06/05/18. Sandscale Haws. Searching for Natterjack Toads.

I’ve known about Sandscale Haws for a while; I visited the first time last year, and my arrival was timed precisely for the most amazing rain and windstorm.  The new carpark was not yet complete; there was no-one about, and it was almost dark.  But, I walked into the rain through some short sand-dunes to some of the breeding ponds of the Natterjack Toad.    There was little to see; and less to hear, but I knew I should return during their breeding season … Spring of 2018.

So, I finally made it back this past Bank Holiday weekend.  Apparently, the toads are most active on warm nights, so this was a fortuitous choice.  This was to be the warmest early Spring Bank Holiday weekend in some years.

Sandscale Haws reserve is quite large, and owned/managed by the National Trust.   It is actually very popular with families, with dog-walkers, runners.   This is wonderful, though it makes field recording a bit of a challenge.  The reserve is also on the beautiful, but somewhat exposed, Duddon Estuary and Sands; and this means lots of sounds from across the estuary, and indeed from behind near the regional airport and I think there must be a shipping port of some kind there too.  The recording below will include some of these elements!

First, some pictures.   Walking on the sands is a bit like how I imagine parts of the moon.  Quite vast, barren (but not), disturbed by man (though temporarily here, thanks to the tides), full of surprises.  In contrast, it is also an area rich in wildlife; they can be seen and heard flying in, and settling in for the night, and flying off in large groups to evade birds of prey.

I found my way up some very high sand dunes and then down again into the area shown in the photo at the top.   There was a stiled electric fence to navigate; normally not difficult but I was carrying tripods and a chair; both good conductors!  within the stiled area is a herd of cows; and I believe they have a role to play in the recording.  Once over the stile, I sat for quite a long time just listening to the birds and waiting for the toads.

There was a great sense of peace.  Just the sun setting and nature responding. A singular snipe emerged as a key ghostly/shimmering audial feature, though also present were sandpipers, pipits, gulls, warblers and more.   There are also cows, hence the electric fence.  And, very faintly, can be heard the seals on Walney Island.

I was there for quite a while, but then realised it was growing dark and still no toads, so reluctantly returned to the shore, navigating the recently familiar, but in the dusk seemingly less so, path back over the electric fence stile, and through the sand dune grasses and eventually back to the shore.

From there I headed along the beach towards the car park, but shortly was summoned back to the summits of a hard-to-climb sand dune when I heard the toads.    They started around 9:30pm; about 90 minutes after sunset.   On the recording this is about minute 27.

The view below is back to the estuary from my dune ascent; the toads were active in the opposite direction, within the low damp areas between the dunes.   The toads provide a dominant background to all other sounds in the area.


Eventually I had to wend my way back to the National Trust car park.   What a place; wild and calming and exhilarating all at the same time!




  1. Jennifer Berry May 17, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    Stunning pics and sounds



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