Research on the reserve

Sandscale Haws Dipwells 2

As Sandscale Haws is a National Nature Reserve one of the main jobs for the ranger team is to carry out research which helps future conservation projects both at Sandscale and all around the country.

The research the rangers do varies, from counting breeding birds to measuring water levels in tubes called dipwells, so look out for them on the reserve when you’re walking. Here are the different kinds of research the rangers carry out throughout the year.


Natterjack toads – In spring the rangers spend most of their time counting natterjack toad spawn strings. The toads lay strings of spawn rather than jelly spawn like frogs. Most female toads only breed once a year so one string usually equals one female toad. Counting the spawn strings means the rangers can monitor toad populations as well.

Spawn laid in shallow pools along the beach at Sandscale Haws

Breeding birds – Spring, moving into summer is always a good time to count breeding birds at Sandscale. Some years this is wading birds like oystercatchers, some years, birds that use scrub habitat  like stonechats and other years, ground nesting birds like skylarks.

Skylark at Sandscale Haws
Sandscale Haws Skylark
Skylark at Sandscale Haws

Measuring water levels – Across Sandscale, the rangers have fixed tubes into the ground called dipwells. These measure the level of ground water every hour with the help of little data loggers which are fixed to the tubes. By looking at the information that the dipwells have collected, the rangers can work out how groundwater moves across the site. This helps them to plan where they can create new areas for wildlife.

Rangers measuring water levels in dipwells
Sandscale Haws Dipwells 2
Rangers measuring water levels in dipwells

 Counting plants – Summer is a perfect time to count the plants growing in the grassland on site. This is done by counting the plants in a square patch called a quadrat to get an idea of which plants are thriving and which aren’t.

Grassland survey
Quadrat surveying Arnside and Silverdale
Grassland survey