HopGossip! Autumn/Winter 2017 In this issueâ€Ś Grass snakes in the news Friends Day 2017 A farewell to ARC Gems in the Dunes project update
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 firstname.lastname@example.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
In the Field Grass snakes in the news.
In the Field SOS – Saving our sand lizards for more than a quarter of a century.
Friends’ Day Friends’ Day 2017.
10 End of an era A farewell to ARC.
12 North Wales Partnerships for natterjack toads.
13 Scotland Winners of Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science competition.
14 Cumbria Rags to Riches: Braystones 2017.
16 Projects Gems in the Dunes project update.
17 Ireland Natterjack toads in Ireland: monitoring and conservation.
18 Species Profile
Administration & Finance Manager: Helen Wraight Administration & Finance Officer (part time): Martine Watkins 19 Administrative Support Officer: Angela Reynolds Amphibian Conservation Officer: Yvette Martin BLF Dragonscapes Habitat Officer: Peter Hill BLF Dragonscapes Species Officer: Mark Barber Communications & Outreach Manager (part time): Dr Angie Julian Cumbria Natterjack Officer (part time): Ruth Popely Database & GIS Officer: Arne Loth Dorset Field Officer: Richie Johnson Dorset Field Officer: James Anderson-Barr Dorset Field Officer/Health & Safety Officer: Richard Sharp Friendship & E-Communications Officer (part time): Kim Boughey Fundraiser (part time consultant): Atul Srivastava GCN Conservation Officer/Species Coordinator: Dorothy Driver GCN Detectives Project Officer: Dr Pete Minting Gems in the Dunes Project Manager: Fiona Sunners Gems in the Dunes Project Officer: Andrew Hampson Jersey GIS Project Officer: Rob Ward North Wales Officer: Mandy Cartwright Reptile Conservation Officer: Nick Moulton Regional, Training & Science Programmes Manager: Dr John Wilkinson Seasonal Field Officers: Bryony Davison, William Emmett-Mair, Stuart Handyside, Michael Jones, Paul Kitchen & Matthew Lockley Senior Dorset Field Officer: Chris Dresh Senior Reserves Manager: Gary Powell Snakes in the Heather Development Officer: Ben Limburn Species Programme Manager: Dr Karen Haysom Wealden Field Officer (part time): John Gaughan Wealden Field Officer: Ralph Connelly Wealden Reserves Manager: Rob Free
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Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita).
Tail Enders Quick Fire Question Round with Nick Baker! What’s under the tin? Answers from the last issue.
If you would like to contribute to the next edition please contact Angela Reynolds at email@example.com. Cover image: Taking shelter from the rain at the ARC Friends’ Day 2017 © Gary Powell. 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 the latest edition of Hop Gossip! If I was to sum up 2017, I would call it a year of change. We are still in the process of a restructure here at ARC and during this time we have welcomed new colleagues and said good bye to some too. One of the Trusts longest standing employees retired in November and you can read his parting article in the centre pages. With the new data protection regulations on the horizon, we also have to adjust to the way we handle and store the information we receive and use. If you haven’t already ‘opted in’ please make sure you let us know how you would like to stay in touch using the enclosed form or online https://www.arctrust.org/forms/opt-in I can’t quite believe that we are almost at the end of another year! I am about to enter my 10th year with the Trust and when I look back at the huge amount we have achieved in that time, and how much we have grown, (double the size in fact), it brings home just how important the work we do is. Our work will never be done though, and we are lucky to have so much support from our Friends and volunteers to help with our field work and in the office. We thank each and every one of you. We couldn’t do it without you! Who knows what 2018 will bring?! I’m looking forward to finding out! With Santa almost knocking on the door, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a very Herpy New Year! With best wishes,
Angela Reynolds Hop Gossip Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
C.E.O.’s Corner Dr Tony Gent For those of you who are members of, or supporters of, charities and other organisations, you have probably received some requests to ‘Opt in’ or to ‘Say Yes’ to being contacted in the future. This is driven by a combination of a change in legislation that is due to take effect in May next year and the ambitions of Charities to build a stronger relationship with their supporters on the back of this. The new data protection regulations will mean that we won’t be able to send you information about what we do without your permission. We will be getting further advice and support to ensure we are fully compliant with new rules, and in the meantime please be sure to ‘opt-in’ to continue to receive your Hop Gossip in the way you wish to receive it. Please bear with us when we contact you about this and please do reply to let us know how you would like us to contact you - a big thank you to all of you that have done so already and we are hoping that many more of you will follow suit before the deadline in May next year. In mid-November the ‘Back from the Brink’ project was formally launched; this is a huge partnership project with significant funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund, People’s Postcode Lottery, Esmée Fairbairn and Garfield Weston Foundations and Patsy Wood Trust. The project is led by a partnership of seven species focused NGOs known as the Rethink Nature partnership, which includes ARC, along with Natural England and the Forestry Commission. The project occurs across England and covers seven landscape level projects and 12 projects focusing on single species. Overall the entire project suite is looking to directly benefit 112 threatened species through its work. A recurring theme at the launch was the importance of the partnerships that were working together to make the project happen. This includes the different organisations involved and, perhaps more importantly, the large number of people that the project hopes to reach out to (over one and a quarter million) and engage directly in the project (nearly 60,000). This truly is a project aiming at inspiring the nation and getting people to see our wildlife as a shared heritage that we need to conserve. All too often people have simply lost the link with wildlife – and the opportunities to experience the enjoyment that it can bring and the chance to help do more to conserve it. ARC is pleased to be part of this project and is looking forward to seeing it raise the profile of our threatened species. We are hoping that many people will take the opportunity to become involved in the projects that have a strong focus on reptiles and amphibians both to help the species and to learn first-hand how fascinating these animals are; so whether you want to become involved in the project or simply stay in touch with us by ‘opting in’, we hope that we can continue our ‘partnership’ with you into 2018 and beyond.
Farewell Mr Buckley! By Angela Reynolds - Hop Gossip Editor After 22 years ‘doing the business,’ John Buckley, ARC’s Amphibian Conservation Officer, finally hung up his nets and retired in November. There are many things I will miss about working with John, his extensive knowledge and anecdotes on all things relating to the natural world, and I will especially miss his many quirks. No longer will an expenses claim for half a pair of trousers, one shoe and 5/8 roll of sellotape land on my desk for processing! I also have to get used to not tending to his pet cockroaches in his office whilst he’s away! ARC staff, and some of the Trust’s closest friends and former colleagues, gave John a deserving send off The farewell party! © Yvette Martin complete with a buffet, cake, gifts, prosecco and speeches from ARC Chairman Jon Webster and CEO Tony Gent. Patron Chris Packham, Johns former student and biggest fan, also sent over a video message with his regards. John gave a highly entertaining speech containing the highs and lows of his time with the Trust and along with his wife Claire, left the party with armfuls of presents and great big smiles! Thank you John, for your many years of dedication and tireless work for natterjack toads and pool frogs. Have a very happy retirement.
Eyes in the sky! By Richard Sharp - Dorset Field and Health & Safety Officer
What’s new with the ARC crew? By Angela Reynolds - Hop Gossip Editor
ARC has been mapping vegetation and archaeology on our reserve at St Catherine's Hill in Dorset using the latest drone technology. In partnership with Christchurch and East Dorset Council and the Friends of St Catherine's Hill, we brought in experts from the New Forest National Park Authority to produce hyper detailed aerial imagery through a process called photogrammetry.
We have a few new additions to the team since our last issue of Hop Gossip!
Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the joint project is looking at site use during the First World War. These images should help us analyse vegetation change and recovery after the big heath fire in 2015, and will enable us to see how our target species use the structures on site. The results will be in some time in the New Year.
Martine Watkins is our new part time Admin and Finance Officer. With a growing team and lots more going on, it is fabulous to finally have the capacity to be able to increase the admin and finance support for the Trust. Martine is really enjoying learning all about the wonderful world of amphibians and reptiles. We are delighted to welcome Rob Ward to the team. Rob is employed until mid September as Jersey G.I.S Project Officer and will be working on multi species distribution and habitat suitability modelling. Henry Rees is assisting Ben Limburn as an intern on the Snakes in the Heather project. Sarah Barker is assisting Yvette Martin as natterjack toad data entry assistant.
Drone ready for take-off © Richard Sharp
Welcome to the team!
Fundraising Fun! By Atul Srivastava - Fundraiser The ARC Gala Dinner and Auction 2017, which aimed to build and strengthen our relationships with businesses local to ARC's Head Office in Dorset and to raise funds for our invaluable conservation work, was a great success! The evening was kindly hosted by ARC patron, Iolo Williams, wellknown wildlife champion, author, public speaker and TV presenter (including BBC Springwatch). Highlights of the event included Iolo’s inspiring introductory talk and energetic auctioneering at the end of the evening, as well as a delicious and sustainably sourced three course meal, unbelievable tricks by Alfie the Magician, and otherwise sensible people attempting to mimic the mating call of a pool frog during the tie breaker for Have I Got NEWTS For You! We are delighted to confirm that the final total for the evening including sponsor support, auction income and donations was an incredible £2,770! These essential funds mean that our core work conserving vulnerable native amphibians and reptiles can continue – so huge thanks to everyone who attended on the night, donated auction prizes, and bid at the auction. Heartfelt thanks also go to Iolo for his great performance on the night and for his ongoing support of ARC. We would also like to say a big thank you to this years' generous sponsors Innovation Visual, Wildcare and Lester Aldridge for ensuring the event was such a great success. We are now thinking about our 2018 event, and how to maximise the benefits for all involved. ARC aims to work with more companies in future, and as a starting point we’ve recently launched a new Corporate Supporters scheme. Many thanks to Innovation Visual for being one of the first Corporate Supporters to join the group. Being a Corporate Supporter of ARC is about showing your customers and staff that you care about the environment and conservation efforts. For further details and to join, please visit: www.arc-trust.org/corporate-supporters
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Thank you again to this years' kind sponsors
Photo above right: Iolo hosts the Auction. Middle right: Alfie the magician provided entertainment over dinner. Below: ARC staff and Trustees with Iolo © Angela Reynolds.
In the Field Grass snakes in the news By Jim Foster - Conservation Director This summer saw reports about a fourth species of British snake, citing research from Germany. Don’t believe all you read, says ARC’s Conservation Director, Jim Foster.
On the 7th August this year, something odd happened. My inbox and voicemail were peppered with puzzled messages about the “new species of snake”. Sure enough, media outlets were proclaiming the discovery of a fourth snake – a new species of grass snake, living alongside the “old” one. Really? Well, no. What seems to have happened is that a news agency had misinterpreted a press release issued by the Senckenberg Institution, the German research group who had published a remarkable investigation into grass snake genetics. They proposed that grass snakes in Western Europe – very roughly from Britain east to the River Rhine – should be elevated from the subspecies Natrix natrix helvetica to a newly described full species, N. helvetica. Snakes in much of Italy and some nearby islands are also now considered N. helvetica. Grass snakes east of the Rhine are still considered N. natrix.
In the Field
The conclusions are based on a thorough analysis of the genetic identity of grass snakes sampled across their range, which allowed the identification of “contact zones”. These can be viewed as a window on the evolutionary process, effectively speciation in action. The data pinpointed a narrow contact zone in the Rhine region, where the two species meet and yet where there is little gene flow. There is in fact even more to this grass snake story. The same research group has looked at similar snakes across a wider range, and concluded that grass snakes in Iberia and North Africa, previously known as Natrix natrix astreptophora, should be considered a full species, Natrix astreptophora.
Unfortunately most of the misleading UK news reports were not corrected. For clarity, we still have three species of native snake (grass snake, adder and smooth snake). The proposed change is the taxonomic identity of our native grass snakes, becoming Natrix helvetica rather than Natrix natrix. The mention of “barred grass snake” in some news reports refers to the fact that Western European grass snakes invariably have black bars on the flanks, while this marking tends to be absent in Eastern snakes. Incidentally, Britain also harbours a few small populations of non-native grass snakes introduced from the continent, possibly including N. natrix. These snakes may have quite distinctive patterns, including stripes, and researchers are looking into their origins. Whilst some proposed taxonomic changes get rebuffed after consideration, these new research findings seem solid at first glance. We don’t need to look far to find examples of revisions that have stood the test of time. The classification of European crested newts has undergone substantial change since the late 1980s, when the various species we recognise today were known as subspecies of Triturus cristatus (having said that, some changes have been proposed in recent years). Research has altered the scientific names and/or taxonomic standing of several other native species. An especially notable finding
was that toads on Jersey were recognised (by ARC’s John Wilkinson and colleagues) as belonging to a newly described species, Bufo spinosus, also found on the parts of the continent. Aside from the change in name, this new study means that “our” species of grass snake now has a substantially smaller global range. This is important from a panEuropean viewpoint, since assigning conservation priorities is partly based on range size – something we’ll be considering in RACE, the new European network that ARC recently co-founded. Reference: Kindler, C, Chèvre, M, Ursenbacher, S, Böhme, W, Hille, A, Jablonski, D, Vamberger, M & Fritz, U (2017): Hybridization patterns in two contact zones of grass snakes reveal a new Central European snake species. Scientific Reports 7. DOI:10.1038/s41598017-07847-9. © Chris Dresh
© Jim Foster
In the field SOS – Saving our sand lizards for more than a quarter of a century By Dr Angie Julian - Communications & Outreach Manager One of Britain’s rarest reptiles, the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) is now only found in two habitats: sanddune and lowland dry heath; both of which have declined in area in the UK over the past 100 years, due to development and land use changes. This large-scale habitat loss and fragmentation has driven sand lizards from most of their former range including: North and West Wales, Cheshire, Kent, Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall; and native populations now only remain in Merseyside, Surrey, and Dorset. Even here, huge losses of 90-97% have occurred over the past century, and the prospects for these engaging and charismatic little animals were looking very bleak.
© rd a e liz ag d m n sa m e Bru l a M ick M
Responding to this desperate situation, ARC, together with Natural Resources Wales and Natural England formed a partnership to run an important rescue programme to safeguard the future for our native sand lizards. The strategy for sand lizard recovery has three main aims: to protect existing sites, to improve management on these sites for sand lizards and, to reintroduce sand lizards to wellmanaged and suitable sites in their former historic range.
In the field
There are currently nine specialist captive breeding centres for sand lizards including: Marwell Wildlife, The New Forest Reptile Centre and Avon Heath Country Park, where tailor-made outdoor enclosures mimic the sand lizard's natural environment. Here, the animals are able to breed safely and grow to a suitable size for successful release onto suitable reintroduction sites. The juveniles are released in early September to allow them to gradually get used to their new surroundings before hibernation starts in October.
New Educational Display at Avon Heath Country Park’s captive breeding vivaria © ARC.
An important part of the release programme is ensuring that the re -introduction sites are in tip top condition to give the young lizards the best chance to survive the allimportant first winter in the wild. We work closely with land owners, and volunteer surveyors to ensure that sites are ready, and where necessary undertake additional "species specific" habitat management which includes the creation of patches of bare sand for egg laying.
In 2017 we released almost 200 juvenile sand lizards at four sites across the UK, in Denbighshire, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset. These are being monitored by a partnership comprising of ARC, the local amphibian and reptile groups, site managers and volunteers. After a phenomenal 28 years of captive breeding, we have collectively just initiated the 77th re-introduction in England and Wales and are getting ever nearer the 10,000th lizard released! We couldn’t have achieved this without the hard work of all of the captive breeders, partners, landowners, The Institute of Zoology health screening and volunteer supporters. A massive thank you to all!
