22.08.2019 - The season for the creation of further ponds in the biosphere reserve has started
Hitzacker, Hannover – Bombina bombina is the melodious scientific name of the fire-bellied toad. More than 98% of the Lower Saxony population of the fire-bellied toad lives in the biosphere reserve ‘River Elbe Valley Lower Saxony’. But here also the population has been significantly declining over the last years. For this reason, the LIFE project “Flood Plain Amphibians” started in 2016. It is a partnership between NABU Lower Saxony, the biosphere reserve administration and AmphiConsult. The project is funded by the European Union.
“Fire-bellied toads need sunny, shallow water bodies to reproduce”, explains the project member Rebecca Heiligtag. She is responsible for the river Elbe valley area. Ideally, the ponds should be surrounded by cattle grazing land, so that the fire-bellied toads are not injured or killed during the mowing of grassland. In addition, grazing cattle prevent that reed and shrubs grow and quickly cover the pond surface. In the impressions that the cattle hoofs leave behind in the soft soil, young toads can find protection and food.
In the last three years, 23 ponds for the fire-bellied toad have been excavated in the grassland areas around the lakes Großer See and Kleiner See south of the village of Stapel in the parish of Neuhaus. At the moment, work for the creation of further ponds for the fire-bellied toad is starting. A further 17 new ponds will be created in the parish of Neuhaus. In addition, the diggers of the civil engineering company will excavate ponds in the Danneberg marsh for the first time. Close to a dozen new homes for the fire-bellied toad are being created in the area of the Dambeck meadows and in the area of the village of Penkefitz.
“A further 60 ponds are planned and are due to be implemented by the end of the project in 2023”, Rebecca Heiligtag sketches out the target. In addition, stone heaps covered with soil are being created as overwintering habitats as part of the LIFE project ‘Floodplain Amphibians’. Drainage channels, locally known as ‘Grüppen’, are being blocked to retain more water in the refuge areas of the fire-bellied toads. Most actions are implemented on land owned by the federal state of Lower Saxony. Some private land owners have also been recruited, who are providing their land to protect the habitat of the fire-bellied toad.
Photo: “Excavation of a shallow pond for fire-bellied toads” © BRV/T. Keienburg
Photo: “A calling fire-bellied toad” © BRV/R. Heiligtag
13.08.2019 - Ten new ponds are currently being created in the nature conservation area Schweinebruch on land owned by Celle Town Council. This work is part of the LIFE project Floodplain Amphibians. They are intended to serve the tree frog as breeding ponds. The tree frog only occurs in individual specimens in this area. In addition, two existing ponds are being enhanced. One further pond had already been cleared of vegetation casting a shadow during the winter.
Extensive preparatory work had been required, before the site work could start. It was particularly important to establish the ground water levels throughout the year. This is of particular importance for the water level in the ponds later on. The aim is that the ponds are filled with water for a sufficient period, so that tadpoles can successfully transform into young frogs. Later during the summer however, the ponds are supposed to dry out, so that fish and other predators of spawn and tadpoles cannot permanently settle in the ponds.
Celle Town Council provided the land for the creation of new ponds. Celle town council also supports the project financially. The sites are grassland areas being grazed extensively. In the future the ponds should also be grazed to prevent the rise of vegetation casting a shadow and the silting up of the ponds.
“Together with the ponds, which Celle Town Council has already newly created, this area here will see the creation of a habitat for the tree frog. It is large enough, so that the tree frog can survive in the long-term”, explains project manager Dr Markus Richter. “Outside the nature conservation area, the tree frog can hardly find any suitable habitats”.
The current drought favours the site works at Schweinebruch (photo: M. Richter)
Creation of a new pond at the Schweinebruch site (photo: M. Richter)
White storks at one of the newly created ponds (photo: M. Richter)
17.06.2019 This year, spawn for the breeding of fire-bellied toads has been collected at sites within the biosphere reserve ‘River Elbe Valley Lower Saxony ‘. Ten percent of the collected animals are being returned to the ponds, from which the spawn had been taken.
At Easter they had been collected and at Pentecost they returned. That is how you could summarise the time sequence of the fire-bellied toad breeding program for this year. The fire-bellied toad ‘Bombina bombina’ has become extinct in vast parts of Lower Saxony. Populations only remain at the biosphere reserve River Elbe Valley Lower Saxony. The NABU project ‘LIFE Floodplain Amphibians’ delivers the networking and management of three amphibian species in the river landscapes of the rivers Aller and Elbe in Lower Saxony. The project is in partnership with the administration for the large-scale protection area. The NABU project thereby makes a significant contribution to the preservation of biodiversity.
The fire-bellied toad has lost the largest part of its original distribution area in Lower Saxony over the last decades. The aim of the project is to restore this distribution area. “To achieve this, suitable habitats are being restored”, explains Dr Richter. This year, eggs for the breeding of the fire-bellied toad have been collected from two parts of the ‘River Elbe Valley Lower Saxony’ area, from the parish of Neuhaus and from the marshland around the village of Gartow. Ten percent of the collected animals are being returned to the ponds, where they had been taken from. “The survival rate in the field is on average under ten percent, so this procedure strengthens rather than weakens the population”, explains Dr Richter.
Spawn from only two ponds has been removed from the Parish of Neuhaus this year. One of the two ponds had fallen dry at the point of returning the young frogs, meaning a reproduction of the natural population would not have happened. Spawn from four ponds was removed from the marshland around Gartow. Due to thundery rainfall and a slightly raised water level of the River Elbe, the situation was better here. Whether the tadpoles have survived the drought in the remaining small puddles on site is doubtful, though. The reproduction of at least a part of the population could be secured. Due to low water levels, it is clearly visible that the young toads are enjoying themselves.
Photo: Ute Thiergärtner, young fire-bellied toads
24.05.2019 A study tour took the LIFE floodplain Amphibians project team to the habitats of the fire-bellied toad in Brandenburg and Eastern Poland. The aim of the tour was to get to know habitats of the toad in fenland areas. In Lower Saxony the current population of the fire-bellied toad is limited to the River Elbe valley. Part of the project is to reintroduce it to the fen habitats of the Dromling area near the City of Wolfsburg and lake Steinhude near Hanover.
The first stop of the tour was a place called Rhinluch northwest of Berlin. Dr Norbert Schneeweiß of the nature conservation station Rhinluch near the village of Linum led the expedition to several fire-bellied toad habitats. The species is well represented in the pond areas of the Linum. Even in a newly restored pond, individual calls of the toad could be heard. Important breeding areas are also large-scale shallow flooded wet meadows on boggy soil.
After short stops in the Uckermark region and the river Oder valley, the tour took us to the Biebrza National Park in eastern Poland. This national park is well known for its large-scale fen areas. Lars Biggs of Amphi International led the group to a diverse range of toad habitats. The fire-bellied toad lives less so in pristine open fens, but more so in the neighbouring cultural landscapes. In addition to oxbows in grassland, wet flooded meadows creating a shallow waterbody on boggy soils play an important role for the fire-bellied toad. This cultural landscape is characterised by the close vicinity of wet and dry habitats. The varied relief of the river valley is maintained here in its original state, leading to high levels of biodiversity. At one night-time excursion, ten different amphibian species were found on a single pasture.
“Fens and especially their margins, extensively used by agriculture are in principle suitable as fire-bellied toad habitats”, is the summary of Dr Markus Richter. “For our future planning, we should cast an eye on large-scale flooded grasslands.”
Photo: Fire-bellied toad, Biebrza
National Park, J. Neumann, excursion group: J. Neumann/ NABU Lower Saxony
22.05.2019 The youngest pupils get to know their environment. On 8 May, year 1 and year 2 of the primary school in the village of Neu Darchau went on a discovery tour to a fire-bellied toad pond in the biosphere reserve ‘River Elbe Valley Lower Saxony’.
There wasn’t much water in the pond, which last year had been used as a breeding pond for the fire-bellied toad. Despite this, the pupils were able to discover all kinds of exciting animals in the pond. After one hour of pond-dipping, we looked at he results of the individual groups. Each group presented its ‘special creature’.
At the end of the day the children were presented with a table mat featuring the fire-bellied toad. This way, the pupils will not forget this special animal and
hopefully will enjoy its calls in the future.
Photo: F. Bibelriether, Amphi Consult, pupils of the primary school in Neu Darchau look at the catch with interest.
