Wednesday, 16 July 2014

What are you up to this summer?

 Thursday 24th July 2-4pm Creatures of the Estuary
Use pond nets to fish for a variety of weird and wonderful sea creatures in the Duddon Estuary at Low tide. Nets and trays are provided.

Monday 28th July 1-4pm Family Beach Events Day
A variety of fun family events run by the National Trust, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and Love my Beach. Activities include beach-combing, pond dipping and a sand sculptures competition. Come along at any time between 1pm and 4pm
Thursday 31st July Stream Dipping
Explore the fascinating under water world of a stream using pond nets to catch all kinds of weird and wonderful mini beasts.  

Thursday 7th Aug 2-4pm Mini-Beast Safari
Take a journey in to sand dunes to explore the hidden world of mini-beasts.
Thursday 14th Aug 2-4pm Sand sculptures
Show off your artistic talents by creating natural sculptures from sand and shells on our lovely beach

Thursday 21st Aug 2-4pm Wildlife Explorer Trail
Bring your detective skills with you as you investigate what lives amongst the dunes

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Half Term Happenings

Mini-beast safari 

Thursday 29th May 2pm-4pm

Take a journey in to the sand dunes to explore the hidden world of minibeasts.
  • Free activity, all equipment provided. 
  • All children to be supervised by an adult. 
  • Booking not required

More Information: Jo Day - Sandscale Ranger, 01229 462855,

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Coralroot Orchids are Back!

• Coralroot Orchid grows in the dune slacks amongst Creeping Willow. It is
generally found in the younger dune slacks within relatively open areas.
Associated species include Variegated Horsetail, Glaucous Sedge, Early Marshorchid,
Marsh Helleborine and Round-leaved Wintergreen.

• Plants are typically less than 10cm tall and do not tend to stand out amongst
the other vegetation.

• The orchid derives much of its nutrients from a fungus that grows in
association with Creeping Willow.

• Over 1,700 plants were found in intensive surveys carried out here in 1989.
Recent counts are much lower with the highest being 332 in 2009.

• Coralroot Orchid appears to be declining at Sandscale Haws and on other
sites in the UK. Reasons may include succession in dune slacks with few
new areas being created as well as changes in both climate and hydrology.

Please note: Coralroot Orchid is extremely difficult to find at Sandscale
Haws. To avoid any accidental damage to populations we encourage you to
contact the Rangers for advice before visiting. At times it may be possible to
arrange a site visit with a Ranger to view the plants

Call 01229 462855 for details or email

Friday, 9 May 2014

Toad Story

Guests on our natterjack toad guided walk
We are lucky to be part of the Duddon Estuary which is home to approximately 25% of the entire population of natterjack toads in the UK.  Here at Sandscale Haws we have about 1000 breeding adults and are one of the best places to see them up close.  As they are such a vulnerable species, it is illegal to not only handle them, but to also disturb them in any part of their life cycle.  For this reason Neil and myself hold a license, this allows us to monitor their population and give educational demonstrations out on site.
By monitoring the size of the toad population over many years, we can ensure that we have the balance of our reserve management just right.  Our tall, rank vegetation is grazed by our livestock, this keeps the grasses and rushes low in order for other flora to thrive.  Trampling of the ground by cattle also exposes bare sandy patches which allow pioneer plant species to establish, as well as providing areas for the natterjacks to burrow into for shelter.  This rich floral community provides habitat for thousands of insects of which our toads will amble after for it's dinner.  Natterjacks being short-limbed need this flora to be kept short to journey over, this is done by  the grazing.  In summary, by keeping the numbers of grazing animals at the right levels, in the right place, we can ensure a happy, healthy population of natterjack toads.
Fresh spawn. Photograph by Rod Mills
 Monitoring is done by walking around the margins of all our pools at least once a week during breeding season (mid-April and mid-June) and recording the number of spawn strings seen.  Fresh-laid spawn can be easily recognised as a double row of spawn, after a few days it becomes transformed in to a single row (see previous blog for photos).

Natterjack toad on left, Common Toad on right
The skin of toads appears warty with large glands behind their eyes.  The largest distinguishing feature to separate the natterjack from the common toad is the yellow line down the middle of it's back.  Every line is different and can be used to identify an individual, very occasionally, though, you will come across a natterjack with no line.  In this instance the colour of the iris gives the game away, with the common toad having a copper or amber colour and the natterjack having golden irises.
Natterjacks are generally smaller reaching a length up to 7cm, with the common toad getting up to 8cm.  Between the sexes, the female is usually the largest, requiring more body weight for egg production.  The male can also be recognised by two darker inner edges of the first two toes on it's front legs.  These are called nuptial pads and help him provide a firm grip on his female whilst in amplexus (mating).  Along with darker toes, the males "wear the trousers" in the toad world and when on his back can be seen to have a line of darker pigment on his back legs that the female toad doesn't have.
The male toad's nuptial pads
The males "wearing the trousers"
The male toads call from the edges of breeding pools to attract the females over. By inflating their vocal sacks their chorus can be heard up to 1km away, making them the loudest amphibian in Europe

The male toad uses his nuptial pads to keep a firm grip on his female whilst in amplexus
2014 monitoring so far...

