20th March 2007
Ah yes, it’s that special time of year again. The moment when the humble toad decides to risk the very survival of its species by recklessly attempting to cross the road. This is a particularly foolish act in a number of ways: 1) a toad is not the fastest creature on earth so a quick dash to the other side is not an option, 2) this perilous activity is undertaken in the gloaming on wet murky nights when bolt-eyed drivers with their windows fugged up have a cat’s chance in hell of actually spotting them.
Now, this seasonal problem is currently very much in the minds of those of us in the village who spend most of our lives hurtling up and down the lanes in our four-wheeled killing machines. The Buxton Advertiser has already put out a plea for some Toad Traffic Wardens to help our misguided little warty friends make it back to their breeding sites. In our case this is the reservoir and the raised pond I talked of yesterday, as it is in deep, still water that they like to procreate. Each to their own. Some weeks ago scary Brown Owl (an RSPCA volunteer and lay preacher as well as Leader of the Pack) had cocked her squat head and fixed us earnestly with her beady little eyes, warning us of the risks ahead. At the time, I’m afraid I had not treated the situation with the gravity it clearly deserves. I had imagined the odd one or two might be pottering across from field to reservoir, at which point I would, of course, swerve violently to avoid it, risking nothing more than a head-on collision with oncoming traffic while at least saving the future of Toad.
Then, at a party on Saturday, I found myself in conversation with a woman who had, indeed, been a member of the Toad Crossing Patrol. It seems the little blighters come out in their droves. I instantly had visions of her in a fluorescent jacket with a lollipop stick marching fearlessly out into the middle of the road as cars screeched to a halt all around her. ‘Come on boys, chop along now, that’s the ticket, fast as you can!’ She described the bucketfuls of bemused amphibians rescued from the tarmac - so many, in fact, that the ones at the bottom came out not much flatter than if they’d had an encounter with an Audi. It crossed my mind that this did seem to be defeating the object. The other conundrum was trying to decide which way they were actually heading – TO or FROM the reservoir. You can imagine – Toady has just spent a fair wee while getting to the middle of the road, pauses for breath, when some interfering old busybody grabs him, swings him round and dumps him back where he’d just come from. “Put me down, put me down, you silly old fool!”, but his cries are carried away unheard on the mists and winds of the damp March night.