Friends’ Day Friends’ Day 2017 By Dr Angie Julian - Communications & Outreach Manager On Saturday, September 9th, we ran a very special Friends Day on one of our flagship reserves, Town Common, on St Catherine’s Hill, Christchurch, Dorset. Led by our Senior Reserves Manager, Gary Powell, and Rick Sharp from our Dorset Field Team, and supported by Kim Boughey and myself, we had a great day exploring the site and were lucky to spot two of our national rarities: sand lizards and a smooth snake, which are thriving on this reserve. Our Friends also spotted common frogs, common toads, viviparous lizards and a multitude of other species of flora and fauna, which benefit from our wildlife friendly management, including the raft spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) pictured below. A particular highlight of the Day was an insight into the archaeology of this important site. Rick was able to draw on his experiences, from writing up a dissertation on the archaeology of the site, to give us a fascinating presentation on the history of St Catherine’s Hill through the ages, from the early bronze age settlers, through to the creation of practice trenches. which provided an important training ground for troops heading for the Western Front during the First World War. We were able to spot these features as we walked the site, which is an important reminder of how history can shape the present.
We would like to thank our Friends, for all their help and support, one way of doing this is through our dedicated Friends Days, which offers our supporters a unique opportunity to get out and meet the ARC staff and the animals we protect. In the coming year we will be running more Friends Days around the country, for those who live farther afield, and watch out for our ARC eNews and social media posts, to find out how your generous support is helping us to continue to conserve our native herpetofauna. And remember, if you are not already a Friend, then please do consider supporting us as every penny you give translates into our vital conservation work, or if you are looking for a practical outlet for your time and energy, then why not volunteer with our Dorset or Surrey Field Teams, who would be delighted to welcome you.
Photo top right: A juvenile common toad © Angie Julian. Middle left: Raft spider © Angie Julian. Middle right: Gary shows the group a smooth snake © Angie Julian. Bottom: Rick shows off the reserve from the top of St. Catherine’s Hill © Alex Boughey.
End of an era A Farewell to ARC By John Buckley - Amphibian Conservation Officer My 22 year stint with The HCT / ARC has been thoroughly enjoyable. This is not to say that I haven’t woken in the small hours worrying about a particular set of minutes, scrub and natterjack toad competitors, or whether I’d remembered to include VAT in a funding bid. I still have a recurring nightmare about forgetting to monitor phantom pools at Woolmer but now, at last, I’m beginning to control that one. One of the beautiful things about natterjack conservation is the sound science that underpins it. With the monitoring by dedicated recorders it is increasingly possible to see whether conservation action is effective and to plan future action accordingly. Working with proactive people in conservation, be they volunteers, site managers, farmers and landowners, colleagues or Trustees, has been fantastic. Many undertake heroic work to maintain habitat and the populations that depend on it. The pool frog project gained traction with the support of English Nature - the statutory conservation body, plus an expert group of professional and amateur herpetologists. From the start HCT / ARC has played, and will continue to play, an important role in this work to reintroduce the pool frog to several sites in its former range. In my view, ARC has improved a lot in recent years without, fortunately, sacrificing any good qualities. ARC’s importance cannot be underestimated, continuing to play a role in the fields of policy and legislation; species monitoring and reporting to government; land ownership and habitat management; public engagement and volunteering. ARC is able to punch above its weight because it is obviously fully informed and competent. An exciting couple of decades are over. Now is the time for another to have a turn in post; there is plenty left to achieve.
End of an era
Photos © John Buckley unless otherwise stated.
