The saga of the amphibian tunnel, installed on Cufaude Lane by Hampshire County Council HCC, has led to disillusionment among the Toad Rage team. It started with good intentions but has suffered along the way from practical failures and culminated in environmental vandalism.

To recap, the tunnel and peripheral barriers were installed at a strategic point on the byway to try to prevent amphibian migration road deaths and to minimise the risk to the volunteers of traffic accidents on a dangerous stretch of road.

The project comprised an engineered tunnel and temporary barriers to direct amphibians to the tunnel entrance. It was intended to be a work in progress, one that would be refined over the seasons through evidence and observation.

At the outset it would appear that HCC did not discuss the projects with Natural England or raise the spectre of Great Crested Newt GCN presence in the area prior to work beginning. For the uninitiated, GCN are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act and any work that might affect them, in theory requires licensing.

The inevitable consequence of Natural England’s demand that strategic gaps be introduced to the funnelling barriers is that amphibians such as this Great Crested Newt have access to the road, thereby increasing the chances of being squashed by a car.

So it seems, at a point where the project was almost completed, a well-wisher informed NE about the presence of Great Crested Newts in the general area (the nearest breeding pond is around 500m from the tunnel, and volunteer records are no closer than 250 m). NE then required HCC to introduce gaps in the barriers (to allow any passing GCN to pass through) with the result that all amphibians were then able to reach the road and get run over, thereby defeating the object of the exercise.

Natural England required HCC to undertake a GCN survey of the area before proceeding further which, as far as we are aware, has not been undertaken.

In the meantime, residents of a nearby house took it upon themselves to remove the barriers completely over the summer months thereby ruining the project. No action has been taken by HCC with regards to this blatant environmental vandalism.

The end result is pile of plastic piping lying stacked beside the road as a memorial to the failure of local government and conservation bodies to work together for the betterment of wildlife.

There is an interesting parallel with work recently undertaken by HCC on a footpath in neighbouring Little London. Part of the work was undertaken within 5 metres of pond in which GCN and other amphibians breed. Due to an oversight, HCC did not apply for or receive a licence or approval from NE to work in the vicinity of GCN. I wonder whether the Cufaude Lane well-wisher has informed NE, or indeed whether HCC themselves have owned up to the mistake and applied for licence to continue the work.

As members of the public concerned with animal welfare there is nothing that toad-rescuing volunteers can do to resolve the situation. These matters reside with HCC and Natural England. It might be interesting to ask Natural England Chair Tony Juniper  for his advice and opinion as to how best to resolve the situation in time to reinstate the tunnel and barriers before migration begins again. Because the clock is ticking and it’s only 2 months from when the earliest toads will appear on the roads and the amphibian carnage will resume in 2022. And Mr Juniper might also like to comment about the bigger picture – the flawed and loophole-ridden Protected Species legislation that Natural England administers supposedly on behalf of creatures like Great Crested Newts.

As a footnote, it was fascinating to see that one of the Insulate Britain protesters – an elderly retired GP – who glued himself to the road recently has another interest. He is also a toad patroller where he lives and, so it is reported, has resorted to lying down in the road to stop amphibian deaths caused by cars. Perhaps the Cufaude Lane volunteers should seek his advice about how to proceed?

Will Cufaude Lane’s Common Toads and other amphibians ever get the chance to use the tunnel again?