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HopGossip! Fire Awareness Special

Autumn/Winter 2015 In this issue ‌ Snakes in gardens Heath fires New BLF project launch & Pumpkin carving!


Contents Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is a national wildlife charity committed to conserving amphibians and reptiles and the habitats on which they depend. Working in partnership with Amphibian & Reptile Groups of the UK

Get in touch… Bournemouth - Head Office 655a Christchurch Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth, Dorset BH1 4AP Telephone 01202 391319 Email enquiries@arc-trust.org

www.arc-trust.org Patrons: Earl of Malmesbury Chris Packham Iolo Williams Chair of Trustees: Jonathan Webster Chief Executive Officer: Dr Tony Gent Conservation Director: Jim Foster Administration & Finance Manager: Helen Wraight Administrative Support Officer: Angela Reynolds Amphibian Conservation Officer: Yvette Martin Assistant Amphibian Conservation Officer: John Buckley BLF Dragonscapes Habitat Officer: Peter Hill BLF Dragonscapes Species Officer: Mark Barber Cumbria Natterjack Officer: Ruth Popely Dorset Field Officer/Health & Safety Officer: Richard Sharp Dorset Field Officer: Richie Johnson Dorset Field Officer: Stuart Handyside Dorset Field Officer: James Anderson-Barr Flintshire Countryside Ranger: Mandy Cartwright Friendship & E-Communications Officer: Kim Boughey GCN Conservation Officer/ Species Coordinator: Dorothy Driver GIS & Data Officer: Thom Starnes New Forest Smooth Snake Survey Project Officer: Ben Limburn Reptile Conservation Officer: Nick Moulton Research Officer: Liam Russell Science Programme Manager: Dr John Wilkinson Scottish Officer: Dr Peter Minting Senior Dorset Field Officer: Chris Dresh Senior Reserves Manager: Gary Powell Weald Field Officer: John Gaughan Weald Field Officer & Volunteer Coordinator: Robin Bassett Weald Reserves Manager: Rob Free

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Hop off the Press ARC News.

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Focus: Snakes in gardens HELP! There’s a snake in my garden!

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In the field - Heath fires Fire at Town Common. Ash to ashes. How you can help to keep our heathland safe from fire.

12 South Wales BLF Dragonscapes project launched.

13 Scotland Amphibians in Inverness SuDS.

14 Amphibian & Reptile Groups Joint Scientific Meeting, Ireland 2015. HWM 2016! Last release at Talacre!

15 Cumbria Eco Sapian.

16 Species Profile Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis).

17 Spotlight on sand lizards Spotlight on sand lizards.

19 Tail Enders Facebook Herpy Halloween Pumpkin carving competition. Remember the little guys on bonfire night!

If you would like to contribute to the next edition please contact Angela Reynolds at angela.reynolds@arc-trust.org. Cover image: Sand lizard emerging from a burrow in the aftermath of the Town Common heath fire © Chris Dresh (ARC). Hop Gossip is edited and designed by Angela Reynolds. Please note: the views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily the views of Amphibian & Reptile Conservation but those of the authors. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is a Registered Charity. England & Wales Charity number. 1130188. Scotland Charity number. SC044097


From the Editor’s desk Welcome to Hop Gossip! This job, like most in the conservation sector, can be tough at the best of times and this year has been no exception.

C.E.O.’s Corner Dr Tony Gent

Working in nature conservation, you certainly get to hear different views about what people consider important and the differing values people put on wildlife and the environment. In today’s financial climate, ‘costs’ seem to preoccupy thinking – with significant In Spring we saw a rise in the reductions in spending and with environmental causes often bearing number of people seeking a disproportionate burden where savings need to be made. Given advice on how to fill in their Oscar Wilde’s observation that a cynic is “a man who knows the ponds and relocate its cost of everything but the value of nothing” it could be argued that residents. such cut-backs are cynical and short sighted. However to address At Easter, ARC had to deal with this, there has been some considerable thinking aimed at explaining three massive fires devastating the value of wildlife to those more focused on the bottom line of the balance sheets; phrasing this in economic terms provides a new three of our reserves and language that brings nature back into the spotlight. Reading recent causing a huge number of communications from Government in which terms like ‘biodiversity’ wildlife fatalities. seem to be being replaced by ‘sustainable economy.’ We can see Summer came, and the phone that economic valuation of the environment is absolutely at the heart rang off the hook for months of conservation thinking and entities, such as the Natural Capital with ‘There’s a snake in my Committee that help promote this philosophy, are providing a lifeline garden’ calls. The number of for the environment. escapees this year has astonished me. I also find the These approaches help with difficult discussion around the level of fear experienced by so protection, and its perceived ‘expense’, for species such as great many upon sighting a snake crested newts. It also helps to ensure that effective protection shocking. This was highly mechanisms, such as the European Habitats Directive remain valid exacerbated by some awful and in the eyes of policy makers. irresponsible journalism this year. The principle of looking at what the environment provides for us is not new and core to the valuation of the environment lies the It’s now Autumn. The number concept of ‘ecosystems services’. These are the benefits the of pleas for help in contesting environment provides for us such as “provisioning”, including planning applications, in areas providing food and water; “regulating”, such as the control of climate where our little friends reside, and disease; “supporting”, which includes nutrient cycles and crop are starting to flood in. pollination; and “cultural”, e.g. spiritual and recreational benefits. It The challenges we face every is now quite unlikely that you will see any biodiversity strategies or day test us to the limit plans produced that don’t emphasise the human benefit of the sometimes but we persevere! environment upfront. But does this devalue nature? Does nature Whether it’s trying to find a have to justify its existence against human values? For many compromise to avoid losing conservation purists it is the intrinsic value of nature that trumps all another pond, explaining other considerations and as we are a species with the power to amphibian disease risk, visiting destroy nature, we have the duty as guardians to conserve it. schools, societies and clubs, But looking at this fundamentalist approach you need to question spending days picking through who exactly are you doing this for? Is it for the individual charred landscapes for fire amphibians and reptiles, or is it to benefit their populations? Are we survivors or explaining over and conserving them for their own sake or as part of wildlife and the over again that the snake in natural environment as a whole? Are we worried about the wider your garden won’t hurt you, environment and wider environmental issues? Are we driven by even when the caller cries, passion, by duty or by scientific interest? Are we doing it for other shouts and screams at you. We people, all of society -just now or for future generations? Am I, won’t stop trying because, let’s selfishly, just doing this for me? All are equally valid motivations. face it, herps are definitely worth it! Most people won’t be driven exclusively by one of these – and most will have some sympathy with all of them! However, whatever the Take care of yourselves, have reason, we keep fighting to conserve our reptiles and amphibians. a Happy Halloween, Merry Christmas, great New Year and From the animals’ perspective, it is more about what we achieve rather than the reason why we’re trying to achieve it. a super 2016! With best wishes,

Angela Reynolds Hop Gossip Editor angela.reynolds@arc-trust.org

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Welcome to the White Lion, our new site in North Wales! By Mandy Cartwright - Flintshire Countryside Ranger I have been kept very busy working with housing developer Redrow on securing a site that has been put aside for great crested newts. The site has been named White Lion after the pub that previously stood on the site before the area was re-developed. It houses six ponds; one pond that sits on bedrock, and five newly created ponds.

Introducing Yvette Martin - ARC’s new Amphibian Conservation Officer. With an MSc in Environmental Consultancy from Newcastle University and relevant experience gained at WYG Consultancy and Groundwork, I became ARC’s new Amphibian Conservation Officer in mid-April. I will be working with John Buckley for a three year knowledge transfer period.

Site residents include grass snakes, hedgehogs and butterflies. It has no public access, but I will be organising various activities and volunteer opportunities for those who would like to come onto the site and see why it is so special.

GCN and fish really don’t mix! By Dr John Wilkinson - Science Programme Manager

As the Amphibian Conservation Officer, I am responsible for overseeing the natterjack toad and the pool frog projects. So far I have been travelling across the country, getting to know many of the different sites, meeting land managers and species monitors who are getting out and about collecting the valuable data ARC needs. While amphibians are my favourite subject I am also a very numbers orientated person, taking a great amount of joy in looking at spreadsheets and completing statistical analysis to enable better informed decisions to be made. In order to complete future detailed statistical analyses ARC needs a continuous flow of natterjack toad data from sites all across the country. With Living Record ARC can now view data on a day by day basis but everyone needs to get on board. If you are working on a site with natterjack toads and aren’t familiar with Living Record, but would like to be, please contact me on Yvette.martin@arc-trust.org.

Every year I run courses for students studying a UCert or MSc in Biological Recording (see www.sste.mmu.ac.uk/recording). This year, whilst hunting great crested newts in the usual pond, a student found a large female newt (see photo right) that had lost half its tail. We discussed her diagnostic features but it quickly became clear that she was very distressed and gasping for air. On looking closer, I discovered that she had half a dead stickleback lodged firmly in her throat with the spines pointing the wrong way! It took three attempts with a pair of tweezers to forcibly remove the pesky piscine and the poor newt looked decidedly rattled! Without much expectation we released her into some nearby shelter and wished her well.

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Imagine the surprise when, the next evening, we found the same newt under a log some 60 metres away! The moral of this story is that great crested newts and fish really don’t mix – newt numbers have been going down at this pond ever since sticklebacks got in a few years ago. Fortunately, plans are now afoot to remove them and I hope to see the same animal again next year!

Photo: © John Wilkinson

Photo © Mandy Cartwright

This project is a perfect example of sustainable conservation. Housing development provides a financial opportunity to enhance wildlife corridors, maintain ponds and other habitats for the benefit of the great crested newt and biodiversity as a whole. I am continuing to work with various organisations to secure more sites in both North Wales and Cheshire.


Celebrating the return of England’s rarest amphibian By Yvette Martin - Amphibian Conservation Officer For those of you lucky enough to be living up in East Anglia, you might have already noticed ARC’s presence at Thompson Common near Thetford in Norfolk. Funded through the Heritage Lottery, as part of the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership Scheme, ARC has been working with Norfolk Wildlife Trust to return the northern pool frog to its last known location in Britain. Northern pool frogs are now being released back to a part of Thompson Common that is closed to public access, so that they can settle in undisturbed. It is hoped that in a few years the frogs will spread naturally to public areas of the site. This site is managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who has been working with ARC to prepare the site for the pool frogs release and addressing issues including changes to water levels which are thought to have contributed to the pool frogs extinction.

Photo above: Froglet, Below: Froglet watches Yvette from across the pond. © Yvette Martin.

Corporate Friendship available now!

So, why become a Corporate Friend?

Hop off the Press!

ARC is pleased to announce that our Corporate Friendship scheme has gone live. After enquiries from a number of companies, ARC has devised a scheme for companies that want to support the work of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. Great crested newt © Chris Dresh

 Demonstrate to your stakeholders, employees

and customers your company’s commitment to wildlife and environmental issues.  Help meet your Corporate Social Responsibility aspirations.  Receive positive publicity via our website and social media.  Access specific benefits that we offer to corporate friends. We offer three tiers - Bronze, Silver and Gold starting at £250 all the way up to £1,000 and above. If you know anyone that might be interested in supporting us, please spread the word! All of the information can be found on our webpage www.arc-trust.org/ support-us/corporate-friendship.

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Focus: Snakes in gardens “HELP! There’s a snake in my garden!” By Dr Tony Gent - Chief Executive Officer It’s been a summer where we seem to have attracted an unprecedented number of phone calls about snakes in gardens, often passed on by the RSPCA seeking identification. The majority © Ben Limburn (ARC) are grass snakes providing us with a small data set of ‘incidental records’ showing an interesting smattering of sightings across the country. Perhaps more surprisingly we have also seen a very large Grass snakes (above) are number of reports of corn snakes. Immediately this brings a number commonly misidentified as adders (below) of issues to mind. © Chris Gleed-Owen

Focus: Snakes in gardens

Firstly, there is a surprising amount of misunderstanding about our reptiles; indeed many people are surprised to find that we have snakes (or even any species of reptile) in the country at all and so it is no wonder that they are concerned when one turns up. Another interesting observation is the frequent assumption that the snake is an adder, especially if it is (or appears to be) large; that the grass snake is our largest species of snake, is an interesting fact that many greet with some relief. We do have a smaller number of reports of slow-worms and we might expect that we would have more. However it is likely that where there are slow-worms they tend be more hidden away and (except when cats bring them into houses) are seen less often than the much more showy grass snake that swims in ponds or scoots conspicuously across lawns and patios. It is also possible that, as slow-worms move less and tend to stay in larger, mature gardens, the home owners are more familiar with them and less likely to seek advice when one turns up.

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Secondly, it raises questions about the impact of non -native species. It’s hard to even attempt to guess how many escaped snakes there are in the wild and how they fare and what they feed on. The more common pets, such as the corn snake and king snake are American species and may survive in our climate. Generally they eat small mammals (with a diet in captivity of mice) but may take birds and other reptiles. Other species do escape, notably pythons and boas, with venomous non-native species turning up only extremely rarely as their keeping is regulated through the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. One nonnative species of snake has become established in north Wales and in London (on the Regents Canal), namely the Aesculapian snake (named after the Greek god of healing and some say that it inspired the serpent and staff symbol of the medical profession). This is a species found in northern Europe (and ironically threatened in parts of its range) and is in the same family of snakes as the grass snake. There is some debate about what should be done


about this – while a species of snake that eats rats may be welcomed along canals in London, there is a potential risk to other native wildlife and especially if the species suddenly spreads. Furthermore a snake that can grow to over 220cm (7 foot) in length could provide quite a surprise to the tow-path joggers! Certainly non-native species have caused a massive threat to the conservation of wildlife across the globe – so much so that a new regulation has recently been enacted in Europe to help address this problem. We are keen that where non-native snakes turn up they are captured and returned to their owners or re-homed. Lastly it raises interesting issues about people’s perceptions of wildlife and the expectation that a service exists that can deal with it if it is seen as a problem. We do have considerable sympathy with people who are worried by snakes, and never underestimate the debilitating impacts of phobias. We also appreciate the point of view of the fish keeper, worried about the potential impacts of a grass snake on a pond full of prize Koi carp and would not wish to underestimate the possible risks to pets or children where adders are found in gardens or in schools. However, the difficulty is that there is often very little we can do, and especially when the caller is over 200 miles away! A few local amphibian and reptile groups do lend a hand where possible, but as volunteers they often don’t have the time or resources, it is not an issue for the local authority or the police and the RSPCA are there to deal with animal welfare issues. What is more, if you do go to help, very often the snake will ‘just have disappeared into a bush’ and it is not unusual to have to wait for hours before it shows again – if it ever does. If you do catch it and move it within its range (as we would wish to do), it might just come back again! We are looking to explore how we can deal more effectively with our ‘snakes in gardens’ enquires in future. Fortunately, in most cases when we are dealing with native species just giving advice is sufficient and most people are simply happy to leave the snake alone and let it go on its way.