1. Improving the fortune of Woolmer natterjacks. 2. Sweden 2008 - not a good day for finding pool frogs! 3. A female natterjack © Antony Wainwright. 4. May 2008 - a pair of Swedish pool frogs in a Norfolk pingo. 5. A tree harvester in action at Blackmoor. 6. Employee of the HCT identity card! 7. A small sieve is a handy piece of equipment for an Amphibian Officer! Cumbria 2010 © Angela Reynolds. 8. The strawberry spider (Araneus alsine) always a welcome find when scrub clearing © Chris Dresh. 9. Melanistic natterjack - an unexpected find in Cumbria. 10. Searching for pool frog spawn in Norfolk 2016 © Angela Reynolds. 11. Sweden 2008 - It’s all in there somewhere! An ideal pool frog day. 12. Coffee break with colleagues - Canada 2012. 13. Giving a presentation on pool frogs at the World Congress of Herpetology 2012 in Canada. 14. Now it is time to hand the reins over to my successor Yvette Martin © Yvette Martin.
North Wales Partnerships for natterjack toads By Mandy Cartwright - North Wales Officer A large part of Mandy's job is to forge partnerships with local companies and volunteers. Engaging with the community, and highlighting the conservation needs of our native herpetofauna species, is something Mandy really enjoys and the amphibians of North Wales are certainly benefitting! I recently teamed up with Siemens who have been working along the North Wales Railway Line. Siemens and Network rail are keen to support local projects and to facilitate and fund vital components in making these projects sustainable for the future. Eleven Siemens staff and a staff member from Network Rail gave their time to enhance habitat for the rarest amphibian in Wales, the natterjack toad. The work day consisted of scrub clearance and the creation of habitat piles, which will provide ideal habitat for natterjacks to hunt their prey and for them to take refuge during the daytime. Partnerships and volunteers are vital to the long term vision for natterjacks toads in North Wales, which is to protect and enhance their habitat and extend their geographic range, thus creating a more genetically robust population.
On behalf of ARC and the natterjack toads, I would like to say a big thank you to Siemens and Network Rail for all of their help with this project.
Photos top and bottom: Mandy with the work party ÂŠ Mandy Cartwright.
Scotland Winners of Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science competition By Dr Pete Minting - Great Crested Newt Detectives Officer The winners of the Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science competition have been presented with their awards at Edinburgh Zoo. Young artists and writers from across Scotland attended the event on 21st October, organised by ARC and hosted by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS). Children aged 8-18 were asked to paint, draw or write about 15 iconic Scottish species, ranging from Scottish wildcats and red deer to great crested newts. According to ARC's patron and TV presenter Chris Packham: “There are some very striking, imaginative and colourful artworks... and some tremendous essays describing these wonderful animals”. The creative work done by the children will now be used to help illustrate a new book I’m compiling called "Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science: how DNA technology is being used to help save Scotland's wildlife".
RZSS is working closely with ARC to help make the Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science project a success. Dr Gill Murray-Dickson is a research scientist in the RZSS WildGenes laboratory. She says “DNA technology is a powerful tool with huge potential for helping to manage rare and endangered species. Using DNA-based information to help conserve native species in particular is a hugely exciting, yet challenging, mission to be part of.” The RZSS WildGenes laboratory works on several projects in Scotland (and further afield) including genetic studies of endangered Scottish wildcats and European beavers.
Photo top right: The entries were all on display. Bottom: The finalists at Edinburgh Zoo, with competition organiser Pete Minting (back row, far left) of ARC and artist Cherith Harrison (far right), who gave an inspiring talk to the children. All © Pete Minting.
Cumbria Rags to Riches: Braystones 2017 By Ruth Popely - Cumbria Natterjack Officer Four concrete pools were created in 2005 as mitigation for a Waste Water Treatment Plant constructed near Braystones, Cumbria. This project was engineered by our beloved Les Robertson whom we paid tribute to in Hop Gossip Spring / Summer 2016. Les designed the pools so that the water levels could be managed for the benefit of natterjacks, and involve the incorporation of bottom drains and valves. This allows the pools to be drained over winter and early spring to avoid the peak of common toad spawning ensuring the pools are maintained solely for breeding natterjacks. United Utilities occasionally provide further help by providing a pump to lift water from a well on site, should the pools need topping up.
