HopGossip! Lockdown Edition In this issueâ€¦ Blackmoor - You did it! ARC life in lockdown Spring on the Heath & Project updates
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 744 Christchurch Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth, Dorset BH7 6BZ
Hop off the Press
In the Field
ARC life in lockdown.
In the Field
Toads, trees and tea: A winter volunteering tale. An increase on demands on SSSI’s. ARC volunteers in the spotlight.
Spring on the heaths.
12 The pond in my garden
My pond diary - one year on. Unexpected Benefits of becoming an ARC Friend.
Carry on Connecting.
Telephone 01202 391319 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
15 North Wales
Patrons: Earl of Malmesbury Chris Packham Iolo Williams Lucy Cooke
Chair of Trustees: Jonathan Webster Chief Executive Officer: Dr Tony Gent Conservation Director: Jim Foster
Gems in the Dunes update. Globe Way.
The Herpetofauna Workers Meeting 2020 - A newbies view.
First in the Club! BH Coastal Lottery. Ferndown receives Bags of Help!
18 Species Profile Administration & Finance Manager: Helen Wraight Wall lizard (Podarcis muralis). Administration & Finance Officer: Martine Watkins 19 Tail Enders Administrative Support Officer: Angela Reynolds Mystic Toad’s Herp Answersmash! Amphibian Conservation Officer: Yvette Martin Did you guess what was going on in the Communications & Outreach Manager: Anju Sarpal photo in the last issue of Hop Gossip? Connecting the Dragons Project Officer: Peter Hill Connecting the Dragons Project Officer: Mark Barber Database & GIS Officer: Dr Rob Ward If you would like to contribute to the IT Project Officer: Johnny Novy next edition please contact Angela Dorset Field Officer: Richie Johnson Reynolds at Dorset Field Officer: James Anderson-Barr email@example.com. Dorset Field Officer/Health & Safety Officer: Richard Sharp Dorset Field Officer: William Emmett-Mair Friendship & E-Communications Officer: Kim Boughey Cover photo: Daily lockdown Fundraising Coordinator (part time consultant): Atul Srivastava exercise © Ralph Connolly GCN Conservation Officer/Species Coordinator: Dorothy Driver (ARC) Gems in the Dunes Project Manager: Fiona Sunners Gems in the Dunes Project Officer: Andrew Hampson Hop Gossip is edited and North Wales Officer: Mandy Cartwright designed by Angela Reynolds. North Wales Seasonal Officer: Brianna Hodge Reptile Conservation Officer: Nick Moulton Please note: The views Regional, Training & Science Programmes Manager: Dr John Wilkinson expressed in this newsletter are Senior Dorset Field Officer: Chris Dresh not necessarily the views of Senior Reserves Manager: Gary Powell Amphibian & Reptile South Midlands Newt Conservation Partnership Project Officer: Andrew Buxton Conservation but those of the Snakes in the Heather Citizen Science & Operations Officer: Ben Limburn authors. Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement & Education Officer: Owain Masters Species Programme Manager: Dr Karen Haysom Wealden Field Officer: John Gaughan Amphibian and Reptile Wealden Field Officer: Ralph Connolly Conservation is a Registered Wealden Field Officer: Bryony Davison Charity. Wealden Reserves Manager: Rob Free England & Wales Charity number. 1130188. Scotland Charity number. SC044097. 2
From the Editor’s desk / kitchen table
Welcome to the latest issue of Hop Gossip! What a start we have had to 2020! I hope all of our Friends are still happy, healthy, safe and coping, through what has been a very challenging few months as we adjust and adapt to the many restrictions that have been placed upon us. With the majority of us confined to our localities during the spring, there have been many more opportunities to stop and take note of the natural environment around us. With the every day hustle and bustle noise placed on pause, the sounds of nature were thrust in to the limelight providing us with a whole new daily soundtrack. I am lucky enough to have a garden full of wildlife and I’m very familiar with the ebb and flow of what goes on in it, but as I live in a busy Bournemouth suburb, I never had the chance to really listen to it until we went in to lockdown, and what a marvellous experience that was! For those of you who have a garden, I hope you will take part in our new Garden Dragon Watch survey. You can find the details on Page 4. In many places, with human activity slowing right down, wildlife has been able to thrive with the lack of continual disturbance. However, this is not the case with some wild public spaces and nature reserves which have been bearing the brunt of the locally increased activity. You can read all about what our staff have been up to during lockdown and since certain restrictions were lifted, whether at home or in the field, throughout Hop Gossip! I hope you all have a great summer and stay safe! Best wishes, Angela Reynolds Hop Gossip Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
C.E.O.’s Corner Dr Tony Gent
The coronavirus, COVID-19, has caused a global crisis; bringing tragedy and heartache, significant impacts on the economy and causing people to live with unprecedented restrictions and uncertainties in their day to day lives. Spring is a time when we look forward to getting out to see the first reptiles and amphibians of the year as they awake from their hibernation or undertake their annual migrations to their breeding areas. This year, however, most of us will have been confined to our homes or to the immediate locality where we can walk or cycle to take exercise. For those lucky enough to have gardens where reptiles or amphibians live or can visit, there was an opportunity to spend perhaps more time looking at our own resident herpetofauna than usual. Perhaps more time than usual to watch the tadpoles turn from just little specks of black to chunky little animals that then sprout legs and turn into froglets. Or putting down small bits of carpet, wood or car mats to see the otherwise hidden slow-worm or may be an occasional