Unless stated otherwise, all photos were sent in to ARC by concerned members of the public to be identified. Photos page left - Middle left: Corn snake, Bottom: Corn snake. Photos page right - Top left: Albino corn snake, Middle right: Boa constrictor, Bottom left: Corn snake, bottom middle left: Carpet python, Bottom middle right: Corn snake & Bottom right: Black king snake.

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In the field - Heath fires Fire at Town Common By Gary Powell - Senior Reserves Manager Large scale fires are something that lurk in the back of any heathland manager’s mind, especially those in more urban areas. For us at ARC we faced the nightmare scenario, on the last day of March this year, of our largest site Town Common, near Christchurch, Dorset being set ablaze.

In the field - Heath Fires

Conditions couldn’t have been worse; no appreciable rain for weeks and with a very strong wind – a combination which led to a very fast moving fire that covered a huge area. We had staff on site very quickly who worked alongside the Fire & Rescue Service in an attempt to halt the flames. The situation was made worse by the fact that the fire had a number of ‘seats’; in other words it was started at a number of points within a very short space of time. Of the c. 150 hectares of the site that ARC manages I estimate that we lost 75. My initial thoughts were that we had lost far more, but it is very difficult to judge a fire on this scale while it is ongoing. Over nearly 15 years on Dorset heaths I have seen a number of fires – but never anything like this.

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When the fire is finally out and any hot spots damped down the rescue operations must begin. With such a large area to cover this was a daunting task but we had tremendous support from the local community, other conservation organisations, such as ARG volunteers and local councils and nature lovers from further afield. All were horrified at the sight that met them but all buckled down and put in many hours of reptile search effort. Initial efforts were hampered by the weather being too cold to encourage reptile activity but eventually we had sun and the rescue mission continued for a full 5 days after that. On Easter Sunday we had an amazing turn out of over 100 people! Other days were quieter but some stalwart volunteers pitched up day after day.


In the field - Heath fires At the end of the rescue period we had saved over 475 reptiles and moved them to safety. Corpses of animals were found as well of course, but far fewer than I would have anticipated based on observations at other smaller fires. Some unusual findings emerged from the rescue attempts; very few smooth snakes and slow worms were recovered, dead or alive, indicating that perhaps they remained safely underground as the fire moved overhead. This could have saved many lives but also highlights one of the major problems after a large fire; that when animals that survive the blaze do emerge from burrows and hiding places, they are faced with vast expanses of charred habitat offering very little protection from predators and the elements. We captured over 300 common lizards and over 100 sand lizards; this may seem like a large number but is only a fraction of the Photo left page bottom: Volunteer rescuers at Town population. Survivors that we missed would face Common © Gary Powell, This page top right: Fire the same issues as they sought safety in any service checking for hot spots © Chris Dresh, remaining suitable habitat elsewhere on site. Middle left: Just some of the fatalities © Gary Powell.

As devastating as this situation was there is always hope; heathland species are resilient and populations do eventually recover. Rains shortly after the rescue week brought out a flush of green grasses and some cover, albeit scant initially, was restored. Bracken, normally a management headache on heathlands, also quickly emerged on the fire disturbed ground and again added some form of vegetation structure and cover – nowhere near ideal habitat for our reptile species but useable nonetheless. A fire damaged (but alive and well) smooth snake was found a long way from the fire site having made its own way to safety, evidence that these animals are not entirely dependent on us for survival.

Ash to ashes By Robin Bassett - Weald Field Officer & Volunteer Coordinator Just three weeks after the Town Common fire in Dorset our worst fears in the Weald office were confirmed when we received a call to inform us that the Ash Ranges were on fire. What followed over the coming days and weeks was traumatic in terms of the habitat loss and multiple reptile and amphibian fatalities. It was only the following afternoon that we were allowed access by the Fire and Rescue services as the site is a ‘live’ Ministry of Defence firing range. We were devastated to find that the fire had blazed its way across the best part of the ARC-managed part of the Ranges, taking out nearly 40 hectares. The ground was still smouldering, there were multiple locations where the fire was flaring up, but it was in these conditions that our rescue operation began. The scene was awful, smoke filled the air and every step stirred up more ash, which choked our lungs. That first day we found few creatures alive.

A lap full of slow-worms! © Robin Bassett

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In the field - Heath fires After a few days when conditions were against us we were helped by a fantastic turn-out of volunteers, thanks to advertising on social media. Numbers of sand lizards, adders and common lizards began to rise. However, as we took a lunch break we noticed a pall of smoke in the west, the fire had broken out again and we had to evacuate. That afternoon, in windy conditions 120 more hectares of the Ash Ranges were lost. A small consolation perhaps, but at least a small part of the ARC site remained unburnt. Over the following days we began finding less burnt animals but more freshly dead animals that had succumbed to Devastation at Ash Ranges © Robin Bassett asphyxiation. Stealthy attempts to rescue what appeared to be ‘live’ animals ended with the heartbreak of discovering a seemingly perfect animal dead. This happened many times and fatalities continued to outnumber live finds. However, each rescued animal was greeted with great delight by everyone on site, including an adder that required the combined efforts of three people. Such teamwork kept our spirits up as we headed back. Little did we know that our problems were about to multiply. When we returned to the office there was a missed call – Gong Hill was on fire. We gained access almost immediately and were crestfallen to find that, once again, the footprint of the fire almost exactly matched that of the ARC land. The following day we drew up plans to manage the two rescue operations and with access to the Ash Ranges now limited once more, as the military resumed their operations there, we concentrated on Gong Hill. The situation could not have been more different to Ash, the place was alive with both juvenile and adult sand lizards. With access to our own site presenting no problems, we were able to have rescuers on site daily and numbers of rescued sand lizards soared, whilst fatalities remained very low. By the time we ceased rescue operations we had been assisted by 48 different non Surrey reptile rescue team © Robin Bassett ARC personnel who gave up 400 hours of volunteer effort at both sites. In total they rescued 141 animals from 7 species. We are indebted to these people as individuals plus organisations including the Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group, Surrey Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Thames Basin Heaths Partnership and the Fire and Rescue services.

What happens next..? We now take stock and assess how we tackle the aftermath of the fires as regards the ongoing management. The habitat will take a long time to recover to its previous level but there are steps we can take to ensure that good viable habitat for wildlife is available on site in the interim period. The one huge positive we at ARC can take from this is the massive amount of support we received in many different ways during the period around the fire, in both Dorset and Surrey. To all those that sent messages of support or donated money we would like to say a big thankyou and of course our teams of 10


reptile rescuers, whose age ranged from toddlers to pensioners, deserve a very special mention. To those of you who joined us out on site thank-you very, very much; we are unable to name you all but you know who you are. Your efforts are very much appreciated.

How you can help to keep our heathlands safe from fire During dry hot months (which can start as early as Spring going right through to Autumn), heathland, forests and grassland can become tinder dry which makes them susceptible to catching fire. As you have just read, heath fires can be devastating not only to the plant life but also to the wildlife that lives there such as birds, small mammals, insects and herpetofauna. Wildlife is very vulnerable to the effects of heat and smoke that more often than not proves fatal. Heathland takes many years to establish and can be destroyed in seconds taking decades to return to good quality habitat for our native species to thrive in. Fires can start in a number of ways such as a discarded cigarette, lighter, an out of control bonfire or barbeque and of course arson in the case of the Town Common fire. Fire can also spread very quickly, faster than you can run, and change direction in the blink of an eye.

Follow these top tips to prevent fire risk on heathland! Don’t be tempted to have a barbeque on the heath. Fires are banned from all heathland which includes barbeques and gas stoves.

Please report any suspicious activity to the land manager (such as temporary campers, dumped vehicles and fly tipping) so that wardens can be sent out to investigate and wardening can be increased if necessary. Contact details can be found on site notice boards, usually close to site entrances and key points on the site. We recommend that you save these details to your phone.

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Always take your rubbish home with you including glass bottles.

If you see a fire that has started dial 999 straight away and ask for the Fire Service. Try to give as much information as you can about the location of the fire. Is it near a main road? Is it close to a site entrance? Is there a prominent landmark such as a church or school? All of these observations will help the Fire Service to locate the fire as quickly and safely as possible. If you can, let the site managers know that there is a fire and the Fire Service is on its way using the contact details on the site notice boards.

Part of heathland management includes controlled burning of materials. This is always undertaken in controlled circumstances by experienced staff. ARC controlled burns are called in to the Fire Service at the beginning and end of each day.

In the field - Heath fires

If you smoke, please make sure you extinguish your cigarette properly before discarding (preferably in a bin).

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South Wales BLF Dragonscapes Project Launched! By Dr John Wilkinson - Science Programme Manager On Sunday 21st June, ARC’s new, Big Lottery Funded project was launched at Parc Slip Nature Reserve near Bridgend. The Dragonscapes project will engage the people of South Wales in habitat creation, surveying and sustainable food growing activities that will benefit amphibians and reptiles and their habitats. Dr. John Wilkinson of ARC opened the launch by introducing the organisation, then Mark Barber, BLF Species Officer, talked about the aims of the project and how people could be involved. Attendees were shown slides of Wales’ amphibians and reptiles and asked if they knew how to correctly identify them! The talks were completed by a guest appearance from ARC Patron Iolo Williams who inspired the audience to protect Wales’ herpetofauna and other biodiversity and to engage with the project. After the indoor session, people were free to attend a pyrography workshop, where they could create images of herpetofauna in blocks of wood, or go on one of two exceptional reptile rambles led by Mark Barber. Family groups and individuals were able to see huge numbers of gravid grass snakes, as well as adders, slow-worms and viviparous lizards. ARC volunteer Sam Langdon also led pond dipping sessions where amphibians and other aquatic minibeasts could be examined more closely by a throng of enthusiastic youngsters! What a perfect start to the project! Thanks to the (over 40) people who attended, helped out and participated, and to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales for hosting the launch. If you live in South Wales and would like to get involved, please contact: Mark.barber@arc-trust.org (species surveying) or Peter.hill@arc-trust.org (habitat work and sustainable growing). Photos: © Mark Barber.

