The cancellation of a series of cross-country running races in West Yorkshire because of coronavirus has apparently saved hundreds of migrating toads from being squashed underfoot.
A toad protection group said hundreds of the amphibians have been trampled by fell runners in previous years.
The popular races take place close to a pond where the toads mate, the group said.
The races, known as “bunny runs”, are hosted by the Wharfedale Harriers and had been due to take place in April during the evening.
Sue Patchett, leader of the Riddlesden Toad Patrol, said many toads have been trampled underfoot in previous years. She had been recruiting new marshals to help rescue vulnerable toads during this year’s run.
Patchett has done toad patrolling in Riddlesden for 15 years. “I used to do it by myself but five years ago I formed a group and there’s now approximately 10 to 15 of us,” she said.
“Every spring when darkness falls, hundreds of toads embark on their migration down from gardens on the hillside in Riddlesden and they head downwards towards the canal.
“Many are killed and injured on the streets but we’re dedicated to helping by going out with torches and buckets to collect up as many toads as we can find and we release them by their breeding ground. We can save over 1,000 toads in season.”
Patchett blames the annual bunny runs for hundreds of toads being trampled and killed.
But Steve Milner from the Wharfedale Warriors, who helps to plan and organise the runs, said: “I haven’t ever seen any evidence of it, of toads being trampled.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people from the race and no one has ever said they’ve seen anything. The location is also a very popular place where people walk as well.”
Resident Jo Edwards, however, said she saw hundreds of dead toads while walking close to the pond the morning after one of the bunny runs.
“We witnessed dozens and dozens and dozens of trampled toads,” she said. “They were either dead or still dying and they all had their innards spilling out. There were so many of them. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see.”
Edwards has, in the past, taken part in the bunny runs and says the “fast and furious” route often leads to runners using the path closest to the pond where the toads congregate. “The ground’s uneven and it’s rocky,” she said. “When you’re running, it’s hard to avoid things – you’ve just to place your feet where they land.”
Patchett has asked Bradford council if the location of the runs can be changed. A council spokesperson said: “These races have run for many years and this is the first time we’ve been approached about the issue.”
At the time, the council granted permission for the evening runs to take place as long as they were rerouted.
Milner said the Wharfedale Harriers made plans to adjust the route but Patchett said the best solution would be for the runs to be held during the daytime or later in the year.