Natterjack toads: surveys and mitigation for development projects

Standing advice for local planning authorities to assess the impacts of development on natterjack toads.

Survey reports and mitigation plans are required for development projects that could affect protected species as part of getting planning permission or a mitigation licence. Surveys need to show whether protected species are present in the area or nearby, and how they use the site. Mitigation plans show how you’ll avoid, reduce or manage any negative effects to protected species.

This is Natural England’s standing advice for local planning authorities who need to assess planning applications that affect natterjack toads.

This information can be used to decide what is needed for surveys and when planning mitigation measures for natterjack toads.

Ecologists need to decide which survey and mitigations methods are right for the project they’re working on. If this guidance can’t be followed, they’ll have to include a statement with the planning or licence application explaining why.

Where this guide says ‘you’ it means the ecologist.

Get more detail on:

How natterjack toads are protected

The natterjack toad is a European protected species (EPS) and is also fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Decide if you need to survey

Survey for natterjack toads if:

  • distribution and historical records suggest they may be present
  • you’re developing near a site that has habitat which can support them
  • your development could affect the hydrology of a site that can support them

Survey methods

Surveys should be done by a suitably experienced surveyor, eg a qualified ecologist. They might also have to be a licensed surveyor.

Presence and likely absence surveys

Acceptable methods for surveying natterjack toads are:

  • torchlight surveys - using a powerful torchlight at night (night searching)
  • looking in refuges, eg under rocks, logs or other materials on the ground surface
  • looking for eggs
  • listening for their calls during breeding season - this begins in April and can last until July

Torchlight surveys (night searching)

You should do a torchlight survey (night search):

  • on sites with no refuges or not a lot of refuges
  • between April and September
  • between dusk and dawn
  • on mild or warm nights (10 - 15°C), preferably during or after rain

Look for toads under refuges:

  • during the daytime
  • between spring and autumn
  • during mild weather (in hot weather toads spend more time underground)

You can make your own refuges to help you find toads by giving them places to hide. Refuges work best if they’re:

  • at least 40 x 30cm, eg roof tiles
  • on sand rather than vegetation

You need to make sure your refuges don’t put toads at increased risk from snakes or people. You can do this by putting refuges away from footpaths and tall grass.

You must be confident that the animals you’re surveying are natterjack toads. Find out more about identifying amphibians.

Estimate population structure and size

You may have to do another survey to estimate the population structure and size if both of the following apply:

  • presence/absence surveys show that there are natterjack toads on a site
  • development proposals are likely to have an impact on the natterjack toads on the site

You may need to use more than 1 survey method and make several visits to get an accurate measurement of a site’s population size and structure.

You’ll need to:

  • assess toadlet production in spawning ponds using more than 1 survey method over several visits
  • assess the age of captured animals (by measuring captured animals)
  • count the number of spawn strings laid in spawning ponds

You must include any survey information with your planning or licence application if you have to estimate the population structure and size.

Count spawn strings

You can estimate the total adult population size by counting spawn strings in breeding ponds.

Spawn string numbers show the number of females. The total adult population is around double the spawn string number, since the number of males is usually the same as the number of females.

For example, if you find 100 spawn strings, you have:

  • approximately 100 adult females
  • approximately 100 adult males
  • a total adult population of 200

Count spawn strings:

  • from April to at least early June
  • at least once a week

Count after wet weather rather than during dry periods - this is when toads are more likely to spawn.

Survey data submitted with your planning application should be no more than 2 years old.

Assess the impacts

Assess the impacts this development would have on natterjack toads if no mitigation measures were planned and submit the assessment with your planning application.

Impacts to consider include:

  • loss of habitat like breeding ponds or land, eg any loss that reduces possibilities for foraging, breeding and refuge
  • change in habitat management and habitat structure
  • habitat fragmentation and isolation of toads that means your development creates barriers between toad populations, eg buildings or fast-flowing water bodies
  • hydrological changes, eg your development causes siltation of ponds, increased chemical run-off into water or has effects on the water table
  • increased shading of ponds

Avoiding impacts, mitigation and compensation methods

Use avoidance, mitigation and compensation to deal with potential impacts you’ve identified that might affect natterjack toads.


