200 Natterjack toadlets were released today onto a farm in Castlegregory, Co. Kerry, as part of a joint project between the NPWS and Fota Wildlife Park. valerie O'Sullivan

‘The future of agriculture’: 200 endangered natterjack toadlets released today in Co Kerry

It’s hoped the project will help protect the natterjack toadlets and enable them to return to its natural habitat.

A PROJECT WHICH has seen over 9,000 natterjack toadlets released in their native habitats has been described as the “future of agriculture” by one of the farmers involved.

The joint project between the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Fota Wildlife Park involves releasing endangered natterjack toadlets into ponds which have been specially created for them by local farmers.

The conservation efforts have focused on the toad’s natural habitat so that the species can breed and thrive.

It’s hoped that this will help protect the natterjack toadlets and enable them to return to its natural habitat.

The project began seven years ago and so far this year, over 1,600 toadlets have been released.

This afternoon, 200 were released onto Tommy Reidy’s farm in Castlegregory, Co Kerry.

Natterjack Toadlets Release NPWS5 The project has to date released over 9,000 toadlets in Co. Kerry. valerie O'Sullivan valerie O'Sullivan

“I was part of the initial NPWS Pond Creation scheme that was running a number of years back to set up the ponds,” Tommy Reidy told The Journal.

“I have two ponds on my grounds near a sensitive nature area where these toads would have existed at one point and it’s about a kilometre away from an existing population of toads.

“So they’re trying to encourage the toads to come back to this habitat that we’ve created for them so that there’s a viable population,” said Reidy.

Reidy described the initial scheme, set up around ten years ago, as a “learning curve” that helped the NPWS to “understand the full lifecycle and habits of the toad, and why they were doing things in certain habitats that they weren’t doing in others”.

“People that were involved in the original scheme were given priority for the new scheme,” said Reidy, “because there’s a certain amount of learning already incurred there and it’s a natural progression to the next phase.”

Captive Rearing

The newer scheme involves NPWS staff collecting spawn and eggs from ponds, which are brought to Fota Wildlife Park where they are cared for and reared in special holding tanks.

This approach, known as captive rearing, has been shown to reduce their mortality rate to as low as 25%.

The natterjack has a mortality rate of 90% in the wild.

Following metamorphosis, the toadlets are returned to their native Kerry. 

Natterjack Toadlets Release NPWS2 Natterjack toadlets welcomed home to the Kingdom. valerie O'Sullivan valerie O'Sullivan

“Foto Wildlife Park can give the spawn the kind of attention that it needs in those early stages,” said Reidy.

“One of the big issues with cultivating in the natural environment, where they don’t have a very strong population, is that there’ll be a high mortality rate because there’s so much competition and they’re eaten by other predators like dragonflies.

“The chances of them surviving in an area where there isn’t a viable population is small.”

In order to survive, the toads need access to shallow, sunny ponds to breed and avoid predators.

Reidy added: “They cultivate and care for the frog in a controlled environment, and then Foto brings them back to where they originate from, like my site, and release them as we did today.

“The hope is that they will take hold there and expand over time.

“There are very viable populations not far from myself and we’re trying to spread them around to help re-establish the toads where they once were.”

Reidy told The Journal that numerous factors can impact upon the toad, “like pond size and that fact that some of the ponds will dry out in certain times of the year and impact the lifecycle of the toad”.

Natterjack Toadlets Release Tommy Reidy Organic Farmer, Tommy Reidy, Castlegregory, and Bríd Colhoun, NPWS Conservation Ranger, releasing Natterjack toadlets today. valerie O'Sullivan valerie O'Sullivan

However, the weather this year has been favourable for the natterjack.

Dr Ferdia Marnell from the NPWS explained: “Unlike last year, this year the weather has worked in favour of the natterjack, with a wet spring followed by warm temperatures in June.

“We saw the successful metamorphosis of toadlets in high numbers around Castlegregory.

“This is good news for a boom or bust species like the natterjack. We hope to see this year’s toadlets return here to breed over the coming years and reclaim their former home.”

Speaking to The Journal, farmer Tommy Reidy notes that the toads are quite noisy when in their breeding period.

“When the toads are breeding, you can hear them from quite some distance away,” said Reidy.

“They’re very loud when they are doing their mating calls and you can hear them from over a mile away on a calm evening.”

Reidy added that natterjacks “only exist in certain small pockets in the southwest of Ireland” and noted that the “NPWS is proactive in trying to preserve those spots that exist”.

Reidy also said he is happy to play his small part in helping the endangered species.

“I think the future of agriculture is going to be a lot more in that conservation space, particularly for smaller farms,” Reidy told The Journal.

“There’s a major role to be played for smaller farms to conserve biodiversity on the farms and if there’s an endangered species in the vicinity, to try projects like this that can pay the farmer to preserve the wildlife and habitat for these endangered species.”

Natterjack Toadlets Release NPWS14 Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan, right, John McLoughlin of Fota Wildlife Park, left, and Dr Ferdia Mansell of the NPWS, releasing Natterjack toadlets today. valerie O'Sullivan valerie O'Sullivan

Reidy said other local farmers are joining the scheme and he described it as an “opportunity to build a community of people who have an understanding of the requirements involved to successfully breed a viable population”.

“There are other farmers in the vicinity that are involved and the more we have learned about the toad and its breeding habits, the easier it becomes and we have a higher success rate for breeding.

“It’s very important for farmers to be involved in those consultations and that the farmer understands what needs to be done to maximise the chances of survival of the species.

“It’s a good scheme and hopefully there’ll be continued engagement from farmers.”

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