grass snake. With these restrictions on movements, a number of conservation bodies encouraged recording of a range of different groups of plants and animals in gardens. At ARC we launched the Garden Dragon Watch, supported by direct recording from mobile phones and computers. While my garden is, sadly, reptile free (except for a young grass snake that turned up a number of years back), the small ponds do attract frogs and palmate newts. Consequently ‘lock down’ wildlife watching here involved a considerable amount of time looking skywards – clocking the arrival of our first house martins and swifts. By the end of April, I would normally have expected to have seen all six of our native reptile species, and probably also at least one of the non-native lizards that live along the cliffs not far from ARC’s offices. However, by that time this year I had to settle for seeing just one common lizard. So, the COVID-19 crisis has seen many of us reviewing our priorities and reassessing our ambitions, whether these are simply around the wildlife we’d have liked to have seen, or much more fundamentally around relationships, jobs and how we live our lives. The Government too has had to review its priorities in the way it has instructed business to operate and how it has shifted its funding priorities. We have seen the world slow down; much less traffic and fewer flights – once busy areas became quiet; large areas of countryside that would typically bustle with people at weekends, were suddenly nearly empty. In many ways this gave nature a break. There were reports of the air being cleaner; wildlife returning to once polluted waterways – showing how nature can respond well if given the chance. Did it also give us a break and an insight to a different way of life? But now, as we look at different exit strategies, will there be any lessons learned? Many of the Government’s plans for the environment have been put on hold, but where will nature feature in the Government’s forthcoming priorities? Will there be a greater recognition of the need for more ‘biosecurity’, preventing people importing diseases such as those that have caused so much harm to our wild amphibian populations? Or will the drive to rapidly restore the economy mean a lesser regard for the environment, and a weakening of the mechanisms that protect it? COVID-19 has created a situation that has shown the importance of nature to people’s health and has forced a new perspective on how our society runs. Alongside other conservation partners, we will be keeping wildlife in the minds of our policy makers and be striving to ensure some long-term environmental benefits come from the current crisis.
Get involved in Garden Dragon Watch! By Angela Reynolds - Editor
New Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve! By Angela Reynolds - Editor The UK has welcomed its first ever ‘super’ National Nature Reserve (NNR) connecting 3,331 hectares or 8,231 acres, of 11 types of priority habitat across the Purbeck heaths of Dorset.
Do you love to listen to the happy croakings of the frogs in your pond, delight in the golden flash of a slow-worm disappearing in to your compost when you throw out your spud peelings or find yourself smiling when you lift a flower pot and find the bright coppery eyes of a toad looking up at you? We'd like to know how many people are lucky enough to see frogs, toads, newts, lizards or snakes in their gardens and how many gardens have habitat features that help amphibians and reptiles thrive. Many of us are concerned at the rate at which our amphibians and reptiles are declining and our gardens are playing an increasingly more important role in their survival. By taking part in our Garden Dragon Watch, you not only get to connect with nature on your doorstep, your observations will be used to improve understanding of which reptiles and amphibians live in gardens and what garden features they like best in order to help us to protect them. Find out more at https://www.arc-trust.org/garden-dragon-watch
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ARC’s Bitesize herpetology courses By John Wilkinson - Regional, Training & Science Programmes Manager
In the light of government advice on coronavirus (COVID-19), we have had to cancel most of our upcoming training courses to maintain social distancing. As we are currently unable to carry out face-to-face training our expert staff have created a new series of free, introductory training modules for anyone with an interest in amphibians and reptiles. It’s a great way to increase your knowledge of herpetology, at a pace and time that suits you. We have beginner levels which cover amphibian and reptile identification, improver levels focusing on individual species, assessments and quizzes which we will continue to add to over the coming weeks. Something for everyone to enjoy whilst we are all spending much more time at home. Check it out at https://www.arctrust.org/training Good luck and above all else have fun!
ARC’s Norden reserve is part of the new NNR
By working together and combining land, expertise and a common vision, the National Trust, Natural England, RSPB, Forestry England, the Rempstone Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust and ARC, along with other landowners and managers, have taken important strides forward in landscape–scale conservation and nature recovery to benefit rare and varied wildlife such as the Sand lizard, Dartford warbler and the Silver studded blue butterfly. The new NNR will give many different species of flora and fauna a better chance of adapting and thriving in light of the current climate crisis. “The new NNR provides a unique opportunity to nurture a landscape level partnership which will safeguard this internationally threatened habitat and its diversity of species. We look forward to working in close collaboration to ensure we are better equipped to take on the challenges facing our environment;” said Tony Gent, ARC CEO.
ARC feature in Parliamentary Review By Anju Sarpal - Communications & Outreach Manager ARC meets the challenge of influencing policy and legislation in a number of imaginative ways. Our specialist staff provide expert advice and guidance to policy-makers; we contribute to the governmental biodiversity strategies in England, Wales and Scotland, and provide advocacy to promote biodiversity benefits as new legislation and policy are developed. To conserve species ARC’s aim is to educate and inform; thus we run national monitoring programmes, involving professionals and citizen scientists, and apply new and innovative ways of studying them – including the use of environmental DNA, remote sensing imagery and computer modelling. These provide valuable data that we feed to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (DEFRA) For this reason ARC’s work features in this year’s Westminster publication, The Parliamentary Review, which shares best practice amongst UK MP’s and business leaders.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, we have successfully reached our target of £200,000 allowing us to buy 50 acres (c.20 hectares) of heathland at Blackmoor near Borden in Hampshire following a year-long fundraising appeal. The site at Blackmoor is part of Woolmer Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is one of the most important areas of heathland in the Weald of southern England. It is unique in Britain, and of special significance to ARC, in that it supports 12 of the UK’s species of reptile and amphibian including the rare smooth snake, sand lizard and natterjack toad. These UK native species have suffered population decline due to habitat loss or fragmentation – hence the importance of safeguarding key locations. ARC has managed this area as part of a larger parcel of privately-owned land at Blackmoor extending over 41 hectares, since 2010, in addition to managing over 200 hectares of Woolmer Forest which is in Ministry of Defence ownership. Over the last ten years ARC has restored around 24 hectares of lowland heathland on Blackmoor from pine and birch scrub woodland of limited value to the special wildlife of the SSSI. Additionally, three ponds have been restored by having accumulated sediment scraped out. These should also benefit the critically endangered Spangled Water Beetle (Graphoderus zonatus), a species whose only known site in Britain is in Woolmer Forest, along with other heathland pond species and the amphibian species that are present. It is hoped that one day natterjack toads will return to Blackmoor from the adjacent Woolmer MoD area where they still survive. In addition to the many generous individuals giving their support, ARC would like to thank the following charitable trusts for their donations: The Banister Charitable Trust, Marjorie Coote Animal Charity Trust, The Marsh Christian Trust, The William Dean Countryside and Educational Trust, and The William Haddon Charitable Trust. The purchase was also supported by The British Herpetological Society and the South Downs National Park Authority.
Fire rescue By Angela Reynolds - Editor On the very last day of May, a major heath fire tore through over 100 hecatres of Thursley Common National Nature Reserve in Surrey. Whist this site is not managed directly by ARC, we have worked closely with Natural England to reintroduce both sand lizards and smooth snakes on the site in the past. We also carry out joint volunteer habitat management tasks on these areas which thankfully escaped the burn. The fire lasted several days, affecting a wet heath area of the site, where grass snakes, common lizards and palmate newts are known to habituate, causing considerable damage to all wildlife populations present. The cause of this fire is unknown but as ever, disposable barbecues and discarded rubbish are suspected. Our Surrey Field Team have been coordinating the rescue efforts in the aftermath, laying out refugia for animals to hide under and carrying out rescue sweeps of the burnt area to translocate any survivors found to safety in the nearest area of intact habitat. It is hoped that over time, when the area starts to recover, the relocated animals will repopulate the burn site. At the time of writing, four rescue sweeps have resulted in total of 56 common lizards, 11 newts, 10 slow-worms, 6 adders, 5 grass snakes and even 7 sand lizards (who have therefore spread further from the original release site than had previously been realised). Also in May, following a very hot, dry and windy month, a huge fire raged through Wareham Forest in Dorset. Due to prevailing weather conditions, the fire burned for more than 2 weeks destroying 220 hectares and reignited a number of times. Sadly, it looks like disposable barbeques may have been the cause. ARC’s Reserves Manager Gary Powell and Reptile Conservation Officer Nick Moulton, in conjunction with site owners Forestry England, led the rescue efforts. It was a complicated task to coordinate with such a huge area to cover, skeleton rescue crews with social distancing in place (and for safety purposes), a heat wave and an active fire site to contend with. Some days the site was too dangerous to attempt a rescue or it was just too hot for any reptile or amphibian activity. At the last official count from the official rescue groups that ARC coordinated, 190 lizards, 50 of which were sand lizards, 9 slow-worms, 4 smooth snakes, 3 adders, 1 grass snake, 4 common toads and one palmate newt were rescued and relocated.
Blackmoor ariel photo © Nick Hughes
This is yet another stark reminder of the ever present threat of heath fires during the summer months. Please spread the word about the risks of lighting fires near wild open spaces and if you do see any signs of heath fires call 999 immediately.
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Blackmoor - You did it! By Rob Free - Weald Reserves Manager
In the Field ARC Life in Lockdown By Bryony Davison - Weald Field Officer In response to government advice, all ARC staff began working from home at the end of March. Our field teams had to abandon fieldwork and fill their time with office and admin work. During the month of May, ARC senior management, in discussion with other wildlife organisations, decided that some of our outdoor work could resume. Our important on-site work cannot be carried out from home ,so when we are outdoors, we continue to ensure that we follow health and safety guidelines and adhere to government social distancing rules. I have used the extra office time (my laptop in my living room) to catch up on the things I haven’t had time to do over the winter, which is our busiest habitat management season. I have collated last year’s survey data and written monitoring reports, among other things. Now we have been given permission to carry out certain site tasks, I have been doing some reptile surveys which will inform our practical management later on in the year. The picture on the right is an adder I spotted on a recent survey. I have also been out refreshing some of our bare ground scrapes. We have prioritised the scrapes that have become most overgrown as without our attention, the sand lizards would have to find suboptimal places to dig egg burrows or may not breed at all.