South Wales

Photo top left: Common lizard © Julia Banks. Below: Mark leading a reptile ramble © Rose Revera.

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Scotland Amphibians in Inverness SuDS By Marcia Rae - Highland Council Inverness is a city that is growing fast and its continued development has seen an increasing use of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). Although not designed for conservation SuDS are created to more closely mimic natural wetlands and may provide a valuable home for amphibians in the urban environment. A study by O’Brien (2014) determined that amphibians were indeed present and breeding in Inverness SuDS and a new study in 2015, funded by the Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage aims to continue this work by identifying all of the sites in the city and assessing their ability to support amphibians. An additional 27 sites have been identified bringing the total to 40. Common frog was present at 28 sites, common toad at 10 and palmate newt at 17, which in the previous study were recorded breeding at one site.

Photo above: Common frog © Chris Dresh. Below: Inverness at sunset © Marcia Rae.

There is no doubt that amphibians are using SuDS and with the continued development in Inverness many more will be created allowing the populations to increase. But there are still many questions to answer. How healthy are these populations? How significant are the barriers to amphibian movement in urban areas? The study hopes to address some of these issues. DNA samples have been collected from frog spawn to look for signs of inbreeding and an Integrated Habitat Network Map will be created to determine the permeability of the landscape around the ponds. Initially it seems as if there is a high degree of connectivity, many sites being located within 1km of each other and a habitat map could help to close the gaps between those that are isolated. This will be the focus of the next phase of the survey and a clearer picture of the results will be available at the end of the year, so watch this space…!

Scotland

Scottish Natural Heritage Scientific report - O’Brien, D. (2014) Sustainable drainage system (SuDS) ponds in Inverness UK and the favourable conservation status of amphibians. Urban Ecosyst 18:321-331.

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Amphibian & Reptile Groups Joint Scientific Meeting - Ireland, August 2015 By Thom Starnes - GIS & Data Officer This year’s Joint Herpetological Scientific Meeting was held in Dublin, Ireland, and was hosted by the Herpetological Society of Ireland. The JHSM, usually hosted by the British Herpetological Society and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation in Bournemouth, relocated to Dublin for a one-off event. On Saturday 29th August, delegates including representatives from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK congregated at Trinity College for a day of science-focused presentations and discussions. After a warm welcome from HSI’s Science Officer Rob Gandola, the opening presentation was given by Collie Ennis who talked passionately about public engagement and survey work on North Bull Island in Dublin. Ferdia Marnell from Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Services delivered an inspiring presentation on the conservation of natterjack toads in southwest Ireland. The NPWS have recently invested heavily in pond creation, paying land owners to create and maintain favourable habitat in order to connect natterjack populations.

Thom with his poster on spatial modelling. © Steve Allain

A lunchtime visit to the Zoological Museum was well attended, and the afternoon poster session spawned several interesting discussions. The conference concluded with a raffle in which over €200 was raised for HSI’s Student Grant Scheme. Prizes included ARC’s Dr John Wilkinson’s coveted Amphibian Survey and Monitoring Handbook hot off the press.

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To find your local ARG visit www.arguk.org/local-groups

HWM 2016! By Angela Reynolds Editor Just as we are going to press we are finalising details for the 2016 Herpetofauna Workers Meeting in February 2016. Keep an eye on the website for more details.

With a range of workshops and presentations plus a Gala Dinner, it’s bound to be a great weekend! Don’t forget, ARC Friends, ARG members and students can attend at a discounted rate! More information can be found at www.arc-trust.org/hwm2016 or email angela.reynolds@arc-trust.org.

Photo: Gala Dinner fun! © Angela Reynolds

Amphibian & Reptile Groups

The meeting was a great success and was followed by day trips to the National Reptile Zoo and Howth Head peninsula. We extend special thanks to HSI Chairperson Cat Hendry and all of the HSI members who organised the event. A full report can be found at www.thehsi.org.

Last release at Talacre! By Chris Davis - ARC Sand lizard Captive Breeder September saw another successful sand lizard reintroduction! This was the final release out of six carried out during a 12 year period in a part of Wales which was the sand lizard's former (and last!) stronghold. They became extinct there around 70 years ago so this sees the completion of something truly remarkable.

Photo: Hatchling © Chris Davis.

