The Lodge in Sandy, Beds, isn't just the home of the RSPB's UK and international headquarters. It's also a fantastic nature reserve with rare habitats that are home to some special wildlife.

One of the creatures thriving in the sandy heathland and seasonal pools that have been created for it (and other wildlife) is the natterjack toad, and this month RSPB Picture Researcher Ben Andrew was able to join the wardens on their routine monitoring surveys and get these stunning photos of the toadlets on the move:

    

Photos: Natterjack toadlets at RSPB The Lodge nature reserve by Ben Andrew. To see more of Ben's photos visit his website, benandrewphotography.co.uk

 

Ben had this to say about photographing natterjacks: “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. 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!”

 

A good year for natterjacks

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 Bedfordshire.

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.”

    

Photos (Ben Andrew): Close-up of one of the natterjack toadlets Warden Lizzie Bruce and her team at The Lodge monitor and manage habitat for. The yellow stripe down the middle of its back helps distinguish it from its common toad cousins.

 

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 Norfolk to help re-establish a population of natterjacks at NWT’s Grimston Warren nature reserve, near King’s Lynn.

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.

 

Natterjacks in a nutshell:

  • Natterjacks are smaller than their cousins the common toad, with adults reaching just 6 – 7 cm in length. When they first emerge from the water after growing from tadpoles into their adult form the toadlets are no bigger than a fingernail.
  • They can be distinguished from common toads by the yellow stripe that runs down the middle of their back. Their wart and stripe pattern is like a fingerprint and unique to each individual.
  • Adults are largely nocturnal and usually heard more often than they are seen. Their mating calls can be heard from over a kilometre away. During the daytime, the toads shelter in burrows or underneath objects lying on the ground, coming out after dark to hunt beetles and other insects and invertebrates that comprise bulk of their diet.

Nocturnal natterjacks hunting beetles and other insects at The Lodge earlier this year (Photos by Ben Andrew):

    

Find out more about The Lodge nature reserve and plan a visit: rspb.org.uk/thelodge

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