RMK to rehabilitate habitats of the rare natterjack toad on Harilaid 22.02

This year, RMK will be rehabilitating the original coastal terrain in Vilsandi National Park, located on Harilaid Peninsula; thereby improving habitat conditions for the natterjack toad, a Category I protected species.

To ensure the survival of this rare species, a 36 hectare stand of pine planted on Harilaid in the 1970s will be removed, and pines that have begun to grow along 21 hectares on the strip connecting Harilaid to the mainland – currently still relatively exposed – will be cut. According to Kaupo Kohv, Conservation Management Specialist, Harilaid is a historically important location in terms of the monitoring of rare plants, seabirds and coastal processes, as a result of which one of Estonia’s first nature conservation areas was established there in 1924. “As a result of forest planting efforts following World War II, the area of forest on Harilaid has increased approximately 16-fold, as a result of which there has been a decline in the area of dune biotic communities that are exposed and constantly changing and, with that, also in habitats suitable for the natterjack toad,” said Kaupo Kohv, outlining the reasons for the works.

Harilaid is inhabited by one of the three populations of the natterjack still surviving on Saaremaa. “This is a species for which suitable habitats include exposed dunes or coastal meadows with low-growing or sparse plant cover,” explained Tõnu Talvi, Conservation Biologist at the Estonian Environmental Board, adding that the current thick, rampant pine forest on the peninsula and the now overgrown dunes are unsuitable for the natterjack toad because of the water and light conditions there. “A partial removal of the stand of young planted pine is necessary in order to restore a suitable migration corridor for this rare amphibian between various habitat locations and thereby to ensure the preservation of the species on Harilaid. This will also no doubt favourably impact many other species inhabiting the dunes, such as the protected sea holly.”

The works on Harilaid will target a total of 57 hectares, of which 36 hectares are areas with a dense cover of wooded flora. Older trees or groups of trees will be left standing in the immediate vicinity of the hiking trail on Harilaid. Cutting will be done in two stages: this coming spring, cutting will begin near the car park on Harilaid and, starting in September, it will be carried out in the rest of the area. Cuttings will be left to dry through February 2014, and removed definitively by 10 April 2014. The works will be carried out in full compliance with conservation guidelines, and every effort will be made to ensure minimal disturbance of animal and plant life.

The natterjack toad (juttselg-kärnkonn or kõre in Estonian) is one of our smallest, yet loudest, amphibians, whose hallmark loud rattle was a common springtime sound in the coastal areas and on the islands in Western Estonia in the first half of the 20th century. Since the 1960s/1970s, the population numbers of the species have been in steady decline in Estonia, having currently reached a stage where the species has lost nearly all of the area where it used to occur, surviving in just 15 isolated communities. The cause for the decline of the natterjack toad is the loss of habitat due to the end of cattle grazing, the forestation of coastal areas, and the draining of coastal meadows.

RMK is a profit-making state agency established under the Forestry Act, aimed at sustainable and efficient management of the state forest. RMK grows reforestation material, organises forest works, executes practical nature protection works and is engaged in forest management and timber sales. Additionally, RMK establishes opportunities for nature walking and forest holidays in recreation areas, in Estonia’s five national parks and almost 40 other protected areas, and shapes nature awareness. RMK manages 38% of Estonia’s forests.

Further information:
Kaupo Kohv
Conservation Management Specialist, RMK
Telephone: 5349 7924
E-mail: kaupo.kohv@rmk.ee

Tõnu Talvi
Conservation Biologist, Estonian Environmental Board
Telephone: 501 6869
E-mail: tonu.talvi@keskkonnaamet.ee