HopGossip! Spring/Summer 2016
In this issueâ€Ś New Forest Smooth Snake Survey project Great Crested Newt Detectives & Making Blackmoor Better
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 email@example.com
Hop off the Press ARC News.
Science & Data in the Field Expedition Angano.
In the field Snakes in the heather. Town Common fire update - one year on.
10 Feature Making Blackmoor Better.
12 South Wales Welsh Dragons return home.
13 Scotland Great Crested Newt Detectives.
14 Cumbria Eskmeals’ natterjacks saved from the brink. In memory of Les Robertson.
15 Amphibian & Reptile Groups Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting 2016!
Patrons: Earl of Malmesbury Chris Packham Iolo Williams
16 Species Profile
Chair of Trustees: Jonathan Webster Chief Executive Officer: Dr Tony Gent Conservation Director: Jim Foster
18 Map Corner
Administration & Finance Manager: Helen Wraight Administrative Support Officer: Angela Reynolds Amphibian Conservation Officer: Yvette Martin Amphibian Conservation Officer (part-time): 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: James Anderson-Barr Friendship & E-Communications Officer: Kim Boughey GCN Conservation Officer/ Species Coordinator: Dorothy Driver GCN Detectives Project Officer: Dr Peter Minting Gems of the Dunes Development Officer: Rosemary Sigger GIS & Data Officer: Thom Starnes New Forest Smooth Snake Survey Project Officer: Ben Limburn North Wales Officer: Mandy Cartwright Reptile Conservation Officer: Nick Moulton Science Programme Manager: Dr John Wilkinson 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
Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris).
17 Alien Species Aliens amongst us - A plea for data! LiDAR.
19 Tail Enders Quick fire question round.
If you would like to contribute to the next edition please contact Angela Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cover image: A natterjack toad © Fred Holmes. 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! We’re already half way through the year! I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. 2015 ended with ARC staff and Trustees celebrating 25 years of herpetofauna conservation at ZSL London Zoo. We had a great time with presentations, a buffet and cake and a guided walk around the reptile house. Now we look forward to the next 25 years.
With each new year comes changes and new challenges. 2016 brings two new projects; Gems in the Dunes and Great Crested Newt Detectives. You can read about them inside. Our brand spanking new website is going live this summer and we’re really excited about it! I’d like to give special thanks to our volunteer Abby Louis for helping Kim to build it. We hope you like it. With Spring well and truly sprung and Summer knocking on the door, we are all fully revved up, just like our herpy companions, for the season ahead and we hope you are too! Have a great summer and don’t forget to tell us about your amphibian and reptile encounters in the Record Pool www.recordpool.org.uk
Angela Reynolds Hop Gossip Editor email@example.com
C.E.O.’s Corner Dr Tony Gent The Chinese zodiac calendar is based around twelve animals. None are amphibians but the Dragon and Snake provided “herpetological years” in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Last year was the Year of the Sheep but we, involved in policy work at ARC, remember it as the Year of the Newt, more specifically the Great Crested Newt. The great crested newt or Triturus cristatus is a species with a wide distribution across Great Britain and continental Europe. Several similar - looking species take its place in southern Europe and the Balkans. At up to 17cm long they dwarf our two other native species. The great crested’s body is chunky - the width similar to a thumb - while the other species are similar to a slim little finger. The male’s jagged crest and silvery line on its tail are spectacular in display and both sexes have brightly coloured bellies which provide a warning of toxic skin to predators. So how does a species shift from being a focus of natural history to a ‘political hot potato’? Firstly, it receives strict protection under UK Law, originally through the Wildlife & Countryside Act of 1981 and, more recently, through different versions of the “Habitats Regulations”, which have been developed since 1994 to translate the European Union’s Habitats Directive into law in England, Wales and Scotland. The need for such protection came not because of the rarity of the species (it remains widespread and abundant in some areas) but because of the species’ massive rates of decline. Observers estimated that 50% of British populations were lost in the late 1960s/early 1970s due to changes in land use (especially building work, agricultural intensification, pond loss, aging of ponds, and the introduction of fish). Despite this protection, the evidence points to a continuing (if somewhat slower) decline. The status of ‘European Protected Species’ (EPS) conferred on the species requires the designation of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), and has generated a spectrum of views. Although the Habitats Directive came into effect in the UK more than 20 years ago, the effectiveness of the conservation and monitoring approaches used have raised concerns and questions by the European Commission. On the other hand, people, usually involved in development industries, feel the species generates unacceptable costs and is a burden to the country’s economy. Both these opinions are expressed to Government and receive varying degrees of support. The debate also generates much public interest and many press articles, which show different levels of understanding and accuracy and bias! The UK Government established a task force to explore the nature of the problem, while the European Union is undertaking a wider ‘fitness check’ of its nature conservation Directives. ARC is engaged with both: it has been involved with the Welsh Government and DEFRA, and also the statutory conservation agencies in Wales, England and Scotland. It is looking at issues as diverse as creating computer models of distribution; national status assessments; designing survey programmes; producing conservation plans for Flintshire, Wrexham and Anglesey; involvement with proposals to revise mitigation guidelines for developers in Woking and Kent and provide views on revisions to the licensing system. We have just held a two day workshop in Chester to help everyone understand how this lot joins together and ARC is about to become part of an agreement with DEFRA looking at how we can better implement the European Directives in England. I feel it is important that ARC remains involved, although it is putting a strain on our resources. With the appetite for change surrounding the protection of EPS, there is a risk decisions will be made that could harm the species even further. Also, the ideas being developed will have wider implications for other species. If we can influence the thinking to benefit great crested newts, other species, including both our rarer and widespread amphibians and reptiles, hopefully, will benefit too. So while ARC developed 2015 as the Year of the Newt, we hope to make 2016 the year for everything else!
Smooth Snake secures Species Champion By Kim Boughey - Friendship & E-Communications Officer Mr Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West has become one of the first MP Species Champions in England after lending his political support to the smooth snake which has its national strong hold in the New Forest and the nearby Dorset heaths. Iconic and threatened English species are being ‘adopted’ by MPs across England, who are acting as ‘Species Champions’ to help improve the species’ future. From the smooth snake to the nightingale, 20 English species currently facing significant threats have been identified and put up for adoption. Mr Swayne commented “I’m delighted to be working with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to champion the rare smooth snake. Our native wildlife is at threat and I’m keen to do my bit to promote efforts to protect these precious species. It’s fantastic that so many other MPs have come on board to be part of the scheme.” Mr Swayne will learn first-hand about smooth snakes and be shown how we can help its populations recover. It is hoped this scheme will provide a brighter future for the selected species, spread that knowledge throughout the political community and shape policy to improve its future. Photo C.E.O Tony Gent with MP Desmond Swayne © RSPB.
Welcome to ARC’s new Trustee Mr Jeremy Bruce Jeremy has spent his career in London and US Investment Banking. He is currently a Managing Director at Societe Generale and previously worked at Morgan Stanley and Nomura.
ARC’s new website coming soon! By Kim Boughey - Friendship & E-Communications Officer
Despite working in banking and finance, Jeremy has always been passionate about conservation, herpetology and amphibian conservation. He has been involved in local amphibian and reptile groups since 1986 and in 2006 he set up the Amphibian Conservation Research Trust to help fund individuals studying and researching amphibian conservation. Jeremy is delighted to be a Trustee of ARC, and in particular to bringing an alternative viewpoint and ideas from outside the mainstream conservation world.
In late 2015, our website provider CUBIK went into liquidation. Although this caused a lot of disruption and reduced the functionality of our current website, we are using this hiccup as an opportunity to have a refresh and revamp. We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused, especially to our ARC Friends who have been unable to renew their Friendship online and to anyone wishing to purchase anything from our online shop. In the meantime, any renewals and purchases can be made by cheque or by card over the phone at 01202 391 319. The new website will launch this summer with a brand new design, structure, information about our reserves, projects, how you can get involved and much more!
So, keep an eye on www.arc-trust.org!
So, what’s new? By Angela Reynolds - Hop Gossip Editor Rosemary Sigger has joined us as Development Officer for the new Heritage Lottery funded Gems in the Dunes project on the Sefton Coast. The project will include management and survey for sand dune species, including natterjacks and sand lizards, and engage local communities in their conservation. The task for the coming six months is to produce a detailed plan for the delivery phase, to take place from 2017-2020. Welcome, Rosemary! Other work ARC is currently undertaking (to name but a few) includes work on a Natural England funded great crested newt project in Kent undertaking analyses of newt distribution in relation to land use, developing a framework for a conservation strategy for newts at county scale, and seeking stakeholder views with involvement from DICE. We are writing up a report of our findings on another Natural England project we have completed with WildCRU investigating the value of uncultivated field margins to widespread herpetofauna. The Welsh Government is funding us to undertake some work on great crested newts developing online recording with COFNOD, and doing newt surveys in Wales. Finally, just as we go to press, we are sad to announce that GIS and Data Officer Thom Starnes will be leaving us in June. Thom has been a very valuable member of staff and will be missed greatly.
Keith Goodyear By Gary Powell - Senior Reserves Manager It was with great sadness that we at ARC learned that one of our oldest friends, Keith Goodyear, had passed away in February. For around 10 years I have chaired meetings of the Town Common Advisory Committee that Keith attended, where he was often a reminder of why we are involved in this business; the wildlife. Keith’s subtle and understated humour at these meetings will be much-missed as well as his updates on various species present on our Town Common nature reserve; a place that I believe held a special place in his heart. It was only while attending his Memorial Service that I became aware of just how involved Keith had been in wildlife research and recording over the years. Many items from his natural history collection has been donated to the Bournemouth Natural Science Society, including snake skins, collecting equipment and chemical apparatus and even some mammoth ribs! Keith’s interest and support over the years have been very welcome and he will be missed by those of us at ARC that knew him.
Hop off the Press!
Thanks for the memories! By Angela Reynolds - Hop Gossip Editor After 21 years in his position as Co-ordinator of Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme, Chris Davis is stepping down from his role due to health related issues. Chris has been the “front man” for media related activities along with ARC’s Nick Moulton for many years and has been involved in countless years of field work, releases and monitoring. With his extensive knowledge and wicked sense of humour, everyone will miss his presence! ARC would like to say a big thank you to Chris for all of his hard work.
© Chris Dresh
“It has been a pleasure working with you all over the years towards the re-establishment of our most beautiful lizard to, hopefully, a significant fraction of its former status. I hope that you will all continue to make whatever contributions you can. Certainly, while I am stepping down from this role, I am not giving up amphibian and reptile conservation work and will continue my association with, and support for, ARC” said Chris.
Science and Data in the Field Expedition Angano By Thom Starnes - G.I.S & Data Officer
Science and Data in the Field
Thom with a cryptic chameleon (Calumma crypticum) © Duncan Parker
At ARC, staff are encouraged to continue with their professional development whenever possible. Whilst it is impossible for the Trust to fund everything, particularly overseas trips, time off is something that it can offer and Thom, as part of an international team, spent several weeks in Madagascar lending his knowledge and skills to help train students and communities to be the next generation of conservationists to protect the remaining forest. He also brought back skills that can be used right here in the UK. Financial support in conservation is becoming ever harder to obtain but the team managed to secure funding from some notable organisations; The Royal Geographical Society, the Scientific Exploration Society and the Zoological Society of London. Money was also raised through crowdfunding and every international member of the team also contributed their own money to cover flights and costs, as well as their own equipment and time. In December 2015 I was part of an international team of scientists on an expedition to the remote montane forests of northern Madagascar, with the aim of studying the impact of forest fragmentation on the regionally diverse herpetofauna. Our basecamp for three weeks was at 1,300 metres above sea level, on the edge of the newly designated Mahimborondro protected area in the Ampotisdy Mountains, which is managed by The Peregrine Fund. The forest in this region has been under significant pressure from ‘tavy’ (slash and burn) agriculture for cattle grazing and conversion to rice paddies. This was highlighted by the fact that we had to undertake half a day’s walk from the remote village of Beandrarezona across a barren and infertile landscape in order to reach the forest edge. After spending our first night in the wilderness sheltering under a giant tarpaulin in the midst of a tropical storm, the next morning brought bright sunshine and we hastily began establishing a sheltered research station inside the forest in preparation for the next rain. By no coincidence it was the beginning of the rainy season, and the perfect time for finding amphibians. While our guides set to work levelling the ground in a forest clearing, we wasted no time in searching the banks of the nearby stream for frogs. After spending a couple of days familiarising ourselves with the lie of the land, we began to get
