Our world is warming up again. Milder evenings are waking toads from their hibernation. So, once again, we potter up the hill with torches, buckets, smaller pots for the occasional frog -who wouldn’t want the company of toads- and yogurt pots for palmate newts. What better way to mark the arrival of spring!
The lane through the wood tucks into the hill, so its often warmer there, protected from the chilly westerly wind. On clear nights the tree branches above us are lit by sparkling stars. Sometimes the silence of the night is punctuated by Tawny Owl conversation. The small ragged wood is thick with memories. In summer we’ve often gone there to watch bats, and I’ve had several very close encounters with foxes.
This week we’ve been finding male toads (which are smaller), sitting upright in the lane, sniffing the air. Last night one perky individual was squatting on a stone. They’re probably hoping that a female (they’re much bigger, and scarcer) will come along, so they can hitch a ride, or failing that, perhaps some friendly hominid with a bucket and torch? Their migration, along the lane, and either up through the steep wood, or across two fields, to their ancestral pond, is an impressive feat. I sometimes worry that our assistance might be interfering with their navigational ability. Are they adapting to our participation in their annual rite? Some may have had several rides in our buckets by now.
I also wonder whether we’re simply saving them from the danger of being crushed beneath a vehicle’s tyres, or under a human foot, only to serve them up as fox or badger snacks? But the latter have to eat, and last night we found half a dozen freshly killed individuals on the road, so I think its better to intervene. When we put the rescued toads down most of them strode off purposefully, as though they knew where they needed to go.
Over the years my partner has researched some ten migration routes locally, and found volunteers to look after them. If you’re in the U.K and would like to help out, go to Frog Life to find your nearest toad rescue site.
We’re fortunate to live in a small town in the North of England where quite a lot of people get involved in these kinds of activities. But even here there are many who, are at best, oblivious.
These are, no doubt, the same people who are unable to empathise with vulnerable fellow humans, and who succumb to the relentless propaganda against benefit claimants. Most of my past involvements were in community action and community development work (supporting self-advocacy), rather than conservation or ecological activism. Although this blog has focused mainly on relations with the ‘natural’ world, animism makes no sense to me unless it also engages with social justice issues. I’m no longer able to be politically active, but I’ve been incensed by the ever increasing inequality (over the the past 35 years), and by cuts to essential public services and welfare benefits.
Today’s news includes a report from Oxfam -who now run anti-poverty projects in the U.K- showing that five super-rich families have more personal wealth than the poorest 20 per cent of the population. A long term psychiatric patient at our nearest hospital, who recently had a heart attack after her treatment had been stopped, and was still being harassed by the Department for Work and Pensions after she had gone into a coma, is one example of how government cuts are targeting extremely vulnerable people. Its now beyond reasonable doubt that people are taking their own lives due to benefit ‘reforms’. (some testimony can be found here).
Although the issues are, of course, rather more complex than rescuing toads, there’s an urgent need to raise awareness of what is happening, to resist cuts to essential public services and welfare benefits, to propose alternatives, and to ensure that vulnerable people in our society are respected and protected. There’s also a need to stay sane, perhaps, with the help of some small amphibian friends.
Comment by e-mail: “What a great toad photo! I like the way you linked it with vulnerable people too.” J.P.