22.05.2019 Despite the drought and the lack of water in the ponds, another 2.500 tadpoles of the fire-bellied toad moved into the breeding station.
At Easter, the fire-bellied toads along the river Elbe started breeding. The first eggs could be found in mid-April already. Until mid-May, 2.500 eggs were collected from the two project areas in the parish of Neuhaus and from the Elbe marshlands around the village of Gartow.
The particular feature this year was, that the toads avoided many of the traditionally visited breeding ponds due to the drought or poor water quality. The toads moved to neighbouring ponds, that had not been used for breeding previously. This shows again how important it is to have a high number of different types of water bodies available for the toads in one location, so that there is a chance for reproduction in every year.
Until the completion of the metamorphosis into young toads, the fire-bellied toads are kept at the breeding station to be brought into their target areas later on.
At least 10 percent of the metamorphosed young toads will be returned to the ponds they had been taken from. In nature, on average less then ten percent of tadpoles survive. So, the population providing individuals for breeding gets additional support from this program.
We are hoping for an increase of the river Elbe water level and plenty of rainfall, so that the ponds do not fall dry prematurely and the tadpoles can survive in their natural environment and metamorphose into young toads.
Photo: fire-bellied toad tadpoles feeding in the breeding station, Ute Thiergärtner, Amphi Consult
A 900-meter-long grazing fence was erected in the Vorsfelde district of the City of Wolfsburg during the last days of February. In the future, cattle are to graze on the 3.5 hectare fenced area owned by the City of Wolfsburg next to the river Aller. Their most important job is to keep the existing water bodies open. A few years ago, three large ponds had been created here. On their banks, willow, alder and birch trees grew quickly, so that the ponds were completely in the shade. That made the ponds unsuitable for most types of amphibians. The local NABU Wolfsburg branch carried out several measures to cut back the vegetation. This allowed individual tree frogs and greater crested newts to settle at these ponds. However, the trees grow again after every cutting-back, so that ongoing maintenance is required. In the future, this work will be done by grazing cattle.
In the autumn, a specialist company had cut back all shrubs and trees and thereby prepared the land for grazing. Tree frogs, great crested newts and many other species will benefit from much sunnier ponds in the future.
Photo: NABU Lower Saxony, Joachim Neumann
save the date: Saturday 6th of July 2019
NABU Lower Saxony offers a workshop on the topic of “Creation and
maintenance of amphibian breeding ponds” within the LIFE Project floodplain amphibians.
The workshop is organised in collaboration with the Lower Saxony group for field herpetology and ichthyofauna and the Environmental and Nature Protection Foundation Hondelage (Förderkreis Umwelt- und Naturschutz Hondelage e.V.). It is particularly for nature conservation volunteers. It will take place on Saturday 6th of July 2019 at the Nature Discovery Centre Hondelage (NaturErlebnisZentrum) Hondelage, postal address: In den Heistern 5c, 38108 Braunschweig.
The one-day workshop will cover all important aspects of the creation of amphibian breeding ponds, particularly for endangered species. In addition to aspects such as size, depth and pod hydrologiy for each target species it will also answer questions on choosing the right size, required permissions and how to find the right civil engineering company. The workshop will also cover costs and possible funding sources as well as the need for long-term maintenance and conservation actions. To round up the day the event will have an excursion to various water bodies in the Brunswick area.
Attendance of the workshop is free, but registration is required. The detailed program and a sign-up form will be published in due time on the webpage www.life-auenamphibien.com.
Image: Creation of a new pond, J. Neumann, NABU Lower Saxony
19,200 tiny fire-bellied toads will be released as part of the project. In 2018 about 2,600 toads were released.
Spawn from both sides of the river Elbe were collected from various water bodies within the Biosphere Reserve River Elbe Valley Lower Saxony. The water bodies had a high water level and due to some already very warm days at the end of April, the toad had good and fairly numerous breeding places.
The spawn was transferred to the Amphi International breeding station in the District of Lüchow-Dannenberg. Due to the warm summer, the tadpoles developed very fast and at the beginning of June the first already metamorphosed and were ready to inhabit their new habitat.
The fire-bellied toad is comparatively frequent in the biosphere reserve, however also here a strong decline has been observed over the last years. For this reason, large areas have been developed for the benefit of the fire-bellied toad. Natural colonisation of these areas by the already locally present toads was not expected, as the existing populations only have a few individuals.
In 2018 fire bellied toads were released in three places in the biosphere reserve.
The populations from which the spawn is taken are also protected, because at least 10% of the removed eggs are brought back to the place of collection once fully metamorphosed. Such a high percentage does generally not survive in the wild.
This method is used to stop the decline of the fire-bellied toad in the
biosphere reserve and to reverse the trend of decline.
Image: Florian Bibelriether, metamorphosed fire bellied-toads immediately before release
In the Lower Saxony part of the river Elbe valley 10 new breeding ponds were created during the second construction phase. These new water bodies will serve the fire-bellied toad as a breeding pond and feeding habitat. In addition one ditch was redesigned and three new wintering habitats were created.
The contract for the second construction phase in the area “Großer und Kleiner See“ in the parish of Neuhaus had already been awarded to a regional company in 2017. The creation of the water bodies however could not be delivered in the summer and autumn of 2017 due to prolonged rainfall. In 2018 the picture was completely different. The extreme drought enabled the start of the earthworks as well as a problem-free and fast delivery.
There are now a total of 20 new and three restored ponds available to the fire-bellied toad in the new refuge area at the “Großer und Kleiner See”. The aim in this large-scale pasture area is to create an attractive habitat for this species.
Until approximately 2007 the fire-bellied toad was native in the area of Strothe-Almsto,rf district of Uelzen. Despite conservation measures carried out back then the population, already reduced to a few individuals, did not recover. The bell ringing sound of the calling toads had disappeared from the landscape. Merely an interpretation panel reminds us of the past presence of these animals.
In December 2018 and January 2019, 3 new ponds were created on sites in private ownership and on district council land as well as restoring two further ponds. The coverage with ponds is now so high, that a stable population can establish.
Just add some toads. These will be brought into the area as part of the project. Spawn will be taken from other sites, bread until it reaches metamorphoses and then brought to the Uelzen area. You can read more about this in the section Actions/ Reintroductions. Tree frogs, great crested newts and moor frogs already present in this area will definitely benefit from the new ponds.
Extensive conservation measures for rare amphibian species in the Dromling bog
Various conservation actions are currently being delivered at two locations in the Dromling bog within the district of Gifhorn and the City of Wolfsburg by NABU Lower Saxony. The measures aim to improve the conditions for amphibians, in particular the fire-bellied toad.
One site is located on the border with Saxony-Anhalt near the village of Kaiserwinkel. 6 new breeding ponds are currently being created here. ”There are individual records of fire-bellied toads from this area until very recently”, says NABU project manager Dr Markus Richter, “Our targeted search in the last 2 years however has not been successful”.
Currently there are hardly any breeding ponds left, the new ponds are to attract any possibly remaining animals to breed here. In case that no toads can be recorded, then the reintroduction of this species is planned after liaison with all relevant partners and following the permit from the nature protection agency.
The earth works had already been tendered and commissioned last year, but due to heavy rain falls they had to be postponed into this year. “At the moment the conditions are very favourable, the sites are dry and easily accessible”, explains the NABU construction manager Joachim Neumann, “We assume that everything can be completed, before the wet weather returns.”
A second area for conservation measures is located at the other end of the Dromling bog within the city of Wolfsburg near lake Aller. At this site several new ponds were created a few years ago. At the shore of the ponds however, there are dense woodlands and shrubs. These cast a shadow on the water body and therefore make the ponds unsuitable for the breeding of demanding amphibian species. ”Tree frog larvae only develop in water temperatures above 15OC. The water body ideally has to be exposed to the full solar radiation, so that the water can sufficiently warm up during spring”, explains Dr Richter. “A specialist company will therefore completely cut back the woody growth over the next days. ”However, willows, alders and birches will largely grow back from their stumps. To prevent the regrowth of trees, the site including the pond shores will be grazed in the future, grazing and trampling of the animals are intended to keep the shore open. To allow grazing, a fence will be erected from project funds. A local farmer has volunteered to have his animals graze the site. Using the site for the traditional Easter campfire will continue to be possible in the future.
