They are one of the UK's rarest amphibians, found in just a handful of strongholds around the country.

Now, experts fear that at one of these - at a beauty spot on the Norfolk coast - the natterjack toad may be on the brink of extinction.

Drought and contaminated water is contributing to the decline of the olive-green animals at Winterton Dunes - which had been identified as one of just 60 colonies of the toad in the county.

Until the 1990s, the Winterton Dunes nature reserve supported a major Natterjack colony, but Natural England says that has since collapsed to the point of "possible local extinction".

The mainly nocturnal toads, which can live for up to 15 years and measure up to 8cm in length, breed in warm, shallow pools on sand dunes.

But ecologists say contamination of the groundwater has caused a decline in the Natterjack population, while the water table is too low for ephemeral pools to form naturally.

Eastern Daily Press: The Natterjack toad is on the brink of local extinction at WintertonThe Natterjack toad is on the brink of local extinction at Winterton (Image: South Downs Centre)

Natural England, the government's natural environmental advisor, says no breeding has occurred at the site since 2018.

Two individuals were recorded in 2022, but there have been no recorded sightings this year.

But there are plans to help return the Natterjack toad population to the Norfolk coast, by installing artificial ponds and relocating toads to Winterton from elsewhere.

Eastern Daily Press: Winterton DunesWinterton Dunes (Image: Newsquest)

A spokesman for Natural England said the organisation was tendering for the creation of breeding ponds.

He said Winterton is one of the driest parts of England and the new pond designs aim to address the issues of drought and polluted groundwater in the area.

There is precedent for such relocations. One of the other Norfolk sites where Natterjack toads can be found is at Holme Dunes, where toads from Winterton were taken in 1982.

Eastern Daily Press: Winterton DunesWinterton Dunes (Image: Newsquest)

That was the first successful translocation from one dune system in the UK to another.

There are also Natterjack toad colonies at Holkham and Syderstone Common, near Fakenham.



Eastern Daily Press: A Natterjack toadletA Natterjack toadlet (Image: National Trust)

The amphibian is also known as the 'Running toad', because it tends to run instead of walking or hopping.

The toad is listed as endangered, with its numbers having declined by up to 80pc since the early 20th century.

In the spring, the males sing together at night to attract females and their calls can be heard up to a mile away.

The olive-green toads, with a distinguishing yellow stripe down their backs, can be seen from March to September.

Females lay spawn in long strings, with one row of eggs per string.