The natterjacks today are reliant on the concrete pools as their natural breeding habitat has been lost to changes in the area. Sadly as the site ages, the pool valves are starting to fail. We are keen to ensure the continued success of this natterjack colony, and are looking at ways to ensure their future remains bright here especially with the threat of the possible Moorside development, the impacts of which we simply do not know yet. For more information on Moorside see http://www.nugeneration.com/moorside.html online.
This year we recruited a new volunteer to monitor Braystones, and Kris Long does a super job of keeping me informed. It was great to hear that natterjacks bred in 3 out of 4 of the pools. And when the water levels dropped quite low, United Utilities happily swung into action to top up the pools. Unusually for Cumbria, the previous winter and spring had been quite dry and so the well didn’t contain enough water to completely fill the pools. Consequently there remained a vast expanse of baking concrete for the tiny emerging toadlets to cross. Anyone who has seen their tiny fried bodies on exposed pond liner or concrete, knows how desperately sad the situation still appeared. Clearly they needed some way to cross the baking concrete, safely. With the power of social media, I was able to gather a bin-bag of old towels kindly donated for this wildlife rescue mission. My fantastic 14 year old son Joshua, and I went to work for a couple of evenings, cutting up, plaiting and sewing these towels to create our vision of toadlet bridges. Before installing them on site, we thoroughly rinsed the towels to remove any detergent residues. On anchoring the various damp bridges in place, we stuffed wads of cowpats in the folds and creases. The tiny lifeforms already enjoying the cow excreta, would equally be enjoyed by the emerging natterjack toadlets. The “seeded” bridges, not only providing them safe passage but some ideal first-food along the way as well. A few days later I returned to find hundreds of healthy toadlets enjoying the fruits of our labour, with many more to follow. I think Les, like the toadlets, would be tickled pink with our efforts. Thank you to all involved. Photo page 14 - top right: Joshua securing his toadlet bridge in place. Bottom: Cowpat-seeded towel bridges to help emerging natterjack toadlets cross deadly bare concrete safely. This page - top right: An old rope bridge, relocated from a nearby beach, also “seeded”, proved very successful too. Middle left: 5 natterjack toadlets sheltering in a towel fold. Bottom right: A close-up of a seeded bridge . All © Ruth Popely.
Projects Gems in the Dunes project update By Fiona Sunners - Project Manager & Andrew Hampson - Project Officer Upon arrival at Sefton, no time was wasted at all in organising meetings and site visits with local land managers and conservation groups, getting to grips with the Capital Works scheduled for this coming winter and beginning to develop a volunteer work programme for the coming seasons. We have had time to visit the sites we will be working on and have highlighted several key areas where volunteer habitat management work will be done over the winter months, clearing sea buckthorn and doing natterjack scrape work. We have been incredibly lucky to have actually seen all of our key species so far. Highlights include spotting our very first sand lizard hatchling and finding one of very few populations of petalwort in the UK, let alone Sefton Coast. Gems in the Dunes has held two successful events including a crafts and activities day at the Ainsdale Discovery Centre and a Gems in the Dunes stand at the Atkinson Museum Southport. At these events the project engaged with over 70 people and over 40 people have expressed an interest in volunteering or have already signed up. The first Gems in the Dunes volunteer session has been held, where we had 12 volunteers attending a training course to identify and record the notoriously hard to spot petalwort as well as our two species of bryum – warneum and calophyllum and a further 25 volunteers will be attending bryophyte training days over the next few weeks. The project has got off to a great start and we look forward to seeing where it goes, the success and interest generated from our first few events bodes well for the future of the project and for Sefton’s sand dunes.
Photo top right: Petalwort, Middle left: Sand lizard hatchling, Bottom: Sand dune slack. All © Andrew Hampson.