Around 30 people turned up including local volunteers and a team from Bangor University Herpetological Society who have been helping with habitat management and monitoring. ARC’s Mandy Cartwright had organised things superbly and even surprised us with some lovely plaques she had made for myself, Mick Brummage (North East Wales ARG), Ray Lynch (Fylde ARG) and Paul Hudson (North Merseyside ARG) for our contributions during the releases and captive breeding success. My thanks on behalf of ARC to Chester Zoo, Flintshire and Denbighshire Councils, BHP Billiton and the sand lizards!


Cumbria Eco Sapien By Ruth Popely - Cumbria Natterjack Officer Earlier in the season I enjoyed a super evening with David Bodenham from the film production organisation “Eco Sapien” filming tadpoles and natterjacks at Haverigg. Carry on reading to find out more about them and the work they do! Eco Sapien is an educational project created to illustrate the importance of biodiversity. Biodiversity, from ‘biological diversity’ – literally means the number of different living things on Earth. A buzzword that is often splashed around, it is generally regarded as a good thing. The most important issues, however, are often glossed over, such as: ‘What is biodiversity?’ and, ‘Why should I care?’ We aim to put that right. Our videos offer a portal into the spectacular world of biodiversity, and its relevance to our everyday lives. If we help you discover a new insight, we’ll consider our mission a success. We’re all Homo sapiens – thinking men and women – but in a world that faces an uncertain future of habitat destruction, climate change, and ecological catastrophe, perhaps it’s time we became Eco sapiens! Please help spread the word about his and his associate Phillip Taylor’s super project. They tour all around the UK and even film overseas, all privately funded, to produce informative short films to raise awareness of biodiversity specifically aimed at young teenagers… I quite enjoy their films too and unfortunately I am far from being a young teen! They have a Facebook page and YouTube account so please check them out on both or either and spread the word! The more followers the better! www.ecosapien.org You might want to specifically check out their film titled “Taxonomy: A Guide to British Amphibians” which contains the natterjack footage David filmed that evening. He is hoping to return to Haverigg to get some more footage in order to produce a film purely on natterjacks. Enjoy!

Cumbria

Photos - Top left: A curious natterjack looks on! Middle right: Haverigg, not a bad film set! Below: Ruth investigates a natterjack burrow © Andy Deacon.

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Species Profile Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)

Appearance/colour 

    

Habitat    

 In Britain, sand lizards are only found on dry lowland heathland and coastal sand dunes. Mix of dense, mature vegetation and plenty of open sand. Prefers varied topography, particularly southfacing slopes, ridges and gullies that provide warm and sheltered areas. Only found in the counties of Surrey, Hampshire, Dorset and Merseyside as well as the Inner Hebrides. Re-introductions have also taken place in West Sussex, Devon, Cornwall, Wales, Berkshire and Kent.

Both sexes have ‘eyespot’ patterns on the back which are brown with white/ cream centres. They also appear on the sides of the body in females but less so in the males. Both sexes have grey/pale brown dorso-lateral stripes which run from the head down the length of the body. Between April and June, breeding males turn bright green on their flanks, underside and throat which fades to a dull green/yellow when the season is over. Females can be brown/grey, straw coloured to dark chocolate with a grey/yellow underside. Northern populations tend to have lighter colouring with their eye spots arranged in a linear striped pattern. Hatchlings are grey/brown with light dorso-lateral stripes and tiny eye spots on the flanks. The head of the male is significantly broader than the female.

Behaviour   

Species Profile

  

Breeding    

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Often encountered basking in open patches of vegetation in spring and autumn. Nervous creatures, will retreat if disturbed. Hunt spiders, insects and hatching lizards including their own species. Dig burrows to spend the winter in. Hibernation takes place from September - March with males choosing to hibernate earlier than the females. Sand lizards are vulnerable to predation, particularly females when they are digging burrows. They can cast off or ‘drop’ their tails which wriggle around distracting their predator.

Breeding takes place between March and May. Fierce territorial rivalry takes place between males where lots of posturing can be seen. This can escalate in to fighting. Successful pairs bask together and mate frequently. Clutches of 6-12 eggs are laid in sand burrows, dug by females, around June time. She will dig multiple burrows and pick the one with optimal temperature and humidity. Eggs hatch 8-10 weeks later, depending on how sunny it has been (usually in August or September.)

Photos: Top left - Male sand lizard © Howard Inns. Middle right - Juvenile © Chris Dresh (ARC). Middle left - Female burrowing © Nick Moulton (ARC) Bottom right - Female © Chris Dresh (ARC)


Spotlight on sand lizards Spotlight on sand lizards By Pete Hill - BLF Dragonscapes Habitat Officer Earlier this year, I and a pair of friends surveyed a few sand lizard and smooth snake reintroduction sites in Surrey. On June 14th, following a cool, sun-less morning, the afternoon brought strong sun onto the Surrey bank pictured below. We happened to arrive just at the right time and witnessed some of the seasonal drama of the lives of the sand lizards unfolding at our feet.

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This bank is ideal for sand lizards, south facing aspect, sheltered from wind with plenty of cover for foraging, immediately adjacent to patches of bare sand for egg laying and basking, and plenty of open “sun rooms� carpeted with moss and situated next to mature heather.

