Step into spring at Sandscale Haws

Male natterjack toad at Sandscale Haws

Spring wildlife update

Natterjack Toads

In many ways our flagship species, Sandscale Haws is home to over 1,000 Natterjack Toads – probably the highest population density for this species in the UK. Following major declines throughout the 20th Century Natterjacks can now be found in just 13 native and 16 re-introduced populations. Although the re-introductions now outnumber the native populations, over 77% of Natterjacks are found in the native populations showing just how hard it can be to bring an animal back to an area where it has gone extinct.

Natterjack Toads – pair in amplexus

Natterjack Toads – pair in amplexus

spawn laid in shallow pools along the beach

Spawn laid in shallow pools along the beach at Sandscale Haws

There was a very late start to the breeding season this year as cold conditions persisted throughout much of April and winter returned for the final week of the month – in fact it felt colder here during that week that at any point during the actual winter! Typically April will be the main month for Natterjack Toads to be at the breeding pools but this year they had hardly started by May. That all changed last week however and we were out recorded spawn at the pools every day. Our main monitoring method is to count the spawn strings in pools across the site each year. Each spawn string corresponds to one breeding pair and we typically record 400 – 500 spawn strings each year. As we have over 20 pools in some years (many are ephemeral and not there every year depending on the water levels) and some of these are very large our counts will give us a minimum estimate for the true population. Over recent decades the population trend appears to be stable.


Spring can be a lovely time of year in the dune grasslands when many scarce annual plants get a chance to flower before the grasses and other species take over. Last year was an excellent year for orchids but it may be a different story this year as many of the best sites are still under water. People come from all over the country to see Coralroot Orchid in May and we have arranged a series of guided walks this year: They should be coming in to flower around now but it remains to be seen if we find any at all this year because of the conditions.

Dune Pansy  in flower throughout the year but spring is the best time to see this highly variable species;

Dune pansy at Sandscale Haws

Coralroot Orchid in May 2015

Coralroot orchid at Sandscale Haws


Migration highlights to date:

  • A pair of Garganey on the Wet Meadow on the 6th May.
  • Two records of singing Grasshopper Warblers (19th April and 4th May)
  • An Osprey flew over the reserve on the 15th April

Early May saw a big increase in returning migrants with Sedge Warbler and Whitethroats setting up territories across the reserve alongside resident species such as Stonechat and Reed Bunting. Skylark song can be heard everywhere. The higher than average water levels have led to an increase in wetland birds including species that we don’t often see such as Little Grebe and Tufted Duck – many of which may be breeding. Greylag Geese have been seen with goslings, Snipe have been heard drumming across the dunes and in the past few days we have seen early Stonechat fledglings in several areas. This year we are undertaking a breeding bird survey with the RSPB focussing on wildfowl and waders and we are reviewing historic records to work out average numbers of each species that breed on the reserve