Toads amazeballs: dune restoration sees leap in natterjacks

Numbers of rare natterjack toads have increased by 400% at Mersehead nature reserve in Dumfries and Galloway, thanks to a three-year habitat restoration project at the site. Picture: RSPB Scotland

A rare toad is thriving at a nature reserve in southern Scotland as a result of a three-year project to halt the disappearance of the species.

Numbers of natterjack toads have leapt fourfold since work began to restore sand dunes at the RSPB’s Mersehead site in Dumfries and Galloway.

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The Solway Firth is the only place natterjacks can be found in Scotland but there were serious concerns for the survival of the Mersehead population after severe winter storms in 2013 destroyed dunes where they traditionally hibernate.

Intensive surveys began in spring 2014, finding male toads by following their rasping call – the loudest of any amphibian in Europe.

There were around 30 breeding males counted at Mersehead when the project began but numbers had risen to 150 by last year.

As well as repairing dunes, conservationists from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) and RSPB Scotland have created new shallow ponds across the site for the toads to breed in.

Each toad carries a unique pattern of warts and a yellow ‘racing stripe’ on its back, which can be used to distinguish individuals.

This means surveyors were able to create a mugshot database of toads found on the site and ensure the same individuals were not counted more than once.

Females are harder to count since they only visit ponds for a couple of nights a year to lay eggs, so the team has been monitoring the amount of spawn laid each season.

The combined data indicates that natterjacks have been increasing at Mersehead.

“It’s fantastic to see that the natterjack population is responding to the habitat management we’ve put in place,” said James Silvey, species and habitats officer for RSPB Scotland.

“The evidence of toads breeding in three of the five ponds we made for them in 2015 is a real highlight.

“Natterjack populations are declining across most of their range in Scotland, due to climate change and inappropriate management, making the population at Mersehead all the more important.

“We’ll be continuing our work for these amphibians over the coming years to hopefully increase their numbers even more.”