Natterjack Habitat Grant13/11/2007
Ireland's only toad, the natterjack, is to get help from up to 100 North Kerry farmers to extend its habitat in the Castlemaine Harbour area and at Fermoyle.
An 'extend-a-habitat' scheme for Ireland's only toad is being funded by the National Parks & Wildlife Service and supported by the Department of Agriculture & Food. The scheme allows for the creation of habitat ponds and the subsequent maintainance of 'natterjack habitat areas' over a five year period.
It is thought that the toad was once much more widespread in North Kerry, and that its range decreased between 1800 and 1970. Since 1970 the population range seems to have stabilized, however, it appears that some populations may have become biologically isolated leading to a smaller gene pool. Inbreeding could result in reduced genetic diversity and subsequent local population extinction.
Natterjack toads need pond habitats in sandy soil (for hibernation burrowing) that have very specific conditions.Some of these include water and vegetation free of pesticides; few or no predators (beetle and dragonfly larvae attack their eggs and tadpoles). It is recommended that the vegetation is cut between September and March each year. The area surrounding the ponds must be either free of trees or contain very few, certainly afforestation is prohibited. Slurry and fertilizer should not be used within 30 meters of the ponds. Adult toads usually stay within 200m of their pond. This behaviour is taken into consideration in the scheme. Areas surrounding the ponds should have a scattering of logs and large stones. The nocturnal natterjack toad hides under these during the day. Dry stone walls are often used for hibernation, and under the grant scheme it is recommended that walls up to 200m from the pond be maintained and kept free of vegetation.
The scheme runs for five years and encourages farmers and landowners to dig between 1 to 3 saucer-like ponds to a depth of 1 meter. The ponds should fall in the size range of 7m by 7m to a maximum of 15m by 15m and have gently sloping edges with the surround area (the 'natterjack habitat areas' minimum 1 ha.) maintained (usually by grazing). It is recommended that the spoil from these excavations be placed on the north side of the ponds in the hope that they will be used for hibernation.
Ponds must be created in the first year of the scheme. The encouragement takes the form of up to Euro500 per pond, to a maximum of Euro4500.
Undoubtedly, many people in the north Kerry area will support the scheme regardless of the fiscal incentive, as they are rightly proud of hosting this rare creature in their landscape. As young natterjack toads often travel relatively long distances at night during their first two years, it is hoped that they will discover the new habitats in a season or two.
© Paul Whelan, 2007
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