New breeding ponds for amphibians are currently being created in the floodplains of the rivers Oker and Schunter within the city of Brunswick. A total of 11 are to be created over the next weeks, the preparatory work for this is already in full flow. Individual sites for conservation measures were moved on request of Brunswick City Council, to prepare them for the search for undetonated bombs from World War II.
Even after more than 70 years after the end of the war you have to expect undetonated bombs, munition and similar material in the soil in many places within the boundary of the city of Brunswick. These represent significant risks to any work involving diggers. NABU awarded a contract to a specialist company to search for and remove suspicious objects. Thankfully only nails, wire and other types of metal were found.
The next step is to cut back woody vegetation at some existing ponds at Bevenroder Straße at Braunschweig-Querum. To keep the pond open in the long term, vegetation is cut back first and then the roots are removed with a digger. “Otherwise the woody vegetation would grow back and, in a few years, everything would look like before”, explains the NABU construction manager Joachim Neumann. “The sustainability of the conservation measures is a critical point of the overall Project”.
The last step will be the creation of new ponds at the river Schunter near Querum along the river Oker in the area of Veltenhof.
“The tender exercise is completed, the contract has been awarded, we hope that the currently dry conditions can be used for the earthworks with the digger”, explains NABU project manager Dr Markus Richter. “We are especially grateful to the city of Brunswick for their excellent cooperation. Without it, the delivery of this fairly complex conservation measure would not have been possible”. The City Council did not just provide nearly all of the sites but also contributed financially to the project. The granting of necessary permits preceded quickly and in an unbureaucratic way. ”We are very pleased that a local citizen was willing to provide his property for the creation of a new pond”, says Dr Richter.
For next year, more pond creations in the area of the city of Brunswick are planned. Already in 2016 amphibian ponds along the river Schunter near the village of Hondelage were created as part of the LIFE floodplain amphibians project. The long-term goal is a continuous network of habitats for amphibians from Wendhausen in the East via the rivers Schunter and Oker all the way to Walle in the West. Particularly the currently isolated populations of the tree frog are due to be connected with each other, but also the great crested newt and further species will benefit from the conservation measures.
Image: restored pond, Joachim Neumann, NABU Lower Saxony
Representatives of several LIFE projects from Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia met in Stadthagen for a network meeting. The newly started NABU Lower Saxony project “LIFE BOVAR” was the host.
This project is dedicated to the protection of the yellow-bellied toad, midwife toad, natterjack toad and the great crested newt on 35 project sites in Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and the Dutch province of Limburg.
NABU welcomed guests from the project “LIFE Amphibian Network” of the biological station of the city region Aachen, the integrated LIFE project “Atlantic sand landscapes” with a representative from the Münster district administration, as well as from the already finished project “Protection of the common spadefoot” delivered by the NABU nature station Münsterland.
Each project introduced itself and the focus of the event was knowledge exchange on the topic of the creation of breeding ponds for various species. In most cases an occasional drying out of the pond is desired. An important precondition for the successful creation of a pond is to establish the hydrological situation at each site. In quarries or on rocky slopes the artificial sealing of the pond with loam or concrete is required in many cases.
During the afternoon various types of water bodies were visited as part of two excursions. The water bodies had been created as part of a yellow-bellied toad project funded by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation. The first excursion took the 14 participants to the Liekwegen quarry. In this area, conservation actions for the yellow-bellied toad and the natterjack toad were delivered on an area of 22 hectares. Since the late 1990s the population of the yellow-bellied toad has grown from slightly more than 20 animals to over 1,000 individuals. “You can say that this is possibly one of the most successful amphibian conservation projects for the yellow-bellied toad in Germany”, said Bruno Scheel of NABU Lower Saxony with joy.
This success is enabled by management in the form of year-round grazing by three wild horses. In addition to the yellow-bellied toad many other species benefit from the conservation measures at Liekwegen quarry. In addition to the yellow-bellied toads the participants of the excursion could also see tadpoles and young juveniles of the natterjack toad as well as native newt species such as the palmate newt, lizards and a fully-grown slowworm.
The second excursion visited two sites owned by NABU near the village of Raden in the district of Schaumburg. At this site, ponds were created as stepping stones for the yellow-bellied toad. The particular feature of these water bodies is that the bottom of the ponds was covered with a special material called Dernoton. This helps to keep water on site. At the end of the excursion the participants were in for a surprise. At the last pond they visited, the first ever record for a yellow-bellied toad had just been made. ”Two and a half years ago about 2.5 km away from here we introduced the yellow-bellied toad. It is highly likely, that the animals at this site come from there. This highlights the success of the re-introduction measures”, stated Christian Höppner, NABU project manager of the LIFE project BOVAR.
As part of the LIFE project floodplain amphibians, NABU Lower Saxony is currently creating six new breeding ponds for rare amphibians at the edge of the nature
conservation area Ilker Bruch within the city of Wolfsburg. They will primarily serve the tree frog as breeding ponds. This rare amphibian has its most important occurrence in the catchment of
the river Aller at the Ilker Bruch and the surrounding areas.
This population needs safeguarding and strengthening, explains project leader Dr. Markus Richter from NABU Lower Saxony. The local branch of NABU Wolfsburg and the City of Wolfsburg have provided these areas for the conservation action.
A further aim of this activity is the creation of a suitable habitat for the fire-bellied toad. “Together with other water bodies, which we want to create in the autumn of this year, they should create the conditions for a reintroduction” explains Dr. Richter. The fire-bellied toad used to have numerous occurrences along the river Aller, but has been extinct for a few decades. The area Ilker Bruch and its surroundings offer ideal conditions for the reintroduction, if a sufficient number of new ponds is created. A decision about the actual reintroduction will only be made once it is established, that the water bodies meet the needs of the species, explains Richter further.
NABU operations manager Joachim Neumann had to deal with much more practical questions. A specialised company from the region had already been commissioned in late summer to do the earthwork. The ongoing higher levels of rainfall during the whole of the second half of the year made the execution of the work impossible. Again and again the start of the earthworks had to be rescheduled. “The dry weather of the recent days caused the water levels to drop, so that an attempt to deliver the work was undertaken.” Up to now everything is going well. I think we’ll manage” says Neumann with confidence.
Photo: Earthwork for amphibians in Wolfsburg (Photo credit: Joachim Neumann)
In at least three project areas the digger was supposed to come in this autumn to create new ponds for the fire-bellied toad and the tree frog. But the unusually high levels of rain of the last months enforced inactivity.
Already in May, various areas had a large proportion of the surface under water. The strong rainfalls had turned the meadows into water bodies. Further rainfall did not allow the areas to dry out over the summer.
In Lüchow, in the floodplain of the river Elbe, the highest amount of rainfall for 35 years has been recorded for June. The areas earmarked for action are currently so soaked, that the required removal of soil is impossible. It is currently unclear, if this activity can be carried out at all this year.
Photo: Flooded area near the river Schunter (M. Richter)
Within the context of the NABU project LIFE floodplain amphibians the first 889 reared fire-bellied toads could be released in the project area Lower Saxony
River Elbe Valley. The release happened in the area Grosser/ Kleiner See in the parish of Am Neuhaus, Luneburg district. 10 breeding ponds were created here last year for the fire-bellied toad
and three existing ponds were restored.
At least twenty further ponds are to follow. In addition, an extensive grazing programme for the water bodies and the surrounding area is being established, the water level of the grasslands is being raised. This will create a large-scale and highly suitable habitat for fire-bellied toads in the coming years. The project team anticipates that one of the strongest populations of the fire-bellied toad in Lower Saxony will establish at this site.
As there are hardly any fire-bellied toads present in the area Grosser/ Kleiner See, it was necessary to enhance the existing population with bred animals. The
breeding of the fire-bellied toads was undertaken by Amphi International at the breeding station at Neu Darchau. There are plans to release toads bred in this way for a further two years.
After that the population should be sufficiently strengthened to be self-sustaining and able to grow. The administration for the Biosphere Reserve Lower Saxony River Elbe Valley are also involved in this project as a partner. Within the project, further releases are planned along the river Elbe as well as in the catchment of the river Aller. The aim is to restore the original distribution area of the fire-bellied toad in Lower Saxony.
Photo: One of the agricultural tenants of the land releases fire-bellied toads, Florian Bibelriether (Amphi International)