to work on the real meat of the expedition – the science! Some twenty forest transects were established, each 100 metres long starting from the edge of the forest and going inwards. Time for some numbers… by the end of our three weeks in the forest we had logged in the region of 400 man-hours of surveys. We completed one hundred x 100-metre transects and made over 700 observations of 51 species of amphibian and reptile. The most commonly encountered species was the cryptic chameleon, Calumma crypticum (its namesake refers to the taxonomy rather than its lifestyle!), with 169 total observations. This was followed in abundance by another chameleon, Calumma guillaumeti with 79 observations. Chameleons are generally much easier to spot than other species due to their reflective skin, and contrary to popular belief they don’t change colour for camouflage, but to indicate their mood to other animals. When they are plucked off the branch by a curious human, they turn jet black and this means ‘put me down!’ Other reptiles of interest included the lined day gecko Phelsuma lineata, the Madagascar girdled lizard Zonosaurus madagascariensis, and the leaf tailed gecko Uroplatus (pictured); many of which are endemic, only occurring on the island of Madagascar. The amphibian species were individually less common than the reptiles, but exhibited greater diversity making up over 60% of all species observed. Some 99% of Madagascar’s amphibians are endemic to the island, and our observations included some species new to science! We also found the first known female specimen of Boophis sambirano which is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. In addition we observed some significant range extensions, shedding new light on the distribution of some of Madagascar’s less studied amphibians. The frequency with which we encountered species at different points along these transects allows us to determine whether certain species have an affinity for the forest edge (‘edge-lovers’) or a preference for the forest interior (‘edge-avoiders’). In a conservation context, this has implications for determining whether small forest fragments can harbour certain species, acting as refuges or ‘stepping stone’ habitats between larger forested areas. My work with ARC, particularly on mapping the distribution of great crested newts and their habitat in the UK, put me in a good position to be able to transfer this knowledge and apply it to the vulnerable herpetofauna of the moist tropical forests of Madagascar. Photo top right: Leaf tailed gecko (Uroplatus) © Mark Sherz. Photo middle left: Study area with base camp and transect locations © Google. Photo bottom right: Vegetation atlas © RBG Kew & Esri.
In the field Snakes in the heather By Ben Limburn - New Forest Smooth Snake Survey Project Officer & Clare Wildin - New Forest Smooth Snake Survey Project Assistant Last year the New Forest Smooth Snake Survey (NF-SSS...) project was born. It was created by a collaboration of key stakeholders collectively called the New Forest Amphibian & Reptile Monitoring & Surveillance (NF-ARMS) Partnership. The primary aim of the NF-SSS... is to further our knowledge of the smooth snake’s distribution in the New Forest National Park. The UK Government has a legal duty to report on the status of the smooth snake as a European Protected Species every 6 years under the Habitats Directive. It’s also important that we provide protected species information to land owners and managers in order to support and inform habitat management decisions. Species research is fundamentally based on gathering data – having a good understanding of a species’ distribution and ecology is crucial in knowing how best to conserve it Volunteers attend a training workshop to become Reptile Surveyors for the NF-SSS... Project. throughout its range.
In the field
The elusive and cryptic smooth snake!
To look for smooth snakes (and other reptiles) in the New Forest we have recruited and trained a number of volunteers. These Reptile Surveyors carry out targeted surveys in areas where the species has not previously been recorded or seen for a long time. Last year 11 sites in the New Forest were surveyed by 20 Reptile Surveyors, carrying out visual and artificial refugia inspections in key areas of prime smooth snake heathland habitat. Refugia are materials placed in reptile habitat which encourage the animals to bask underneath and so aid their detection during a survey. This method is essential to help find the smooth snake that hides away in vegetation and is rarely seen basking in the open. Surveyors use an online environmental recording website - Living Record (www.LivingRecord.net), which allows them to easily enter their field observations in a standardised format. Species data is then accessed for analysis by the ARC Science Department.
