he did others weren't far behind, and were quickly popped into plastic buckets for safe keeping.
Finding a live one is an exciting moment for everyone. Ian and I soon found ourselves completely absorbed by the task, while chatting happily with the other volunteers.
There are 15 in total, with the youngest being Oliver Gandy from Buckinghamshire.
"I like amphibians. I want to save them," said the eight-year-old, who was accompanied by his mum Milly and knows everything worth knowing about toads and other cold-blooded creatures too.
Owen and Ann Jesseman and their daughter Kate, 10, from Maidenhead, were taking part for the second evening in a row, inspired by a previous article in the Advertiser.
"I think it's fantastic," Ann said.
I learned a lot from just one 90-minute patrolling session, including that toads, which are a protected species in the UK, can live for up to 40 years.
I was also amused to discover the males can squeal - a sound you'd have to hear to believe.
And to top it all off we saved six toads, which were happily left to seek romance in the lake.
According to wildlife charity Froglife, 'toads on roads' data was recorded at 92 crossing sites nationally in 2012, with 62,985 saved.
In Maidenhead, 91 were rescued, and the group has already picked up more than 80 this spring.
While the numbers may be small, Ben believes this makes the task even more important here.
"Every toad counts because there's nowhere near as many of them," he said.
The patrol's work is set to finish for the year soon, but new volunteers will be more than welcome for 2014.
Email Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org to help.
See more photos by Advertiser photographer Ian Longthorne below:
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