Nature and Wildlife - Habitats and Species
The Natterjack Toad
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There are two toads native to the British Isles: the common toad Bufo bufo and the natterjack toad Bufo calamita. The natterjack is easily identifiable by the vivid yellow stripe running down its back. The common toad is widely distributed in Europe and Asia, the natterjack, however, is a western European species on the edge of its range in Britain. In Britain it occurs only near sea-level and is restricted to a few specialised habitats with warm, sandy soils where it can burrow easily. Suitable habitats with sandy soils and warm shallow pools for breeding are to be found only on sand dune systems and heathlands.
During this century has suffered a serious decline in population and distribution. Since 1900 the acreage of heath land and sand dune has been reduced through urban development, afforestation and agricultural reclamation by 90%. Over 80% of natterjack breeding sites have been lost this century.
The natterjack has a distinctive run instead of hopping gives rise to its other common English name-the running toad. Being able to run gives the natterjack certain feeding advantages. It is much faster than the common toad and able to forage an area more efficiently and will eat any insect, worm, grub etc. that it can find and catch.
Burrowing is easier with shorter limbs and the natterjack has noticeably shorter limbs than the common toad. The natterjack digs out hibernation burrows in the sandy soils and during the daytime hides in these burrows or scrapes under vegetation. Because winter temperatures fall below that at which it can maintain
activity and insect food is limited, the natterjack hibernates. With its short powerful limbs it can easily burrow into the sandy soil and buries itself where it can slow its bodily functions to a minimum, absorb oxygen through its skin and await the spring, secure from frosts and freezing winds. In October, when the nights are getting cooler, the toads become sluggish and by November all are hibernating. They do not emerge from their burrows until the weather is warm enough in March and April.
Breeding occurs from April to June in Britain. The eggs, known as spawn, are laid in shallow water in a string.
The species is adapted to breeding in shallow pools which dry up quickly in hot summers. Thus it can develop through all the stages in 4-8 weeks, compared with 10-12 weeks for common toad Bufo bufo and common frog Rana temporaria.
The natterjack is endangered in Britain and is recognised as a priority for conservation action. It is protected under British and European Law, it is illegal to disturb, or harm this toad, or to damage or destroy its habitat. A national Species Action Plan is being implemented. The species is listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annex IVa of the EC Habitats Directive. It is protected by Schedule 2 of the Conservation Regulations 1994, and Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Many problems associated with the decline of the natterjack are related to the quality of the habitat available. Poor dune habitat occurs when trees and shrubs such as pine, poplar, sea buckthorn and creeping willow dominate the habitat. Management involves scrub clearance and grazing regimes to create areas of bare ground or short vegetation more suited to the natterjack.
Several shallow ponds or scrapes have been constructed and maintained on the Sefton Coast to provide more suitable breeding pools for the natterjack toads. The habitat that the toads occupy is also protected.