A conservation expert has branded the council “incompetent” after maintenance work to a pond led to the death of scores of mating toads.

Tens of fish and now dozens of toads have died following Brighton and Hove City Council’s “destructive” and “clueless” repair works to the Preston Park Rockery.

Dr Keith Corbett MBE, an amphibian expert for 45 years, has told The Argus the authority should never have carried out the work at this time of year as the toads return to the pond in spring to mate.

He said: “I went down there two days ago and found something like 21 dead toads.

“I understand that they need to do maintenance work but they have drained the pond and not left any water for the returning toads.

“All they needed was a running hosepipe. It’s just incompetence.”

Council officials announced essential repair work to the pond at the beginning of January following a leak.

They estimated it would take six weeks, but today marks the 16th week of the project.

Workers started by draining the pond and transferring all the goldfish, perch and koi carp to special tanks on site.

However, just weeks into the project it was announced that they had all died due to their water not being kept fresh.

The RSPCA was brought in to prevent a repeat but just weeks later the project has been hit by another fatal “blunder”.

Vital breeding ground

Dr Corbett, who has worked as an amphibian expert across Europe before his retirement, explained the pond is a vital breeding ground for tens of toads in the spring.

The animals always return to the same breeding ground and rely on shallow water to keep them alive.

He said: “They have returned – as they do each year – to this pond to find that the water has gone.

“They can’t survive. The pond is bone dry. Everyone knows that this is the wrong time of year to carry out this work.

“You clear out ponds in the autumn, not during the spring.”

Remaining empty

A council spokesman confirmed the works were still ongoing and the pond was to be empty for the foreseeable future.

He added: “A sad fact of nature is that large numbers of creatures will get into difficulties in their search for breeding grounds at this time of year.

“Each day we’re moving any stranded amphibians we find to safer ponds within the garden.

“We are undertaking these pond repairs to improve and preserve this wildlife habitat in the long term.

“Without this action far more creatures would die and the area would cease to be a habitat.”

Dr Corbett branded the response “utter rubbish”.

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