Natterjacks get a safe haven at Sandscale Haws

A Natterjack toad © National Trust

A Natterjack toad

Latest update 06.06.2014 11:05

One of Cumbria’s least-known coastal wildlife havens lies just outside the shipbuilding town of Barrow-in-Furness. And it’s here that 25% of the UK’s natterjack toad population finds a safe haven.

Sandscale Haws lies on the Duddon Estuary, where lakeland river meets the Irish Sea and its sandy dunes, rushes and tidal pools provide the ideal conditions for natterjacks to thrive.

But those conditions need careful management to ensure that this vulnerable species of toad can breed. Rangers Neil Forbes and Jo Day walk the site at least once a week during the current breeding season, recording the number of spawn strings seen in pools.

Neil and Jo also care for the habitat that supports the toad population, by making sure that vegetation never gets too tall for the short-limbed toads to find their food sources, and that there are sandy areas for toads to burrow a shelter.

Cattle and sheep are essential to caring for the habitat: they graze the grasses and rushes, which makes room for other flora to thrive. A rich floral community in turn supports thousands of insects and you can see the happy natterjacks ambling their way to their dinner.

Spotting the toads

Natterjacks can be distinguished from a common toad by the yellow line down the middle of its back. Every line is different and can be used to identify an individual toad, though very occasionally, you will come across a natterjack with no line. In this instance the colour of the iris gives the game away, with the common toad having a copper or amber colour and the natterjack having golden irises.

Because natterjacks are such a vulnerable species, mainly due to habitat loss during the 20th century, it’s illegal to handle them and also wrong to disturb them in any part of their lifecycle. Rangers Neil and Jo have special permission and regularly give tours or host educational visits about the toads and the other flora and fauna of Sandscale Haws.

Neil, who’s worked at Sandscale for six-and-a-half years says: ‘June and July is the time to see the first natterjack toadlets, as the tadpoles morph into young toads. The warm spring means that we’re seeing them quite early, but it’s a good point in the year to see how the sands, pools and flora combine to give the natterjacks the best start to their new lives.'