Photo: Adder © Bryony Davison
Ralph Connolly Weald Field Officer & Volunteer Coordinator
In the Field
One of the solo site monitoring activities that has still been possible to carry out is our fixed-point photography long-term monitoring programme.
I have a range of photography posts set up across our Wealden sites from which myself and volunteers take twice yearly landscape shots (in spring and autumn) to record habitat changes. Over time this will build up
Gong Hill 2020 © ARC
a database of images to show how quickly a particular area of heath is being overgrown by scrub or how well a bare sand scrape is regenerating for example.
Gong Hill 2017 © ARC
In the case of these two images taken in 2017 and 2020 at Gong Hill, they show the gradual recovery of an area of heather that was destroyed by fire in 2015.
James Anderson - Barr Dorset Field Officer It’s great to be back on site and doing the job that I love since we got the go ahead to recommence some of our site duties. The first few weeks of lockdown were particularly hard from a work perspective trying to don an admin hat and help out with the more office-based side of other departments work, especially having just finished 6 months of winter tasks. But I think that was a positive in itself because staff had a chance to dip into things they wouldn't normally do. Usually at this time of year I'm already delivering our events and guided walks here in Dorset. Whilst visiting our sites during lockdown, I am seeing more general reserve work generated by the increased footfall and responding to more concerns from members of the public, including reports of anti social behaviour. This means there is more work ensuring footpath access is clear, fixing broken gates and fencing, removing fly tipping, camps and barbeques and of course reiterating the heathland codes around this time of year with an emphasis on disturbance to ground nesting birds and reptiles and fire risks during a Photo: BBQ activity on a Dorset Reserve. very long spell of hot dry weather. Unfortunately a common site during lockdown. © James Anderson-Bar (ARC)
William Emmett - Mair Dorset Field Officer I’ve been wardening our more urban sites and I’ve seen a lot of people using the heath. There are the heathland regulars but there’s also people that won’t have used the site regularly before but now, because of the travel restrictions, are discovering more of what’s on their doorstep. This is the time of year where I will be looking at what jobs need doing on site throughout the
Purbeck mason wasp © Chris Dresh. summer but because of the new working restrictions and the social distancing rules there are some jobs which just won’t get done.
Purbeck mason wasp emerging from burrow © William Emmett-Mair (ARC)
One of the jobs which I am able to do is make sure that our sites have appropriate signage. There are not many places where you can be attaching Coronavirus information signs and be able to see a plethora of sand lizards on the track sides as well! I have also had the pleasure of witnessing the endangered Purbeck mason wasp (Pseudepipona herrichii) digging her burrow (pictured left) on my travels.
In the Field Toads, trees and tea: A winter volunteering tale By Hannah Frame - Assistant Ecologist at Thomson Since starting as an Assistant Ecologist in March last year, I have enjoyed working with a variety of animal groups but still have a soft spot for our UK reptiles and amphibians. During my degree I was able to volunteer with wildlife groups in both Swansea and Surrey, which helped me start my career in consultancy. Over this winter, I have been lucky enough to continue supporting my favourite species by volunteering on Tuesdays with the Surrey branch of ARC. During the winter, the main ARC volunteer tasks involve removal of pine saplings, overgrown gorse, and occasional larger trees from heathland reserves in order to maintain suitable reptile habitat. Without management to remove trees from heathlands, these areas would become woodland; this is less suitable for reptiles and would result in the loss of rare heathland habitats. Scrub clearance often results in the creation of a well-controlled bonfire which helps keep everyone toasty. Burning this cut material prevents nutrient enrichment and shading out effect, both of which are undesirable for heathland management and would occur if material was left in piles to rot. The tea-fuelled volunteer crew puts in an incredible effort every week; even on days of heavy rain the team can be found out on one of the many reserves owned or managed by ARC. We often work in areas such as Hankley Common and the ARC-owned Witley Common, both of which lie within a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) as some of the largest remaining heathlands in Surrey. In December, one of the pine-removal tasks offered volunteers the chance to not only pick but cut down their very own Christmas tree! All while supporting vital habitat management for rare reptile species. One week in January this year, we were given a slightly different task – digging a trench along a road boundary to prevent car-based toad fatalities. Across from this road is a locally-important toad breeding pond; this trench boundary allows the local ‘toad patrols’ to easily locate and collect any migrating toads. This proved to be successful last year. As an ecological consultant volunteering for ARC, it has been amazing interacting with wildlife conservation managers to understand how they work towards supporting wildlife. This has provided insights into practical habitat management for reptiles, which will help me to design and implement effective mitigation and enhancement measures for client’s projects in the future. For wildlife charities, it’s always beneficial to have extra volunteers, especially those with existing ecological knowledge.
In the Field
Volunteering has provided me with key experiences to take forward into my career. It also provides the opportunity to engage in additional and more varied fieldwork, which benefits both physical and mental health during the winter. For aspiring ecologists, volunteering with wildlife groups is excellent for improving surveying skills and building a strong understanding of protected species – both of which are vital for pursuing a career in consultancy.
Photo: Volunteers on a tea break during a task at Woolmer © ARC
In the Field An increase in demands on SSSI’s By Chris Dresh - Senior Dorset Field Officer ARC reserves are nearly all Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and with this comes a high level of legal restrictions for site visitors as well as obligations on us as landowners and managers. During the lock-down period we have seen an unprecedented increase in public recreation at an incredibly sensitive time for the endangered species that call these reserves their home. We have witnessed huge increases in dogs off leads running through sensitive habitats, mountain bikers and cyclists not sticking to designated bridleways, overnight camping, disposable barbecues (the cause of the recent large scale Wareham forest fire), camp fires, litter and vandalism. All of these things are damaging and in many cases illegal on a SSSI. Dealing with all of these issues has put a lot of pressure on our wardens and exposed them to unnecessary risk. We know our regular readers and followers will be upset to hear that these things are happening, especially at a time when we want to protect and enjoy nature and their surroundings to help us through the lockdown period. We encourage you to help look after your protected spaces by reporting any antisocial behaviour or illegal activity to the police and land managers. The following guidelines should always be adhered to: Follow all site signage. It is there to protect visitors, wildlife and the habitat. Dogs should be kept on leads and stick to main paths to protect nesting birds. There should be no fires of any kind! If you see a fire or suspect a possible fire dial 999. A quick response could help save valuable habitat and protect local homes and lives. Cycling is only permitted on statutory bridleways. No overnight camping. Photo: A camp found on an ARC SSSI in Dorset © ARC
ARC Volunteers in the Spotlight A look at some of ARC’s volunteers and their invaluable contributions.
Harry Clarke Started volunteering with ARC: July 2015 Best site for butterflies: Hankley Common During winter scrub clearance tasks, Harry is the Weald Tuesday group’s fire master, keeping the bonfire going by loading the piles of pines cut and stacked by the other volunteers. In the summer he is always keen to lend a hand with any infrastructure work we do from installing fencing to gates to information posts. In addition to volunteering with ARC, Harry devotes a lot of his time to butterfly conservation. He is the County butterfly recorder for Surrey and helps manage Butterfly Conservation’s Oaken Wood site. There can be a lot of potential crossover in managing habitats for reptiles and for butterflies so we have carried out joint work parties and set up tin transects at Oaken wood which supports populations of Adder, Grass snake and all the widespread amphibians. Harry also carries out Silver Studded Blue surveys on a number of ARC’s Surrey heathland sites and the data he collates helps us to manage our sites for all the wildlife that depend on them. If you’re interested in volunteering to help with our work in the Weald contact email@example.com
Feature Spring on the heath By Owain Masters - Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement & Education Officer We hope that it provides some comfort that whilst we spend our time inside the outside world is alive with the signs of spring… So much so that many people have noted that our natural places seem especially abuzz this year! This could be due to our absence, or simply a bias in observations as people spend more time in their gardens, pausing to enjoy the wildlife around them… either way it’s a lovely thing. In April, heathland is alive with activity as warm spring weather triggers all manner of natural changes. The bright yellow flowers of European gorse (Ulex europaeus), which blooms in January, are a familiar sight to those who visit our heaths. With spring, other heathland flowers will start to bloom, such as the beautifully delicate Heath Milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia) pictured right. Heath Milkwort © Richard Sharp
Since late February, early emerging butterflies, such as red admirals, commas and brimstones have been spotted going about their business on our heaths. With spring we will start to see some of the other heathland species. The silverstudded blue butterfly (Plebejus argus), pictured left, is a heathland specialist with an unusual lifecycle. The fully formed caterpillar of the species hatched from its egg during March and is now being closely attended by black ants which feed on sugary secretions from glands on its body – the caterpillar receiving protection from predators in return for this gift!
Silver studded blue © Ralph Connolly (ARC)
The warm weather is also enjoyed by other heathland invertebrates. The adults of the green tiger beetle (Cicindela campestris) pictured right, are sun lovers. As average temperatures rise they will become active, patrolling sandy patches of the heath to look for their prey, other invertebrates.
Green tiger beetle © Nick Dobbs.
This is of course a very busy time of year for birds too, as many species are now mating and nesting. As traffic on the roads has largely vanished, take the opportunity to listen out for the symphony of song during the breeding season as you take your daily exercise. On
the heath the Dartford warbler, pictured left, and stone chat perch on conspicuous gorse branches singing to guard their territories.
Dartford warbler © Chris Dresh (ARC)
The onset of warmer weather encourages our reptiles to emerge from hibernation. The adder (Vipera berus), pictured below, is the first of our snakes to appear, with some emerging from their hibernation sites (known as hibernacula) over two months ago! Male adders will soon start ‘dancing’, which is actually a wrestling match for dominance in which they intertwine and try to push each other to the ground. Grass snakes (Natrix helvetica) typically come out of hibernation in late March or April, seek a mate, and lay their eggs in rotting vegetation in June or July.
Smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca), pictured below, are the last of our British snake species to emerge from hibernation. This happens from April and into May and, in the last week, we have had people on their daily walks spotting smooth snakes basking. Due to the secretive nature of the species, we know little about its preferences for hibernacula – something we hope to better understand during our four-year Snakes in the Heather project. We can only take action to conserve smooth snakes when we have a Adder © Chris Dresh (ARC) good understanding of their ecology and behaviour. Lowland heaths are an extraordinary habitat with a fascinating annual calendar. We at ARC are more determined and excited than ever to get back out there and deliver our Snakes in the Heather project in the community to safeguard the future of the smooth snake and their heathland home. Meanwhile, we hope you have been able to enjoy the signs of spring, either from your home, or during daily exercise, and we look forward to seeing you out and about when it is safe to do so. Smooth snake © John Baker (ARC)
Find out more at https://www.arctrust.org/snakes-in-the-heather
The pond in my garden My pond diary - one year on. By Richard Sharp - Dorset Field Officer, Volunteer Coordinator & H&S Officer Just about a year on from the original pond digging (See Hop Gossip Spring/Summer 2019), things are looking quite good. I decided to plant up the pond and had several donations of plant material from various colleagues (all great sources of clean material) and have only had one failure so far. I did make the mistake of using some of the left over turf to help weigh down some of the plants, which has led to an imbalance of nitrogen and lots of pond weed and algae! Now I spend the odd hour contemplating by my pond making pond weed candyfloss sticks; it’s all very zen! The great news is, we have had frog spawn and now tadpoles! I was quite worried that the enclosed nature of some of the neighbouring gardens would restrict amphibian movement but we have also had one solitary Palmate newt turn up under our tin as well! The odyssey continues… Photo: My pond © Richard Sharp
Unexpected Benefits of becoming an ARC Friend By Dr David Morden - ARC Friend Some ten years ago I dug a pond in our garden to make it more wildlife-friendly. Thereafter I have always had Smooth Newts in residence, which I’m pleased to see on their return each Spring.
The pond in my garden
Last Autumn we visited the ARC stand at the Blackmooor Apple Tasting Day, and thereafter my son purchased an ARC subscription for me as a birthday gift.
With the warmer weather our newts put in an appearance, and when checking on one sunny day I noticed a very large newt, which I estimated to be some 6 inches (15 cm) long. Clearly too big for a Smooth Newt, so I fetched the excellent Identification chart that was part of the welcome pack. Yes, the gap in the crest and silvery-white stripe on the tail were visible, confirming it was a male Great Crested Newt! What a surprise! Since then I have seen several, including this male, and a newtlet that I think is right because of its long toes. I have no idea from whence they came, but it is a privilege to have them in our garden. I had not expected this extra bonus from a year’s subscription. When it is renewed later this year, perhaps you might arrange for Smooth Snakes in our sand pit next year…
Male great crested newt in David’s pond © David Morden.
Conferences The Herpetofauna Workers Meeting 2020 - A newbies view By Owain Masters - SitH Public Engagement & Education Officer We were delighted to welcome more than 200 delegates to the 2020 Herpetofauna Workers' Meeting, a yearly highlight for those interested in all things herpetological in the UK. It was held in Southport for the first time and hosted in part by ARC’s Gems in the Dunes project, part of the national Back from the Brink programme, in addition to its usual organisers Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and ARG UK. Southport is situated on the Sefton Coast which is the largest contiguous dune system in the UK, home to several of our native species including sand lizard and natterjack toads. This year we were pleased to be sponsored by TEP, Arcadis, Animex, NatureSpace, The Newt Partnership, NHBS, Brushdale, Pelagic, Southport Brewery and Ainsdale Fine Chocolate. The Back from the Brink programme also contributed funding towards this year’s conference, with generous support from a range of funders including the National Lottery Heritage Fund. A big thank you to you all! The weekend started on Friday 14th February with a fieldtrip hosted by the Gems in the Dunes team, with help from North Merseyside ARG. The project has made enormous headway in dune habitat management for amphibians and reptiles with volunteer support from the local community. The sense of community stretched beyond the Gems in the Dunes project and into the conference itself which was full of lively debate, networking and celebration of the work of the UK’s current and future herpetologists, paid and voluntary.
The conference on Saturday concluded with the ARG UK AGM and then the ever popular Gala Dinner, raffle and quiz. Jim and John who hosted the quiz, outdid themselves. I am reliably informed by repeat delegates that the quiz was amongst the best it’s ever been; clever, funny, not too long but with enough time for a chance to get to know other delegates, and enjoy a catch up for those who had met before. Sunday concluded with closing remarks from Chris Monk, Chair of ARG UK, followed by farewells, and quick departures as we tried to beat storm Dennis on our routes home! In addition to the fascinating presentations, several organisations hosted displays and shops, and more delegates put up posters providing a further opportunity to showcase conservation efforts and natural history in the UK. At the ARC shop we had organised the sale of locally produced Natterjack Ale and chocolate toads which will be hard to match next year! Photo top right: Delegates during a workshop. Photo bottom left: Delegates making a flying frog during the Gala Dinner quiz © Angela Reynolds (ARC)
Opening remarks were provided by Tony Gent, ARC CEO, who explained the importance of the area’s heritage, both cultural and natural. The Herp Workers Meeting runs across two days which were divided up into conference sessions and workshops. The presentations were fascinating, covering topics such as regional and national monitoring, threats to herp species and what to do if you find diseased animals, opportunities for conservation, and involving people in wildlife management. Likewise, the workshops were very relevant, well attended and produced worthwhile results.
Carry on Connecting! By Mark Barber - Connecting the Dragons Project Officer ARC’s Connecting the Dragons project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, started in August 2019 across southern Wales, . Much of our time since has been spent preparing and undertaking pond works over the winter, with a total of 35 ponds created, restored or managed - an achievement we are very proud of! Over the first 6 months, ARC has engaged with 668 volunteers and partner organisation staff in southern Wales, who have contributed over 161 days of their time! As well as liaising with and advising partner staff, there have been a variety of training workshops run for local volunteers. Our most successful event was the joint Pembrokeshire Adder Habitat Management Networking Day with Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK, held in partnership with Natural Resources Wales, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, National Trust, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Authority, Pembrokeshire Council, and local landowners. The event provided an opportunity to discuss how habitat management is undertaken across the county and how adder’s requirements might be weaved in with all the other factors that have to be taken into consideration when managing a site. It was part-funded by the Pembrokeshire Nature Partnership and hosted at Dr Beynon’ s Bug Farm with a delicious locally sourced wildlife-friendly cawl (a traditional Welsh soup) and treats from the Grub Kitchen.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, myself and my Project partner Pete Hill have been helping ARC head office expand their online training programme (see news article on page 4) and helping with answering the general email and phone call enquiries, engaging with partners and volunteers remotely, and undertaking the necessary preparation work to ensure that we are ready to hit the ground running again soon!
Photo top left: Engaging with partners and training is a big part of the Connecting the Dragons project. Photo middle right: Habitat management with our interns and volunteers and National Trust Photo bottom left: Pond creation and restoration continues at multiple sites. © Mark Barber (ARC).
Projects Gems in the Dunes update By Fiona Sunners - Gems in the Dunes Project Manager Here on the Sefton coast the Gems in the Dunes team have been working hard over the winter, with local partners to improve the fortunes of some of the rarest species that call the coast home. At Formby, natterjack toads have been helped by the creation of two new breeding pools out on the sand dunes, that will help connect existing pools together once again. Areas around the pools have been cleared too, providing open expanses of bare sand that make ideal hunting and foraging grounds for northern dune tiger beetles and sand lizards as well as the toads. In the past the pools in this area were successful breeding pools for many years, however they disappeared when inundated by blowing sand. It is hoped that in the future, they will once again become successful breeding pools. We worked closely with our partners at National Trust Formby and a local contractor to scrape out two shallow sandy pools, with gently sloping sides to improve the habitat.
The Queens Jubilee Nature Trail in Southport, is home to a very small number of Natterjack toads. Not that long ago numbers were much higher, but they have declined significantly in the last 20 years, as the site has become inundated with scrub, which has reduced the suitability of large areas for many species. As part of the project, we have been working with our partners at Green Sefton and local contractors over the winter, to remove scrub from one of the natterjack toad breeding pools. By removing the scrub that shaded the pool, the water will warm up much quicker and benefit the toads. As part of this yearâ€™s Herpetofauna Workers Meeting (see page 13), volunteers from around the country helped us to clear areas of invasive scrub from the sand dunes on site, which will benefit a whole variety of other wildlife too. Photo top right: Natterjack toad. Middle: Sand lizard, Bottom right: Northern tiger dune beetle ÂŠ Fiona Sunners (ARC)
Freshfield Dune Heath is the only area of dune heath on the Sefton coast and as such is an important habitat. Like many of the coastal sites, it suffers with an ever increasing amount of vegetation, in particular on this site the problem is gorse. In excess, the gorse shades out large areas of the heath, making it unsuitable for animals such as the sand lizard. Working with our partners at Lancashire Wildlife Trust (LWT) and a local contractor, we have removed large areas of gorse and scrub to create open sand patches. These open sandy patches will provide areas for basking, hunting and egg laying for a variety of species not just the lizards. Management of the dune heath is important and sheep play an important role here. Across the site, they graze on the vegetation including gorse when it is young and tender, therefore helping to maintain a more open habitat, which also favours the heather, a natural feature of the site.
North Wales Globe Way By Mandy Cartwright - North Wales Officer Amphibian and Reptile Conservation has been working in partnership with Flintshire County Council to enhance the habitats of four key nature reserves within the town of Buckley, Flintshire, North Wales. Comprised of a series of ponds, woodland walks and green corridors, Globe Way Nature Reserve was created for mitigation for the growing development of the adjacent industrial estate and forms part of the five mile Buckley heritage trail. Potteries, Brickworks and collieries were the three industries that powered the engine of the town’s prosperity and fashioned the Buckley landscape. When these industries came to an end they left a network of pathways and waterbodies which now are utilised by both wildlife and people. The resulting reserves located within Buckley, are now protected by law, as scientific designated areas for the protection of the great crested newt and wider amphibian assemblage.
We have secured vital funds from various sources over the past 4 years, which has enabled us to not only carry out our regular site maintenance, such as pond management and meadow cutting, but also further enhancements to benefit both wildlife and the people that use this site. We have installed an interpretation board, a bench, new gates and fences, bat and bird boxes, a new pond, a newly planted orchard and tools and equipment for our local volunteers to undertake tasks on site.
It is creating and enhancing areas such as this, whether they are existing small urban sites or newly created mitigation sites, that forms the basis of ARC’s presence and activity in North Wales. We look forward to showcasing some of our other Flintshire sites in the near future. “Working in partnership with ARC has been a true win-win experience, it’s been advantageous for both Flintshire and ARC, good for the community, and more importantly great for wildlife.” Tom Woodall Access and Natural Environment Manager Flintshire County Council
Photo top right: New site interpretation board. Middle left: New gates have been installed. Bottom right: Planting the orchard © Mandy Cartwright (ARC)
Fundraising First in the Club! By Atul Srivastava - Fundraising Coordinator ARC is delighted to announce that we have secured our first ARC Guardian! ARC Guardians is a new major giving club for individuals who are able and willing to donate £5,000 or more per year of unrestricted or core funding to ARC. The founding member has donated via a Donor Advised Fund called We Have The Power, which is managed by Prism the Gift Fund. We Have The Power is focussed on supporting charities, ideas and campaigns that will help tackle the Climate & Ecological Crisis. The acronym POWER comes from their mission, to: Protect Our World – Educate, Restore. We Have The Power may be the first ARC Guardian, but they certainly don’t want to be the only member of the club! If you or someone you know would like to join, you can find out more at www.arc-trust.org/arc-guardians or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
BH Coastal Lottery By Atul Srivastava - Fundraising Coordinator
Ferndown receives Bags of Help! By Atul Srivastava - Fundraising Coordinator ARC has received £1,166 from the Tesco Bags of Help scheme to support our fire resistance work at Ferndown.
Other good causes in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole area receive 10p per £1 via a Community Fund aimed at smaller charities, and the remaining 40p goes towards prizes, admin and VAT. Each ticket has a 1 in 50 chance to win a prize each week, with a top prize of £25,000. That’s a better chance of winning than the National Lottery or the Health Lottery! You can find out more and sign up at: www.bhcoastallottery.co.uk
Aftermath of the 2018 fire at Ferndown Common © Chris Dresh.
Following the fire at Ferndown Common in 2018, ARC applied to the Tesco Bags of Help scheme for funding to manage the site to reduce the likelihood of future fires, benefitting amphibians, reptiles, and many other species. Our application made it to the final stage of the public vote using blue tokens in five stores in the Ferndown area. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic Tesco decided to end the voting process by distributing the funds evenly across the three finalists.
ARC is one of the charities benefitting from the BH Coastal Lottery, set up in March 2019. Tickets for the lottery are £1 per week. When players select ARC as their chosen charity, we receive 50p for every £1 ticket sold.
Species Profile Wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) - Non-native Appearance/Colour Meduim sized lizard with very fine scales and a sharply pointed snout. 17-18cms long. Males have a mottled dorsal pattern along the back of black with either brown or green markings (depending on the population location) and darker flanks mottled with white. Females have narrower heads than the males and a less intense dorsal pattern but often have a dark vertebral line. Both sexes have an orange or red Female © Howard Inns (ARC) underside. Behaviour & Breeding Tail is long and usually with black Very alert, busy, conspicuous lizard, fun to and white barring along the sides. watch. Love to bask on walls and rocks as soon as the sun shines from March through to October if the weather is mild. Can occasionally be seen on warm and sunny winter days. Chase and catch invertebrate prey with their strong jaws. Breeding takes place from late March to early May. Lay several clutches, of up to 8 white oval eggs, from May to July, in sandy soil or under rocks. Eggs hatch from July through to September. Hatchlings are around 6cms long and appear similar to the females, sometimes with a purple sheen. Hibernation takes place between November and February.
Male © Chris Dresh (ARC)
Juvenile © Howard Inns (ARC)
Habitat/Where to find them British populations are always associated with walls or rocky habitats that are well exposed to sunlight, such as sea cliffs, castle walls and disused quarries. Presumed native in Jersey but have a long history of localised introduction in Britain where their presence can have a significant impact on local native lizard populations. Oldest known population is in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. Thrives in the quarries of Portland Bill, Purbeck Coast, Bournemouth cliffs, Shoreham beach and Folkestone. Other colonies are known to exist in London, Surrey, Bristol, Devon and Shropshire.
Tail-Enders Mystic Toad’s Herp Answersmash!
Shamelessly stolen from BBC2’s “Richard Osman’s House of Games”! If you haven’t seen it, you need to identify the picture, answer the question, and then just smash the answers together! Here’s an example; Question
Lancashire Market Town?
Children’s TV series in which celebrities read out stories?
Specialist study of the skin and its diseases?
Indian dish of curried meat, typically lamb, in a rich tomato-based sauce?
Coffee-flavoured Italian dessert?
Did you guess what was going on in the photo in the last issue of Hop Gossip? These are wood ants. They are removing an unhatched sand lizard egg from a failed clutch in a burrow to feast on. It is likely that a female went back to the same burrow she dug the previous year to find a failed clutch and left to dig another. The ants then took advantage of the open burrow.
© William Emmett-Mair (ARC)
All photos © Chris Dresh (ARC)
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is a national wildlife charity striving for a world where amphibians and reptiles are safeguarded for future generations. With over 30 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 744 Christchurch Road Boscombe Bournemouth Dorset BH7 6BZ Tel: Fax: Email:
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Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is a Registered Charity: England & Wales number 1130188. Scotland number SC044097.