Let’s hear it for the natterjack

GIVEN all the bad news we hear about the state of nature, it’s always positive to note the success of a project to ensure the survival of an endangered species in Ireland.

The natterjack toad is found only in parts of counties Kerry and Wexford and there are clear signs that a programme to involve farmers in a plan to reverse a decline in population is getting good results. Farmers are being grant-aided to dig and manage ponds on their land, to the tune of €1,000 each per year.

About 35% of the ponds in the Castlemaine Harbour area of Co Kerry are successful and young toads are being moved from poorly performing ponds to those showing better results. Ideally, ponds have to be shallow and surrounding land must also be managed in relation to grazing by other animals.

To the untrained eye, the toad looks like a frog and is distinguished by a yellow stripe on its back. It can live in land and water and spends its day in holes burrowed in sand dune areas.

Dooks Golf Club, in Co Kerry, has for many years been running conservation programmes on its links and includes the natterjack on its logo. It has ponds on the links and has won a European award for its efforts. Between April and June, golfers regular report hearing the calls of amorous males. The Castlegregory area, in the Dingle Peninsula, is also home to the species which is reported to be doing well there.

In recent times, the common toad has turned up in Co Donegal and is clearly thriving in an isolated wetland there. Many people believe it’s the first appearance of that toad in Ireland, but nobody is sure how it got here. Speculation is that somebody may have been keeping it as a sort of pet and then released it.

The common toad could be regarded as another invasive species and whether it is harmful to our ecology, and the natterjack, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a natterjack restoration project by the National Parks and Wildlife Service is set to continue for another three years. Since 2008, 48 farmers have participated in the project which will run until 2018.

Under the scheme, each farmer digs and manages two ponds for the natterjack. A total of €96,000 has been spent since 2012 and tenders are being sought as part of a monitoring project until 2018. The natterjack is protected under the EU Habitats Directive which obliges member states to carry out conservation work for the species.

The natterjack population in Ireland is estimated at about 9,000. The toad does well in warm, sandy, wet areas and mild winters are also believed to help. Also found in France, Spain, and southern Sweden, nobody knows how it came to Ireland, but it was recorded in the Killorglin area of Co Kerry in 1805.


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