Ireland Natterjack toads in Ireland: monitoring and conservation By Marina Reyne - PhD researcher at Queen’s University Belfast In Ireland the natterjack toad is the rarest and most endangered amphibian species. Its distribution range is restricted to the very south-west of the country. Loss of breeding habitat was identified as the single most important driver of the species decline. One hundred new artificial ponds have been created since 2006 as part of a Heritage Council Biodiversity Fund Project and National Parks and Wildlife Service Pond Creation Scheme. The program goal is to increase the number of suitable breeding sites and to restore the toad population to its historical range in Ireland. In 2012 breeding activity was recorded at some of the new ponds and two years later a strategic translocation program was launched to enhance the toad’s colonization of the restored habitat. For my PhD research with Queen’s University Belfast I am monitoring all known natterjack toad natural breeding sites and artificially created ponds in Ireland over a period of three years. My main goal is to update our knowledge on the species’ distribution, population size, breeding success, habitat preferences, population genetics, threats and pressures and to provide information for the conservation assessment of the natterjack toad in Ireland. I am also looking into development of new and reliable approaches to monitoring the toad’s population like use of environmental DNA for estimating species presence and abundance. The results will help identify critical habitats and target areas where more intensive surveys are needed. An important additional goal is to evaluate the success of the reintroduction program and habitat restoration as an effective means to conserve and promote aquatic wildlife on agricultural land. This work will provide recommendations for appropriate future management.
For more information email: email@example.com
© Marina Reyne.
Many thanks to all our partners.
Species Profile Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita)
Behaviour Mainly nocturnal. Hibernate October to March. Spend the day in deep sandy burrows, which they excavate themselves, also where they hibernate. Emerge from their burrow to hunt for insects after dark. Move by running quickly rather than hop.
Breeding and young Require warm water to breed successfully. Breeding season April to July. Males gather at the edges of breeding ponds and emit a loud rasping call to attract the females after dark on warm, damp evenings (which can be heard up to a mile away!) Spawn is laid in a double string which settles in to a single string over the course of 7 days. Females have been known to spawn more than once in a season. Metamorphosis is usually fast and occurs within a month. Photo top left: Male natterjack calling © Chris Dresh. Middle right: Natterjacks have a distinctive yellow dorsal stripe © Chris Dresh. Middle left: Spawn string © Howard Inns. Bottom right: a natterjack tadpole © Howard Inns.
Appearance/colour Striking gold/green eyes with black veins. Greenish brown warty skin with irregular grey-green-light brown patches, sometimes with red tipped warts. Thin yellow dorsal stripe. Back legs are shorter and stockier than the common toad making them appear squat and stocky. Males exhibit a bluish tinged throat and vocal sac which balloons when he calls. Females tend to be larger and fatter than the males. Tadpoles are jet black with a blunt tail and sometimes with a distinct white patch below the mouth. Toadlets display the dorsal stripe before they leave the water.
Habitat Almost exclusively confined to coastal sand dune systems, coastal grazing marshes and sandy heaths. Native and reintroduced populations exist along the Merseyside coast, Cumbrian coast, Scottish Solway, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Hampshire, Surrey, Dorset and North Wales. Breed in unshaded shallow pools and scrapes that dry up in summer and refill in the winter. Require open close cropped habitat in order to hunt for food.
Tail-Enders Quick Fire Question round! TAIL-ENDERS
Itâ€™s the turn of Nick Baker, Naturalist and Author, to face the quick fire questions round! Grass snake or adder? Adder Conservation hero? Romulus Whittaker Tea or coffee? Coffee Favourite book The Hunting Wasps by JH Fabre or The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russell Wallace Great crested newt or natterjack toad? Great crested newt Salt and vinegar or cheese and onion? Salt & Vinegar Early bird or night owl? Early Bird Heathland or sand dune? Sand Dune Wellies or flip flops? Flip Flops Favourite season? Spring
Photo: ÂŠ Nick Baker (Photographer - Paul Carter)
Did you spot the adder under this tin from the last issue?
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