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Masthead showing parish logo, followed by photos of the two pubs and the church

Click for Parish Council Website A PDF version of the entire Millennium Book is available on request from the Parish Clerk (parish-clerk@berrickandroke.org.uk).

Our Special Wildlife

You only have to read the personal contributions in this book to realise what a wealth of wildlife abounds in this community. Individuals who choose to live in this part of Oxfordshire are thoroughly appreciative of the variety of birds and mammals. Although many entries describe the visitors to their gardens, two in particular give a special insight. Charles Denslow (entry no. 25) gives an interesting analysis of the way in which wildlife has changed over the time he has lived in the village, and Iva Davies (entry no. 91) details the many birds she has spotted in her garden. In view of this expert coverage, rather than talk further about muntjacs and woodpeckers, this article publicises the forgotten amphibians of the villages, and the continual struggle in preserving them.
Being a low-lying community, there are several ponds and streams, ideal for breeding amphibians. Four species live in our community: the Smooth Newt, the protected Great Crested Newt, the Common Frog and the Common Toad. Throughout England, and, indeed, the rest of the world, amphibians are having a tough time surviving. Not only are natural ponds being filled in, or drying up, but the increasing use of pesticides and fertilisers is destroying habitats through pollution. It is therefore important, at the end of the millennium, to protect the population that we have.
Visitors to Berrick Prior during March and April will notice some unusual signs, warning motorists not to squash toads as they travel to the breeding pond (in the field on the Newington Road) during the annual migration in spring. Part of this ritual involves the males sitting in the road and calling for mates - a treacherous activity, particularly so near to the Chequers at closing time (although one might be tempted, on occasion, to ask whether this behaviour is confined to toads?).

After one night of dreadful carnage in 1985, when 531 corpses (all toads) were counted early the next morning, it was obvious that action was needed to protect our decimated population. While other conservationists were organising crossing patrols with buckets, on Berrick's dangerous roads we preferred to educate the motorist to recognise toads in headlights. We needed some posh signs. It is an unfortunate fact that toads breed at the end of the financial year when there is no money left in the local highways budget, but the project was sufficiently "wacky" to interest the council in providing some left-over blank reflective triangles and a paper template for the official Ministry of Transport-approved toad. Black enamel paint did the rest, and we were so proud of our new signs!

Berrick being one of the first villages in Oxfordshire to acquire such signs, however, the Oxford Times publicised us on its front page, and the signs disappeared almost before the paint was dry - no doubt to decorate some student walls. Serious fund-raising for vandal-proof signs ensued, and the new design defied the souvenir-hunters muRoad sign with toadch longer, although only one of the original three has survived intact, the other two having been replaced yet again.

Toads are not confined to Berrick Prior; there is a large population in Rokemarsh as well. With more people building ponds, there is a good chance that our population will diversify its breeding territory, spending the rest of the year as “gardeners’ friends” by eating slugs and other pests in the garden. I hope that our amphibian species survive the next millennium, but it will take the concerted efforts of the community to achieve this.

Marian Shaw

Berrick Prior Toad Warden