Surrey Willdlife Trust - The frog march for survival

PUBLISHED: 16:05 13 May 2010 | UPDATED: 14:33 20 February 2013

The common toad can now cross the road safely in Surrey (Photo by Rachel O'Hara, SWT)

The common toad can now cross the road safely in Surrey (Photo by Rachel O'Hara, SWT)

The Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group (SARG) has played a hugely important role in helping everything from frogs, toads and newts to snakes and lizards

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine in 2007

The Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group (SARG) has played a hugely important role in helping everything from frogs, toads and newts to snakes and lizards. By John Rennie

When five enthusiasts got together 20 years ago to form the Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group, each was keen to promote the interests of the county's amphibians and reptiles and protect their habitats. But they were doing so at a time when there was not the general appreciation of these species that is found nowadays. Some people were even quite critical and, in general, members of the group, which is known by its initials as SARG, were tolerated but considered at best somewhat eccentric!

That was then; nowadays, it's a different story, with frogs and their ilk promoted throughout the media. As well as being covered in serious documentary programmes, encouraged by Sir David Attenborough and others, they appear on greetings cards, are parodied in mobile phone ring tones and feature in some of our best loved stories. They even have special road crossings made for them!

Loss of habitats

In the early 1980s, however, few facts were known about Surrey's frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards. A major habitat survey by Arthur Lindley for Surrey Wildlife Trust had found that many wetland and heathland habitats had declined or were lost. Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England) was researching the prevalence of amphibians and reptiles in Britain. SARG members helped with this, sending in records from several sites in 1987. They knew that, if they were to protect the creatures, they first had to know what species were present, where they occurred, in what numbers and what threats or problems they faced.

"This was no mean task but affiliation to the Surrey Wildlife Trust has given us much useful support and contacts," says Dr Julia Wycherley, chairman of SARG and a Merstham resident. "An initial grant enabled SARG to begin surveying and set up the all-important database. We are part of the national ARG-UK (Amphibian & Reptile Group of the United Kingdom) network and we now have some 200 members and many volunteers helping us."

The chief executive of Surrey Wildlife Trust, Nigel Davenport, is also enthusiastic about the benefits of the two groups working together. "We value the affiliation of SARG with us, as it extends our work and we can be more effective as a team," he explains. "SARG works closely with us in trying to prevent habitat destruction and resist damaging planning applications."

One of the biggest problems has been the loss of habitat and, in particular, the changing role of ponds. Now regarded as one of the most beautiful and distinctive features of the Surrey landscape, historically they had rural and industrial uses, including watering animals, soaking wagon wheels, supplying fish, powering mill wheels and ore-crushing. But over the last century, many ponds gradually filled in with silt and vegetation until they were unsuitable for pond creatures such as frogs, toads and dragonflies.

Meanwhile, other ponds have been lost to development, removal of hedgerows and road building. Altogether, as many as 70% of Surrey's historic ponds have been lost, reducing the breeding sites for our amphibians.

"This is one of the reasons why the Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group is working hard to redress this loss," Julia adds. "We want to improve the status of Surrey's amphibians by providing advice on pond management as well as carrying out practical tasks. SARG also undertakes pond creation in order to enhance the numbers of breeding ponds for the great crested newt."


Another task SARG has taken on has been the identification of toad crossing points across the county. Where mass migration to the breeding pond takes place in spring there can be catastrophic road kills. Now, though, there are 34 major toad-crossing points registered with Surrey County Council Highways Department and monitored by SARG Toad Patrols.

Working with Surrey Wildlife Trust, SARG membership has grown significantly and its species surveys and records are now a major achievement. They are far from complacent, however, as the really long task of maintaining our species diversity has only just begun. The natterjack toad, great crested newt, smooth snake and sand lizard are all at risk and the adder appears to be in decline. This is why it is vital we make a continuing effort to understand their requirements and above all protect and improve the various habitats that are essential for their survival.

Latest from the Surrey