The Toads of St Crispin's
Fire, droughts, groundworks, new builds, being flattened - one of the largest communities of toads in Northamptonshire has been facing a real threat of extinction. Until local people stepped in!
For many years an important population of toads had been migrating back to breed at a large reservoir on the former site of an old pioneering psychiatric hospital at St Crispin’s (formerly known as Berrywood) in Northampton – with a nearby wood providing the perfect habitat for hibernation and foraging. But soon after the hospital was closed in 1995, its extensive grounds were sold for housing and the toads’ reservoir was filled in. A fire in the main house followed and, despite the toads’ finding an area of water elsewhere on the site, they were still having to navigate a busy road with kerbs and drains to get there with many not surviving the journey. Now however, after the intervention of local residents including David Baker, a CPRE volunteer, and Anissa Beale, together with the UK amphibian charity Froglife, the toads have been reprieved and now have a new home.
Working closely with both the local community and the council, David and Anissa approached Froglife to develop an impact assessment and site proposal for the creation of a new breeding site for the toads within their existing hibernation area of Berrywood woods. A suitable site was found and a 15m x10m pond dug – of sufficient size to support this toad population - and it was finally completed in February 2020, just before lockdown and the traditional toad migration/breeding season. However, not quite ‘out of the woods’ yet, with water levels needing to rise naturally to suitable levels, some toads, finding the new pond to their liking, had already laid spawn in these dangerously low levels. David, Anissa and some of the other toad patrollers stepped in to rescue the new toadspawn from drying out and hand reared a large number of the toadlets at home before releasing them back near the site in batches in the summer of 2020.
The toads’ subsequent breeding season in spring this year has been successful and a large number of toadlets (as well as newts and diving beetles) has recently been recorded in the pond, with the toads due to make their way from the pond into the surrounding woods over the coming few months. David, Anissa, local volunteers and Froglife are now due to complete the project over the summer with the planting of a native mix of vegetation around the pond perimeter, the building of hibernacula and training on amphibian ID.
This has been a fantastic collaborative project that has succeeded in its aim to save the Toads of St Crispin’s with the creation of a new breeding pond and enhanced terrestrial habitat. It has highlighted how community action, in partnership with local councils (in this case Northampton Borough Council) and charities (Froglife), can result in real progress on the ground and the safeguarding of important natural habitats and wildlife. We hope that this project will generate interest in the importance of the wildlife right on our doorstep and that it will encourage people – young and old - to get involved in wildlife conservation.