SPENDING an evening catching toads might not be everyone's idea of a good time, but for a group of volunteers from Ellesmere, it is a vital – and potentially species saving – activity.

While many of us are winding down for the night, Ellesmere Toad Patrol, spearheaded by ecologist Clare Knight, is keeping watch on Swanhill Road, ensuring hundreds of toads emerging from the undergrowth are able to reach the safety of Ellesmere Mere and the surrounding wetland.

Although it is unlikely to win any beauty contests, the Common Toad is an essential part of the UK's ecosystem, and a gardener's best friend.

Unfortunately their numbers are declining, partly because of the number of toads killed by traffic as they attempt to cross roads on their way to their ancestral breeding grounds during spring.

Clare says she began helping the toads with their migration three years ago after moving to Ellesmere and being surprised at the number of the amphibians in the road.

"One night I was driving home and there were toads all over the road," said Clare. "I couldn't get the car through without squashing them so I had to stop and my children and I helped move them.

"After that we started going out out and finding toads in the evening and helping them cross the road.

"Toads follow the same route to get to their ancestral breeding pond whether or not there is a road in the way which can be a perilous journey for a toad'.

After undertaking the task on her own for the first few years, Clare began recruiting other toad-fans to help with the migration.

"The first few years I did it without any help," explained Clare. "Then I posted on a local Facebook group asking if anyone would like to help.

"We now go out with our torches and buckets most nights during the migration season.

"The volunteers are all really enthusiastic. I'm an ecologist so I spend a lot of my time doing wildlife surveys but for many of our helpers it's the first time they have done something like this."

Clare says Ellesmere has the highest concentration of Common Toads migrating in all of Shropshire, necessitating the need for the Toad Patrol.

"In 2019 we moved just shy of 1,000," added Clare. "We had 901 live toads that we moved safely over the road, but unfortunately 86 that we'd found run over.

"They're moving through the night so the number we record isn't the full population.'

"In the whole of Shropshire this is the highest number of toads that move to their breeding ground."

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented the group with unique challenges, now only operating in groups of two, but volunteers are still able to carry out patrols following Covid guidelines.

"With Covid its just patrols of two people," Clare added. "But once it gets dark we'll go out, and on the busier nights we normally have two patrols, one about 7pm-ish and then another an hour or so later."

To join in with the Toad Patrol, visit facebook.com/groups/302957300330529 or search Ellesmere Toad Patrol.