Friday, August 8, 2014

Bid to save rare natterjack toads

Scientists are building up a photographic database of the rare and endangered natterjack toad, in a bid to ensure its survival in Scotland.

They are relying on each toad's unique pattern of warts to enable them to identify individual animals.

That information will then be used by researchers monitoring whether the population rises or falls in the coming years.

The work is being carried out along the Solway Firth.

The toads can be found on sand dunes and in salt marshes known as merse.

Natterjack toads

  • Natterjack toads are Scotland's rarest amphibians

  • In Scotland, they are only found on the Solway Firth

  • There are thought to be around 200 breeding adults in Scotland

  • The toads are a grey green colour and have a distinctive yellow stripe on their backs

  • Natterjacks have shorter legs than common toads or frogs

  • This means they can run after prey, rather than hopping or crawling

  • During the breeding season, croaking male natterjacks can be heard more than a mile away

The scientists search the area after dark, using torchlight to find the natterjacks.

The toads are then measured and photographed.

James Silvey of RSPB Scotland said: 'The beautiful thing about natterjacks is they each come with their own individual fingerprint, and that's in the form of the big warts and the yellow stripe on their backs.

'Each of the toads we photograph today could potentially live for 10 or 15 years and if we photograph it again we'll know that individual was found here at Mersehead in 2014.

'We're building up a database of natterjack mug shots for the future.'

Conservationists have been working for many years to safeguard the future of the species in Scotland.

They say natterjacks face several threats, including habitat loss, climate change and a fungal infection first identified in 1999.

A population of natterjacks was established at the RSPB Mersehead nature reserve near Dalbeattie in the same year.

Kirsty Griffiths of RSPB Mersehead explained: 'We built four artificial ponds here to transfer toad strings into water.

'But back in January, February and March this year, high tides completely covered this field with water and it was here for a good two months.

'We think that's pushed the toads further inland and that's where we've seen the toads this year.'

Experts say natterjack toads are as rare in Scotland as wildcats and more must be done to protect the species.

Pete Minting, of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, said: 'We have a tiny population of adults, only around 200, and they're really just clinging on here.

'There's not really enough being done to deal with the problems and the threats which they face in Scotland at the moment.

'They have declined a lot since the 1970s, and again since 2005 for reasons we don't really understand, so it's important to study them.'