The Common Toad (Bufo Bufo) is usually greenish-brown with a warty skin, short hind legs and crawls rather than hops. They can live up to forty years although most, in the wild, probably make about twelve years and will always return to the same pond to spawn in the Spring.
The "Ashwellthorpe Colony of Toads" mostly live throughout the year in Lower Wood where, they will burrow under leaves, forage after dark for insect larvae, slugs, spiders and worms, catching them with their sticky tongue, and hibernate between October and March under deep layers of leaves or in wood piles. They will only venture to water and their spawning pond between March and April each year, to mate and lay the fertilised eggs in a long strand in the pond.
In Ashwellthorpe they migrate from Lower Wood to their spawning pond on the south side of Ashwellthorpe Street close to Wood Farm. Mr Cyril Muskett who used to own Wood Farm told Mrs Rosemary Tilbrook, Ashwellthorpe, resident and nature writer, "to my certain knowledge, this migration has been constant ever since at least 1918 when my family bought the farm and, doubtless, long before that". calling it the "Toad Pilgrimage".
On this migration, the toads have to navigate about 400 metres of woodland and pasture, finally crossing Ashwellthorpe Street to reach the pond between Woodman's Lodge and Wood Farm. Toads don't jump but crawl rather slowly and are at great risk from traffic along The Street.
Back in the 1970s, hundreds of toads crossed The Street each year - people had to step carefully when walking on the pavement after dark for fear of standing on a toad and certainly had to drive slowly and stop if necessary along The Street. The young children living in Greenwood Close at that time also used to rescue the toads when they became stuck in the depth of road gutter drains - they lifted up the drain covers, one child lay on the road with another holding on to legs, and delved deep into the drain to lift out the toads. But, even with so many being carried to safety there were many corpses to be seen each morning.
Mrs Tilbrook, who lived in Red Squirrels on the main toad route, used to stay up much of the night gathering the toads in a bucket to carry safely across the road. In 1996, she mentioned that on 9 April alone, she carried 847 toads to safety. Earlier that year she had arranged to have a pit dug out, widened and cleared of refuse and invading vegetation at the back of the meadow behind her house where it abuts Lower Wood. She hoped it would be the new, safe, spawning pit but in one of her EDP articles, she wrote "knowing that toads return to the pit in which they were born, will they settle to spawn in a restored one well away from the road? Somehow, I doubt it!"
She also obtained planning permission and paid for two road traffic toad signs which could be opened to alert motorists of the toads' annual migration. After Mrs Tilbrook's death in February 1999, no-one took on the mantle of 'toad rescue'; in fact, most did not know of her part in such a rescue operation and there are no records of her year-by-year toad rescue totals. So, from 1999 until 2010 Ashwellthorpe's toad rescue was in abeyance and, during those eleven years, most people forgot about them. Much to our shame. Then the TOADWATCH Patrols started.