27/06/2014 : Bumper year for endangered toads in Kerry
Friday, 27 June, 2014: Although they were categorised as Endangered in the recent All-Ireland Red List, and their conservation status was assessed as Unfavourable in Ireland’s recent national report to the European Commission, things may finally be looking up for the natterjack toad after a bumper year in County Kerry.
Over the last week, staff of the National Parks & Wildlife Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht have recorded a huge abundance of young toadlets emerging from breeding sites in the Iveragh and Dingle peninsulas, giving hope for a change in fortune for the protected species.
When the toads were first noticed in Kerry in 1805, it quickly became clear that they were widely distributed around Castlemaine Harbour from Inch in the north to Rosbeigh in the south. Much later they were also discovered to be breeding at Castlegregory on the north side of the Dingle peninsula. But the first half of the 20th century saw a significant programme of land drainage and reclamation around Castlemaine harbour. Many coastal wetlands, where the toad bred, were lost. By the 1980s, toads were restricted to the Castlegregory area and about 10 isolated locations around Castlemaine.
This year saw a very wet May in Kerry, which provided plenty of water for the toads to breed in. This was followed by a warm start to June which warmed up the ponds and allowed the toad tadpoles to develop and emerge quickly before the ponds dried up. “Toads are naturally a boom or bust species” explained Dr Ferdia Marnell of the Department’s Scientific Unit. “They only need a good year every 4 or 5 years to keep a breeding population going. In good years, when everything goes right, thousands of young toads can emerge onto land. 2014 has been the best year I ever remember, and I’ve been studying them for nearly 20 years.”
Once out of the ponds these young toads will spend 2 to 3 years on land feeding on small insects, snails and spiders until they are ready to breed themselves. During this period on land the young animals also disperse. This dispersal provides for genetic exchange with adjacent ponds and allows new ponds to be colonised. The problem for the toad has been that there were no new ponds to disperse into and so populations became isolated and prone to extinction.
In 2008 NPWS initiated a scheme to pay farmers to dig and manage ponds for toads. To date 96 new ponds have been dug within the natterjack toad’s range in Kerry. The initial signs are encouraging with 20 of these ponds already colonised naturally by toads and many of them producing good numbers of toadlets this year.
The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, T.D., welcomed the news:
“We are legally obliged to bring the natterjack into favourable conservation status, so I am delighted to hear that the toads are doing so well this year. The local farmers have played an important role in providing and managing habitat for this rare animal and it is rewarding to see that effort paying dividends.”