Sandscale Haws’ wetlands are perfect habitats for amphibians. Six out of the seven UK amphibians live here, including the rare natterjack toad which can put on a noisy display in the spring.
Natterjacks are Europe’s noisiest amphibian and breed in around 20 of the 40 natural and man-made pools at Sandscale. You can hear their loud croak up to 2 miles away on quiet spring nights when the males all sing together to attract females.
They have developed to breed in warmer water and temporary pools which often dry out in the summer so it’s a race against time for their spawn to hatch and for the tadpoles to become adults.
Sandscale is home to one of the largest natterjack toad popluations in the UK. Their numbers have dropped in the last 50 years as coastal habitats have been lost and are now a protected species.
Natterjack toads are smaller than a common toad and have an obvious yellow stripe along their back. Their spawn is very different to typical frog spawn. It looks like a string of small black pearls which you can see at the bottom of shallow pools. Natterjacks spend the winter months hidden away, hibernating in burrows within the dunes.
How to see them
Look out for natterjacks at dusk in the viewing pools near the car park at Sandscale or come along to the rangers’ night walks in April and May. Look out for dates and times in our ‘What’s On’ section.
Common frogs and common toads
Common frogs at Sandscale breed much earlier in the year than natterjacks and will happily spawn in any pools they can find – from puddles to huge pools on the wet meadow. Their spawn can be laid as early as January when the weather is mild.
Common toads usually breed in March and prefer slightly deeper pools to common frogs and natterjacks. To keep predators at bay it secretes a toxin from its skin and puffs itself up. It can cause problems for natterjacks if common toads breed in the same pool as the common toad tadpoles eat most of the algae and don’t leave enough for the Natterjack tadpoles to develop.
Living alongside the toads and frogs are three different kinds of newts at Sandscale. These are smooth newts, palmate newts and great crested newts.
Great crested newts and smooth newts can be seen across the nature reserve and like all amphibians come to pools in spring to breed. Both these newts prefer deeper pools but will also use shallow pools and will lay their individual eggs near pond plants – very different to the frog and toad spawn.
Palmate newts are the smallest of all the newts but look similar to smooth newts and prefer shallower pools to breed in, so you will often see them in the natterjack viewing pools near the car park. Unlike frogs and toads, newts lay individual white eggs. To protect these from the sun’s UV rays, the newt wraps them in leaves from around the edge of the pool. If you look carefully around some of the pool edges you will see leaves that have been folded over where the newts have been busy.
The rangers at Sandscale have to make weekly checks on site for trapped amphibians in unusual places. At least 5 different species have been found trapped in the road drains outside Sandscale’s car park where they have fallen in and can’t get out. Special amphibian ladders have been made so that most can help themselves climb out and the rangers still keep a close eye on any that might still be trapped.