On Sunday 23rd September ARC staff along with over 40 volunteers converged onto Woolmer Forest, Hampshire (part of the Longmoor MOD estate) to carry out habitat management work for the long term preservation of the natterjack toad. 

In Britain the natterjack toad is almost exclusively confined to northern coastal sand dune systems and coastal grazing marshes. The natterjack used to be common on the heaths of Surrey and Hampshire but very few colonies now remain.

ARC manages some sites specifically for natterjacks and Woolmer is one of their last strongholds in the south. It is the only natural population left in the south of England and it has been the source of several translocations of natterjack toads to other suitable prepared locations.  

The natterjack toad has very specific habitat requirements and populations are under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation.

Howard Inns, Vice Chair of Trustees for ARC explains why tasks such as the annual Woolmer Scrub Bash are so important for the preservation of habitats for our native species. “We are clearing pine from the quite extensive heathland. Woolmer Forest 350 years ago was completely devoid of any trees. Now pine trees have taken over large areas of the heath. This site is unique in that it is home to all 12 of our native species of reptile and amphibian. It is a site that is actively used by the MOD and in that respect it helps to protect the site”. 

Even with the habitat in good condition the toads still have to overcome predation, competition and have even struggled with the unusually long, hot summer this year.

John Buckley, former Amphibian Conservation Officer for ARC (now retired), said “the 2018 season was cut short by the weather, whilst there was a good lot of spawn at the beginning [of the season] there was no second phase of spawning because there simply wasn’t any water. Given a decent rainfall next year we looking forward to an even better year”.

There was no lack of rainfall on the day of the task however. Heavy rain all morning did not dampen spirits and the dedicated army of volunteers cleared a vast area of scrub. After a laid on buffet lunch, partially sponsored by Waitrose, the sun emerged for the afternoon and the day was capped by a sighting of the usually nocturnal natterjack toad.

ARC manages a range of wildlife sites across the Surrey / Hampshire Weald and this is supported by a group of dedicated and friendly volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering opportunities can contact Ralph Connolly [email protected] (07387 261217)

Woolmer Forest is part of the area covered by the Heathlands Reunited Project. Led by the South Downs National Park, the project aims to expand and connect the remaining 1% of heathland left in the national park. 11 organisations, including ARC, have committed to creating wildlife corridors and restoring important heathland habitat. The project is supported by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.