Natterjack toadlets that are causing a stir on nature reserve

Natterjack toadlet Epidalea calamita, The Lodge RSPB Reserve, Bedfordshire, July
Natterjack toadlet Epidalea calamita, The Lodge RSPB Reserve, Bedfordshire, July

These stunning images of rare natterjack toadlets were captured by RSPB Picture Researcher Ben Andrew.

“It’s not every day you get the chance to see these rare toads, let alone photograph them, which you can only do under licence because of their protected status,” he said. “When I was invited to join The Lodge wardens on their monitoring surveys I didn’t have to think twice.

“Finding and photographing the adult toads at night was really exciting, and then to see and photograph their toadlets felt very special – they are incredible little characters!”

In July, RSPB wardens and volunteers counted more than 300 of the thumbnail-sized amphibians emerging from the pools at the RSPB’s nature reserve at The Lodge in Sandy.

RSPB Warden Lizzie Bruce said: “We’re delighted and actually a bit relieved to have counted so many toadlets this year. A cold April combined with a very dry May meant conditions were not ideal for the toads early on in the breeding season, and some of the ponds even dried out completely.

“Rain in June filled the ponds up again and the number of toadlets we’ve seen in July and August is evidence the natterjacks were able to move quickly to spawn. Just this week we counted another 2,000 tadpoles, so there may yet be more natterjack toadlets this year.”

Natterjack toads are one of the UK’s rarest amphibians and are only found at about 60 sites in Britain – nine in Eastern England. They live exclusively in coastal sand dunes, coastal grazing marshes and sandy heaths, where they can find the combination of bare ground or very short vegetation for hunting and shallow seasonal pools for breeding that they need to survive.

The species’ numbers have fallen dramatically due to habitat destruction, with 70 per cent of colonies lost in the twentieth century.

The first natterjacks were introduced to The Lodge from Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s (NWT) Syderstone Common nature reserve in West Norfolk in the 1980s.

In 2011 the RSPB were able to repay the favour when the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust oversaw the transfer of more than 800 tadpoles back to Kings Lynn in Norfolk.

In recent years they have thrived in the new ponds that have been created for them on the reserve with the help of volunteers from Tesco and grants from the Biffa Award scheme.