The natterjack toad is one of Britain’s rarest amphibians. It is restricted to three main habitat types, coastal dune systems, upper saltmarsh and lowland heath. Over the last century the natterjack toad has experienced a significant decline in population and range primarily as a result of habitat loss and fragmentation.

Around 50% of natterjack toad breeding sites can be found in Cumbria making the county the UK’s stronghold for these charismatic little creatures.

As part of ARC’s national natterjack toad conservation programme, we have teamed up with the Moorland Mousie Trust to resume conservation grazing on the Natterjack Nature Reserve at Sellafield in Cumbria. Sellafield is a small, but important private reserve owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The site supports natterjack toads, as well as slow-worms and adders.

The Moorland Mousie Trust promotes and protects the endangered rare-breed Exmoor pony. Their work focuses on providing a future for the excess foals that are removed from the moor each year during the annual pony herd gathering.

Staff and volunteers work with each foal, using natural horsemanship techniques, to familiarise the youngsters with human handling, wearing a headcollar and being led. After completing 'foal school' a new home is found for them either with a foster home or on a conservation grazing scheme. 

Two such Exmoor ponies, Martini and Moorhen, are now grazing at Sellafield and they will keep the grass on the site short, which is perfect for Cumbria’s rarest amphibians.

Yvette Martin, ARC’s Amphibian Conservation Officer, said “Native breed cattle are typically favoured by conservation organisations, ARC regularly use them, but conservation grazing should be adapted to the site and the objectives and goals you want to achieve.

The natterjack nature reserve at Sellafield is a wonderful site but not one without challenges. The site is difficult to access and ARC struggled for a number of years to find a grazier willing to walk animals a mile and a quarter up the beach from Seascale. The time and dedication the Moorland Mousie Trust devote to their animals means that Martini and Moorhen are used to human handling, they could be led up the beach without any risk to pedestrians. Both ponies have settled in and we are already starting to see a reduction in vegetation height. This will make movement across the site a lot easier for the natterjack toads, whose legs are shorter than their common counterparts meaning they crawl or run rather than hop.”

We hope that this is the start of a great partnership with the Moorland Mousie Trust and that we will soon see the fruits of the ponies’ labours with an increase in natterjack toad numbers in the not too distant future.

Although our volunteers check on the ponies regularly, we would greatly appreciate it if the local community could also keep an eye on them. If for any reason you think that either of the ponies are unwell or injured, please contact the Moorland Mousie Trust on 07710832512. The ponies’ health and diet are being monitored and controlled carefully, so if you do pop along to say hi, please refrain from feeding them.