Within just two months of surveying from September to October, surveyors made a total of 225 checks of artificial refugia and recorded 86 common lizards, 27 slow worms, 7 adders and 6 grass snakes. Unfortunately no smooth snakes were observed during the NF-SSS... site visits. Due to constraints on time and resources we weren’t able to start the surveys until late in the season. It can take time for the smooth snakes to find a refuge in their habitat and the cryptic nature of the species makes them notoriously difficult to find at the best of times! A dozen incidental ‘smoothie’ records were sent to us by members of the public and from organisations carrying out wildlife surveys of other species of fauna and flora. ARC
In the field encourages everyone to report casual sightings of reptiles and amphibians; anyone can do this through Living Record or the Record Pool (www.RecordPool.org.uk). Nationally, such records equate to many thousands every year and provide important data for conservation.
Thom Starnes records the location of an ‘artificial refuge’ placed at a survey site in the New Forest this year. The NF-SSS… uses Onduline bitumen roofing material as refugia. They have a low environmental impact and are animal grazing friendly.
During the second year of the NF-SSS... project we aim to build on the valuable knowledge gained in 2015 and go from strength to strength. This year we have trained a further 60 volunteers who will begin surveying for reptiles in the spring. A full season of surveys at sites throughout the Forest will provide us with a great deal of very useful information to support reptile species conservation. Angela Peters of the New Forest National Park Land Lots more exciting research is also being Advice Service checks a refuge for smooth snakes. undertaken as part of the project. We are
investigating the possibility of using sniffer dogs to detect snakes, testing new types of technology to help collect species data in the field, and developing the use of habitat mapping computer programmes to predict the occurrence of smooth snakes at a landscape scale. This project is a fantastic example of a ‘citizen science’ project which brings together many different organisations with common goals. A huge thank you goes out to everyone who has played a part, big or small, in the success of the project so far - incredibly this now totals over 200 people (you know who you are!)
Find out more about the New Forest Smooth Snake Survey on ARC’s website or on Facebook. All photos © Ben Limburn.
Town Common fire update - one year on. By Gary Powell - Senior Reserves Manager In March 2015 we were shocked by the devastating fire on Town Common, Christchurch during which around 75 hectares of lowland heathland were lost. The following days were taken up with rescue attempts, and a massive amount of voluntary public help allowed us to catch and relocate just over 500 reptiles (See article in Hop Gossip Autumn/Winter 2015). Visiting the site one year on, there is some evidence of new growth, with wetter areas having a covering of heather, but also vast areas that remain barren offering little refuge for reptiles or other heathland specialists. Over time the lost habitat will re-establish and the animals that were pushed out will hopefully recolonise. ARC staff and volunteers have put in a massive effort over the last year to enhance other parts of the site for its resident wildlife and this work will continue. Photos © Gary Powell.
Feature Making Blackmoor Better By John Buckley - Amphibian Conservation Officer
Work as it happened
1. The Harvester
Initial view (A)
2. Tree selection
Sometimes, the creatures we aim to conserve exemplify the very qualities we ourselves can usefully employ. Blessed by natural selection with longevity and fecundity, natterjack toads bide their time to take any opportunity without delay; so it has been for ARC at Blackmoor. In his Letts Diary for 1972, The Herpetological Conservation Trust’s Conservation Officer Keith Corbett’s most exciting entry was: “Natterjacks calling again on Blackmoor”. But things would not stay the same without intervention against Scots pine, which continually invade the heath. Unsurprisingly, the Scots pine is not native to Hampshire. In 1789, Gilbert White described Woolmer Forest as an area of heath and fern, 7 miles long and 2½ miles wide, without a single standing tree. Not long after, pine was planted locally and began spreading like weeds across the open heathland.
3. Tree felling
5. Cutting to length 10
It was not until 1947 that the British Herpetological Society (BHS) began, and not until the early ‘70s that the Conservation Committee became pro-active. Sundays were devoted to practical conservation with bill hooks and bow saws before surveys could begin. Later, the BHSCC would spawn The HCT, from which ARC would metamorphose. By this time, pines not removed 40 years earlier had grown out of all proportion and multiplied. Then, alas, Blackmoor lost its natterjacks when the Woolmer population shrank to its core on the military land. Nevertheless, in 1989, the former natterjack site of Blackmoor merited a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status and later
6. Harvester at work
14. Cleared up view (A)
After view (A) became an Special Protection Area (SPA) for its nightjar and woodlark. Further, since the wetter areas were recognised as plant-rich, full botanical surveys have been conducted resulting in vegetation maps for 1987, 2003 and 2015. These chart both the spread of pines and the gradual loss of interesting plant communities.
13. Initial after view (A)
In 2013, Natural England began its drive to get heathland into favourable condition. The project to restore Blackmoor developed apace with a management agreement and plan; a Higher Level Stewardship agreement; an Environmental Impact Assessment and two felling licences; lastly, planning permission for temporary site access. Some stages were slow: saturated ground conditions, for example, delayed work for months until spring 2015. But then, with a forest harvester on site, Phases 1 and 2 of the felling were soon completed. 12. After view (B) Timber was stacked to await collection while machines tidied the brash into massive heaps for burning. The more delicate Phase 3 â€“ clearance work on good habitat - will make progress over the next few years. Bare ground will slowly revegetate, and the call of natterjacks will join the churring of nightjars as Blackmoor regains its former glory.
11. Before view (B)
8. Tufftrak mats in use
9. Stacked logs
10. Loading timber
It has been a stimulating project so far, the most satisfying results yet to come.
Welsh dragons return home By Pete Hill - Dragonscapes Habitat Officer Great crested newts are a declining species. There are many different issues that affect them, habitat loss being one of them. Thanks to a collaborative effort between Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC Trust), Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, Natural Resources Wales and Bridgend County Borough Council, newts in Bridgend County have scored a victory. Ian Kinley meets a male great crested newt during the pond survey ÂŠ Pete Hill.
Golf courses are not often associated with wildlife conservation, however in many cases, if sympathetically managed they can rival nature reserves for their conservation value. Ian Kinley, the manager of Royal Porthcawl Golf course, and his team of staff have been striving to restore and create habitat throughout the course to benefit the local wildlife with a little help from ARC Trust and together they are starting to see good results for their efforts.
Amphibians (and great crested newts in particular) require open ponds that receive good levels of light in order to breed successfully. When left unmanaged, willow trees can not only starve a pond of light but the volume of leaf fall decaying in the water also causes the water quality to deteriorate. During November 2014, ARC began the process of restoring ponds at the course including one that was almost completely overgrown with willow.
We returned recently to survey the ponds, having allowed the ponds a full year to recover and develop. We were very pleased to find all three species of newt present. 26 smooth newts, 1 palmate newt and 5 great crested newts were detected utilizing the restored ponds. Having all three species present in a pond is rare and something for the course management to be very proud of. Next, the golf club will be surveying the site for reptile species and focussing on managing the habitats at the course sympathetically for the species present.
Removing willow from the pond November 2014 ÂŠ Pete Hill.
The restored pond February 2016 ÂŠ Pete Hill.
Further golf course management teams are now showing interest in learning more about the wildlife present on their land and how to manage habitat sympathetically. It is hoped that golf courses across the country will begin partaking in the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme, www.narrs.org.uk an ideal opportunity to highlight the potential environmental benefits of golf courses whilst also acquiring some valuable information regarding species counts and distribution. A great example of productive partnership work.
Boost for Scottish newts By Dr Pete Minting Amphibian and Reptile Conservation has secured funding for a new project, called Great Crested Newt Detectives, from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). From 2016 to 2018 volunteers will survey ponds across Scotland for great crested newts with the help of DNA technology. School children will also learn how DNA technology is being used to protect Scotland's wildlife, from great crested newts to Atlantic salmon and Scottish wildcats. Training events for the public and educational activities for schools will be provided across Scotland. Adult volunteers will be trained in amphibian surveying and provided with a free environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling kit. Water samples collected from ponds by volunteers will be tested in a laboratory for the presence of great crested newt DNA. Great crested newts are highly protected under European and Scottish law and are declining. Populations discovered during this project will benefit from legal protection. A national wildlife art and writing competition will also be held as part of this project with children aged 8 to 18 in Scotland. Competition entry and prize details will be provided to all schools and publicised on the ARC Facebook page. Winning entries will be used to help illustrate a new publication called "Amazing animals, brilliant science!" Winners will also be invited to present their work and collect their prizes at a conference on Wildlife Conservation and DNA Technology, hosted by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) at Edinburgh Zoo. To date, eDNA surveying for great crested newts in the UK has largely been limited to England and Wales, where the Freshwater Habitats Trust has included eDNA surveying as part of its PondNet project which is also supported by the HLF.
