Toads in the UK are under threat.
Since the 1980s it is estimated that over two thirds of these amphibians have been lost in the UK, primarily as a result of habitat loss and a steep decline in suitable breeding sites.
Fortunately for the amphibians of Appleshaw village they have an important lifeline in the form of the man-made [not sure if this is a politically acceptable expression any more. Ed.] pond in the grounds of Hill House. Over the last decade, this has become a vitally important breeding pond for Common Toad which breeds in huge numbers here, but the Common Frog, Smooth Newt and Great Crested Newt are also present in encouraging numbers.
Toads and other amphibians are mainly terrestrial animals that use ponds each year to breed. Between late January and early April these animals emerge at dusk and through the night, migrating from their terrestrial hibernation sites to breed.
In Appleshaw the trip from their hibernation ‘pad’ to the breeding ground of the Hill House pond involves many of them “running the gauntlet” of crossing the road through the village and are squashed by unsuspecting motorists.
To reduce these amphibian fatalities, 2020 witnessed the establishment by Rob Read of the Appleshaw ‘Toad Patrol Group’. This collective of local volunteers, who look like a benign form of the French ‘gilet jaune’ protestors with rather less violent political ambitions – certainly thus far, were seen out every evening during the migration season collecting Toads and other amphibians in buckets as they attempted to cross the tarmac, and ‘air-lifting’ them to the safety of the pond.
The mild and wet evenings provide ideal conditions for Toads and other amphibians to migrate to the breeding pond at Hill House. On two occasions the team collected over 500 Toads and other amphibians from the road in a single evening. In total nearly 4,000 animals were protected from a premature end-of-life road-associated event during the 2020 migration season, making Appleshaw one of the busiest migration crossings in Hampshire.
In a world where many wildlife populations are under increasing pressure, Appleshaw Toad Patrol is an example of community conservation in action, and how it can have an immediate and dramatic impact on wildlife populations. Check out Rob Read’s excellent photos below of the Appleshaw Toad Patrol in action….
And thanks to Louise Nason’s father – Robert Martin – for the painting of the Toad Patrol below.