To the north of Morecambe Bay lies the little visited Duddon estuary with its spectacular views of the Lake District. Large numbers of waterbirds winter here and there is also an internationally important breeding population of Sandwich terns . Remarkably, the estuary also supports 20-25% of all natterjack toads in Britain, whose national population has fallen by as much as 80 percent in the last 100 years. BBC Radio Four’s Living World visited the beach at Haverigg on the estuary’s northern shore to meet the natters.
On the night of the recording, Lionel joins William Shaw, Cumbria Conservation Officer with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, on the dunes at sunset. As the sun dips below the horizon, they catch the first calls on the breeze. The natterjacks are emerging from their burrows to sing their deafening lovesongs. Picking their way by torch-light, Lionel and Bill discover toads massing in the pools, on the sand and in the grass. Toad-on-the-sole is something to avoid; Bill confesses that this was his first mortifying experience with a Natterjack many years ago. The Natterjack toad is much smaller than the common toad with a bold yellow stripe down its back. They switch their torches off. Soon a ratchet sound starts up cranking up to the full-on mating call. Irresistible. [Listen]