Introducing the male suitors...

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Male number one undoubtedly the dominant male and was observed chasing off the other males whenever they got too close.

Central to all of the activity was this female, freshly sloughed and receptive, wafting out pheromones that attracted a number of males. We were lucky to be there just at the right time as the males, drunk with pheromones, focused their attention on the female. A number of males were within close proximity of the female, and each other.

Male number two - never far away, just out of reach of male number one, and waiting for an opportunity to sneak in.

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Male number three - also waiting nearby.

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Male number one guards the female and chases off other males as she basks in her favourite moss-carpeted sun room. The female, fully charged up from the sun, moves off to forage at another nearby open area.

Male number one follows initially but is distracted by invertebrates brought out by the suns heat and loses contact with her. Male number three starts moving in whilst number one basks nearby unaware of what is happening.

Spotlight on sand lizards

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Spotlight on sand lizards 8

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Male number one continues to bask and forage elsewhere. After mating with number three, the female heads back towards her favourite sun room.

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Š Vaughn Matthews.

Male number three seizes the opportunity (and the female) whilst the dominant male’s back is turned and mates with the female.

Spotlight on sand lizards

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Upon arriving at her favourite sun room, male number two is there waiting for her. He wastes no time and begins tail biting, the preliminaries of courtship behaviour.

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The female drags male number two across the sun room and the pair mate. This was the second male to mate with the female within a 15 minute time period. Neither of the successful males seen mating were the dominant male who was still basking elsewhere.

A new fourth male appears nearby, drawn in by the irresistible pheromones from the female. At this point we left them to it!

This is how the sand lizard ensures genetic diversity. A single clutch of eggs can have as many as six different fathers. A mating as late in the season as this is likely to mean that the female is going for a second clutch. Great news and a sign that the reintroduction programme on this site is succeeding! All photos Š Pete Hill unless otherwise stated.


Tail-Enders TAIL-ENDERS

Facebook Herpy Halloween Pumpkin Carving Competition!

Send us a photo of your best amphibian and/or reptile themed pumpkin carving and be in with a chance to win a great herp themed prize! We have included a carving template in this newsletter (pictured below) for you to create a creepy frog themed pumpkin for fun but be as creative as you like!  Competition opens 9am on Monday 26th October 2015.  Take a photo of your brilliant carved pumpkin and post a photo to ARC’s Facebook wall. If

you don’t have a Facebook account, ask a friend with an account very nicely to post for you!  ONE photo per person please!  Entries must be submitted by midnight on Sunday 1st November 2015.  Photos will be added to a ‘Herpy Halloween Competition!’ Facebook album and put to a public    

vote. Competition album will be created midday Monday 2nd November 2015. Voting closes midnight on Wednesday 4th November 2015. The three photos with the most ‘Likes’ will be sent to our judging panel. Winner announced (and tagged) via Facebook post on Friday 6th November.

The winner receives a pack of our new ARC Snap cards, a lovely great crested newt mini print by artist Sarah Wiseman and one of our ever popular ARC Pin Badges!

Look out for the little guys on Bonfire Night!

If you have to build your bonfire early make sure you use long broom handles to lift from the base of the pile, and shine torches, looking and listening carefully for any signs of life before lighting.

Tail-Enders

This year ARC has teamed up with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for a joint social media campaign to raise awareness ahead of Guy Fawkes celebrations. Hedgehogs and our native herpetofauna are attracted to bonfires as it provides ideal shelter for them and a place to forage for food. They may also choose an unlit bonfire to try and hibernate in. If you build a bonfire this year try to build or re-site it as late as you can on the same day you plan to light it checking for wildlife as you go. Sadly, lots of creatures die in unchecked bonfires. Please put your enclosed flyer somewhere lots of people will see it and help save the little guys!

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Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is a national wildlife charity striving for a world where amphibians and reptiles are safeguarded for future generations. With over 25 years experience in the wildlife sector we are committed to the conservation of frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards and the habitats on which they depend.

To find out more or to support Amphibian and Reptile Conservation contact: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation 655A Christchurch Road Boscombe Bournemouth Dorset BH1 4AP Tel: 01202 391319 Fax: 01202 392785 Email: enquiries@arc-trust.org

www.arc-trust.org Follow us on Twitter - www.twitter.com/ARC_bytes Find us on Facebook - www.facebook.com/ARCTrust Watch videos on Youtube - www.youtube.com/ARCTrust

Become a Friend! Join Amphibian and Reptile Conservation today and help us give a voice to the UK’s amphibians and reptiles - saving species, improving habitats and enhancing lives in the process. It costs as little as £15 a year.

Join online: www.arc-trust.org/support Or call 01202 391319 (9:00am - 5:00pm, Monday - Friday)

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is a Registered Charity: England & Wales number 1130188. Scotland number SC044097.

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HopGossip! Autumn/Winter 2015  

HopGossip! Autumn/Winter 2015  

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