A rescue mission to save a rare species of 'running' toad in Scotland, has succeeded increasing its numbers by more than 400 per cent over three years.

RSPB Scotland started work in 2013 at Mersehead in Dumfries & Galloway, after severe winter storms destroyed the sand dunes natterjack toads use for hibernation. The Solway Firth is the only place natterjacks can be found in Scotland and there were serious concerns that the Mersehead population might have been decimated.

They are confined to coastal sand dune systems where they feed on beetles, sandhoppers and other invertebrates. Because of their short legs, they are quick on land and actually known to run rather than hop.

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Intensive survey work began counting male toads, by pinpointing their rasping call – the loudest of any amphibian in Europe. New shallow ponds were also created to help them breed.

At the start of the project there were around 30 breeding male toads counted at the RSPB reserve and by the end, in 2016, there were 150. A ‘mugshot database’ of natterjack photographs ensured the same individuals were not being counted night after night. Each carries a unique wart pattern and yellow ‘racing stripe’ on its back, which acts like a human fingerprint.

Females are more difficult to survey, due to their habit of only visiting the ponds for a couple of nights a year to lay their eggs. But the amount of spawn laid each year was monitored.

James Silvey, RSPB Scotland’s Species and Habitats Officer, said: “It’s fantastic to see that the natterjack population is responding to the habitat management we’ve put in place. The evidence of toads breeding in three of the five ponds we made for them in 2015 is a real highlight."

Three large shallow lagoons are planned. Scrub will also be removed across the dunes to help further breeding, so that the toads can be heard across the length of the coast as they once would have been.