So this is what our more mature spawn looks like at the wait they are tadpoles!  It is not possible to distinguish between the species of tadpoles at this stage, however the common toad tadpoles are marginally bigger as they were laid earlier in the season.  Also side by side the natterjack tadpoles have a slightly more pointed nose and appear less active than the common toad tadpoles.  The common toad tadpoles like to move about as a shoal in the deeper areas of a pool, whereas the natterjacks are loners and prefer the warmer more shallow areas.  As they grow, natterjack tadpoles will develop a white chin, and as they grow legs they get their yellow stripe, starting in the centre of their backs.  Hopefully in the weeks to come I can show you more of their development...

Summary of spawning history

Number of pools used
Spawn count total
385 so far

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Natterjack Toad Guided Walks 18th and 25th April 2014

It is illegal to disturb natterjack toads in any stage of their life-cycle without a license, a guided walk by our licensed rangers ensures the best experience of these amazing creatures.

18th and 25th April 2014 7.30pm from our car park (Hawthwaite Lane, Roanhead, LA14 4QJ)
The walk is about 1.5miles over uneven terrain and beach, passing water courses.  Please bring a torch and warm clothing.
2014 The story so far...
The evening of the 30th March was kick off for the new natterjack toad breeding season, as the males started calling beside the pools.
It wasn't until the 7th April that we had actually recorded any spawn strings.  This is a freshly laid spawn string still formed as a double helix.  Looking into the water from above they look like black bootlaces.
After a few warm days the spawn have separated in their jelly strands.
A week on, since conditions have been suitable, they have ingested their jelly and have started to look like little black commas.

Stay tuned to see our little babies grow up...

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Love My Beach!

Thousands of people come each year to visit our stunning beach but we need to make sure we keep it this way.  Threats from pollution in the sea, litter and dog poo can all hinder your enjoyment and damage habitats and kill wildlife.
A European Directive coming into effect from 2015 will mean that higher standards of water quality will need to be met in order for our water to be safe for swimming and paddling.
By working together with businesses, farmers, visitors, Town and Parish Councils and volunteers we want to exceed these required standards by 2015.

We kicked off our membership of LoveMyBeach with a good old beach clean, which attracted 12 people who collected 320kg of litter.

If you would like to get involved our next Beach Clean is 12th April 10.30a.m from our car park, Roanhead, Hawthwaite Lane, Near Barrow in Furness LA14 4QJ

For more information call 01229 462855 or visit the LoveMyBeach website at

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

By request...

So February started out with yet another high tide taking out our salt marsh fence

We also had further erosion to our rock armour protecting the fishing huts at the southern area of the reserve

I was allowed out on day release to visit Nether Wasdale in the Western Valleys.  Here I was planting native trees for a more natural transition from wooden valley floor to open hillside

I had another excuse to go walkabout when I took some of our volunteers up to Wathenlath Tarn in Borrowdale to learn how to hedgelay.  This is brilliant experience, sharing skills and knowledge from other Rangers in the Lakes.

Back on site and we have a few slacks like this that have become overgrown with wood small-reed which the cattle don't like to eat.  This lessens plant diversity in this area.
Therefore we invited the boys in from the Western Valleys and the other Rangers from our patch with their brushcutters and got them to work, acting like mechanical cows.

Volunteers from Sizergh, including Tom Price the Gardner came and raked the reed off, as well as chopping down some tough hawthorn, and removed it from site.

Lets hope after all that hard work the cows will now get in there and stay on top of their munching.  With Spring just around the corner, it will be great to see what pops up in its place.

Talking of popping up, we had yet more Snow bunting.  The first flock we recorded got up to 21 in number, but since then only 9 have stayed on.

So the news you've all been dying to hear is...we've finished the first stage of our boardwalk project.  To open it (using loppers and hazard tape) we invited Ann Thurlow, Mayor of Dalton-in-Furness, who we're also honoured to have as one of our volunteers!

Whilst I skip off into the sun, Ranger Dog Bob looks on in sheer embarrassment that I'm his!