ARC's Species on the Edge Project Officer Liam Templeton and Scottish Project Officer Rachael Cooper-Bohannon met with their RSPB counterparts Jack Barton and Ed Tooth for a walk at RSPB’s Mersehead nature reserve to discuss future plans for the Coastal Treasures project.

Shortly after assuming my role as Species on the Edge Project Officer, I was fortunate enough to meet with my line manager Rae, along with fellow Species on the Edge project officer Jack Barton and his line manager Ed Tooth, both of whom are employed by the RSPB. After an informal catch-up over lunch, we decided to pay a visit to the nearby RSPB Mersehead nature reserve. As well as being a scenic coastal destination, Mersehead is also a key strategic site for delivering the aims of Species on the Edge as it is home to an array of species, including the natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita).

Solway SotE team photo - Mersehead RSPB Reserve
(l-r Jack Barton, Rachael Bohannon-Cooper, Ed Tooth,
Liam Templeton)

As the group and I walked around the reserve, we spotted several overwintering bird species, including a rare leucistic barnacle goose, and observed some of the breeding habitats that are being managed for the natterjack toad. While there were signs of ongoing maintenance work, the water level of the breeding pools appeared to be quite low, indicative of an unusually dry winter. Habitat management, such as scrape creation and scrub clearance, are among the planned activities at this site as part of Species on the Edge, as well as an overall increased capacity for species monitoring and public engagement.

Mersehead, which came under RSPB ownership in 1993, has been an important site for natterjack toad recovery since 1999 when ARC helped to coordinate a translocation from the neighbouring Gillfoot bay population. This intervention was deemed necessary due to to the loss of habitat as a result of the expansion of the Southerness Holiday Park. Since then, the site has served as a bastion for the species, benefiting from a dedicated roster of staff and volunteers to carry out structured monitoring programs and habitat maintenance, as well as serving as a venue for public engagement.

Coastal erosion, as a result of sea level rise, is rapidly depleting the characteristic saltmarsh, or “merse”, further restricting the species’ available habitat. In recent years, Mersehead has been devastated by severe winter storms, destroying much of the dune systems that the natterjacks depend on for their overwintering grounds and causing massive tidal inundations to the inland fields in which the breeding pools are located. In spite of these challenges, the local population is seen to be thriving and remains a beacon of inspiration for the species’ recovery throughout the region.

Mersehead also boasts historic records of the elusive tadpole shrimp (Triops cancriformis), a species that is only known to occur at two locations in the whole of Great Britain, namely the New Forest and Dumfries & Galloway. Although the species hasn’t been recorded at the site for decades, Mersehead has been identified as a potential site for translocation of adults hatched from eggs collected from WWT Caerlaverock, some 16 kilometres Northeast of Mersehead, and raised ex-situ by licensed professionals. If successful, this translocation will effectively double the local range of the Tadpole Shrimp and help to re-establish a healthy and functioning metapopulation.

Species on the Edge is a landmark multi-year conservation project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by NatureScot. It involves a consortium of seven environmental NGOs, including Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and RSPB Scotland, who together make up the Rethink Nature partnership. Nine species-specific plans will aim to deliver conservation benefits for over 37 declining and threatened species associated with Scotland’s coastal and island habitats. Coastal Treasures of the Eastern Solway will be led by ARC in Dumfries & Galloway with a particular emphasis on conserving the natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita).