Disappearing Britain: Natterjack digs in as its habitat is invaded: Oliver Gillie reports on a threatened amphibian which likes the beach life

THE NATTERJACK toad is fighting to retain its territory in northern Europe. Acid rain is polluting its breeding ponds; common toads and frogs are invading its favoured sites and poaching its food.

Grimly the natterjack has hung on in duneland and heath on the west coast of England, in Norfolk and in Hampshire. Now Dr Trevor Beebee, of Sussex University, has come to the rescue and is breeding natterjacks in his back garden near Brighton.

'The heath and duneland that used to be occupied by the natterjack has changed. It is no longer being grazed by cows and sheep,' Dr Beebee said. 'As a result the vegetation is thicker and common toads are able to invade and compete.'

The natterjack toad, Bufo calamita, can be recognised by a bright green or yellow stripe running down its back. It is also distinguished by its habit of burrowing into sand until it reaches a moist layer where it may stay for weeks in hot weather. By contrast the common toad, Bufo bufo, which does not know how to dig holes, dries up and dies in warm air if it can find no moist shade.

The natterjack has disappeared from 70 to 80 per cent of sites where it was known at the beginning of the century. It is now known at only 40 sites in England. Dr Beebee hopes to persuade landowners to reintroduce grazing to produce the conditions that favour the natterjack. 'They need shallow ponds which dry out between seasons. Then water beetles that would otherwise eat the tadpoles do not survive in the pond.' He has built a small pond in his garden where the toads are protected by netting from birds. Some six or eight adults produce hundreds of eggs each year but even in this sheltered environment less than a dozen toads reach maturity.

'There was a severe early cold spell last year and none of the tadpoles survived in the pond in my garden,' Dr Beebee said. 'The natterjack is at the edge of its natural range in England. It is also under threat in Belgium and France but is surviving well in Spain and Portugal.'

Dr Beebee has a contract from English Nature under its species recovery programme to find ways of establishing new colonies of the toads by returning spawn, tadpoles or tiny toadlets back to the wild. In 1980 one new colony was established in Sandy, Bedfordshire, and now he is establishing others in Surrey and has plans for Dorset.

'The best way to reintroduce them seems to be to take spawn strings to the new site. Then it takes three years for the toads to grow to adult size and for us to assess how well it has worked,' Dr Beebee said. 'We are getting indications that one of the populations is beginning to take off.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

£16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Engineer

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity now exists for a...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones