It has been an exciting year for ARC in Cumbria. At the end of last year ARC joined forces with another conservation charity, The Moorland Mousie Trust, to resume grazing at the natterjack toad reserve at Sellafield which ARC manage on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Managing vegetation on the reserve has always been a challenge, issues with access mean that animals have to be lead up the beach from nearby Seascale and the fact that the reserve is so rich in wildlife, including the UKs only venomous species of snake, the adder (Viper berus) put a lot of potential graziers off.

Thankfully, the Moorland Mousie Trust weren’t deterred, they are used to working on sites that are rich in wildlife. In October 2022 two beautiful Exmoor ponies (Moorhen and Martini) joined the ARC team at Sellafield. At first progress seemed slow but by March 2023 it was clear the two ponies were making a real difference. By May 2023 the site had almost transformed. The grass which was previously tall and rank is now short (<5cm in height) allowing natterjack toads easy access to breeding habitat. Where it was previously impossible to tell if the pools had been used for breeding, natterjack tadpoles can now be seen swimming in areas of open water. All of this despite a delay in pond maintenance work, specifically reed removal which is now scheduled for this coming autumn. Martini and Moorhen have taken a particular liking to nibbling on the seed heads of the reeds, this has helped to open up the once dense canopy and allowing sunlight to penetrate the shallow water beneath.

Yvette Martin, ARC’s Amphibian Conservation Officer said “When visiting the site in June with our longstanding volunteer recorder Mark Hampton I was thrilled to see hundreds of natterjack toadlets emerging from both pools. Tadpoles with small white chin spots were clearly visible in the shallow water, some dashing to hide under the sediment, a sign that they are close to metamorphosis”.

Mark who has monitored the site for over 5 years was thrilled that the hard work was finally paying off, he said “we aren’t quite there yet but things are certainly looking up”. 

With the pools scheduled to be scraped of vegetation by the NDA in autumn ARC has high hopes for natterjack toad recovery at Sellafield. Yvette Martin added “The changes we have seen at Sellafield could not have been achieved without partnership working. ARC would like to thank the Moorland Mousie Trust for their continued support over the last 12 months. A big thank you also goes to Network Rail and the NDA for re-fencing the site back in 2021. To Mark Fussell and Tim and Lesley Barlow for their dedicated pony checks and to Mark Hampton for persevering with natterjack toad surveys over the last 5 years”.

For those of you lucky enough to live on the south Cumbria coast you might also notice that ARC have installed a new information board on the reserve. The board explains about the history of the site, the species you might find here and the management needs. The board also acts as a quick reminder of the protection status of the natterjack toad and we kindly ask that all persons passing through the reserve respect the right of way, it is designated as a footpath, not a bridal way, and we encourage cyclists to either use an alternative route or dismount. The proximity of the natterjack toad breeding pools to the footpath is less than 1m and we don’t want any toadlets getting squashed.  

Locals who have become accustom to seeing Martini and Moorhen on the reserve, please be aware that they will soon be taking a short break from their grazing duties. The ponies are due to leave the reserve in late August and will return in late March 2024. We are excited to see what happens next.