Aim to design your scheme to avoid impacts including any combination of the following:

  • avoiding affecting breeding sites
  • avoiding affecting land habitat
  • timing work so that it has the least risk of impact, eg pond enhancement works being done in the winter months when toads are unlikely to be in water bodies
  • making sure your development doesn’t increase the risk of disease affecting the toad population


Address the potential impacts you’ve identified on natterjack toads with your mitigation plans. Usually, the greater you think the impact will be, the more mitigation you’ll need to plan for. You’ll have to identify and suggest mitigation measures if you’re the applicant.

The local planning authority will have to assess what difference the mitigation measures would make to the anticipated effects of the project.

Mitigation measures may include designing the development so that you aim to avoid or reduce impacts on breeding ponds.


Use compensation measures if there are still negative impacts that cannot be avoided for toads. The local planning authority should make sure that suitable compensation measures are agreed and secured.

Mitigation and compensation methods

Mitigation and compensation methods will depend on the local conditions.

Acceptable methods include any combination of the following:

  • creating or improving a suitable alternative habitat in advance, on the same site or next to the one being used for development
  • improving existing links
  • creating new links between habitats
  • reducing the amount of pond vegetation like algae
  • desilting ponds after the development is finished
  • moving toads to a new site - this should be considered as a last resort when they cannot be accommodated on the development site.

It is important that any new habitats are made suitable prior to translocation.

Compensation measures should:

  • result in no net loss of breeding or resting sites
  • provide enhanced habitat, eg quality or area compared with that lost if a significant impact is predicted
  • remedy any loss of habitat connectivity

Move toads to a new site as mitigation

You can move natterjack toads and their spawn by expanding current sites or by creating new sites for them.

The best areas for new sites:

  • have no natterjack toads currently (it’s only acceptable to use a site that already has natterjack toads if you’re saving a population from extinction)
  • are away from competitors (common frogs, toads) and predators (rats, gulls, grass snakes, aquatic invertebrates)
  • are near to the toads’ current habitat
  • can use the natural water table for new ponds (concrete ponds also work well)

You need to get permission from landowners and managers. You must ensure that there are no disease risks from moving toads.

Management and site maintenance after development

You can maintain the site after development by creating a plan to:

  • look after existing or newly-created ponds
  • control scrub and bracken
  • restore any degraded habitats
  • regenerate open areas
  • monitor population

Your plan should state what you are going to do, when you’ll start, and how long you’ll do it for.

Population monitoring

Monitor the site for at least 5 years from the first breeding season after you moved the toads, to check that the population is well established.

Evidence that the population is established includes:

  • adult males returning to the site after 2 or 3 years
  • adult females returning to the site after 3 or 4 years
  • third generation spawn

Additional licensing information

This guidance is provided for ecologists and developers considering applying for a mitigation licence for natterjack toads where disturbance or harm to them and their habitat is likely to happen.

Your application needs to follow the above standing advice and this additional licensing information or it may be refused if you need a mitigation licence or other licence.

Get an EPS mitigation licence

Usually, you should be able to avoid harming natterjack toads or damaging or blocking access to their habitats. Apply for a mitigation licence if you can’t avoid this.

Get planning permission if you need it before you apply for a licence.

You’ll need expert help to apply, eg from a qualified ecologist.


You might need to survey the area again and adjust your mitigation plans if necessary depending on when you did the surveys if you’re applying for a mitigation licence, eg if the last survey you did was more than 2 years ago.

You might need to apply for a survey licence depending on the survey methods that you use.

Other licences

Find out more about survey, research and possession and apply for natterjack toad licences.

Published 9 October 2014
Last updated 12 May 2015 + show all updates
  1. Changed link:Find out more about identifying amphibians - from ( to (

  2. Added new template approach.

  3. The link for more detail on surveys and mitigation is now higher up in the guide.

  4. First published.