We are delighted to have the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage for this work. Every day, advances in DNA technology allow people to answer important questions and make amazing discoveries. We hope that this project will encourage more people in Scotland to develop an interest in science and wildlife conservation.
Great crested newt ÂŠ Chris Dresh
Cumbria Eskmeals’ Natterjacks Saved from the Brink By Ruth Popely - Cumbria Natterjack Officer In Cumbria it was feared that the natterjack population at Eskmeals was on the brink of extinction. During the 1980s the site supported 100s of adults, this figure plummeted to mere individuals. Typically, this reduction was a result of changes in terrestrial habitat and loss of pools. Cumbria Wildlife Trust who manage the Eskmeals Nature Reserve, signed up to Higher Level Stewardship with Natural England. This scheme part-funded vital work which included fencing (to reinstate cattle-grazing) and creation and restoration of pools. Four linedpools were installed in March 2015, and by the end of the season Joe Geer, the site monitor, amazingly reported emergence of natterjack toadlets from two of the new pools and one existing. Joe is also a local contractor, and involved in vital habitat work on the neighbouring site, Eskmeals’ Gun Range. Working for the Ministry of Defence, he has removed vast areas of sea-buckthorn and is carrying out vital pool work here too. Excitingly the MoD’s ecologists have further plans to restore more of the area to suitable natterjack habitat. A real collaboration of effort, helping Eskmeals’ natterjacks step back from the brink! Thank you to everyone involved. Photo top right: Eskmeals natterjack toadlet. Photo left: Pete Jones and Matthew Lipton of CWT marking out the area for a new pool. Background image: the future is looking bright. Sea lavender in flower © Ruth Popely
In Memory of Les Robertson – ARC’s Greatest Ever Volunteer! By John Buckley, Ruth Popely, Yvette Martin & Pete Minting
It is an honour for ARC to highlight Les Robertson’s contribution to natterjack conservation in Cumbria. After a spell in the merchant navy, he went to work at Sellafield and, as a volunteer, undertook the management, monitoring and development of what became ARC’s natterjack toad reserve. To be accurate, we did not so much recruit Les but rather, by good fortune, he chose to adopt us. He was a powerful advocate of natterjack conservation and quite fearless in challenging his employers when they were in the wrong. Over important issues, he received the back-up he requested from us, but generally he acted alone in ARC’s interest. Les also monitored the nearby Braystones natterjacks and, when United Utilities needed a treatment plant there for waste water, he took the opportunity to ensure the company created carefully-engineered pools as mitigation for the loss of terrestrial habitat. Another of his admirable qualities was his readiness to embrace new technology, from updating data on Living Record to using a four way recorder to locate new natterjack breeding areas. It was a real pleasure working alongside Les. ARC has been blessed to be able to call him a friend. Already he is sorely missed by us, and the many other conservation organisations with which he collaborated. To Les!
Amphibian & Reptile Groups
This February we set a record for the largest Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting ever, the annual gathering for those interested in conserving the UK’s reptiles and amphibians. Of course, numbers aren’t everything, but it was fantastic to have more than two hundred enthusiasts working toward a common aim all in one place. The meeting is a joint ARC – ARG UK event, and this year we held it in Oxford for the first time.
Workshop chat. © Pete Hill
Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting 2016 By Jim Foster – Conservation Director & Angela Reynolds – Hop Gossip Editor
We ran five workshops: using the Record Pool (online recording); changes to European Protected Species licensing policy; amphibians in drains; reptile survey guidance; and the great crested newt Habitat Suitability Index. All of them helped to develop skills, shared information, or requested feedback from the audience.
ARC’s Tony Gent opens the conference. Photo © Pete Hill.
Presentations covered a wide range of themes, with representation from volunteers, scientists, consultants, NGOs and government agencies. Speakers from Suffolk, Herefordshire, Kent and Ireland Amphibian and Reptile groups gave presentations on a long term study of adders, key invertebrate groups to record during surveys, organising toad patrols and citizen science projects.
Alongside all the serious business, delegates need to let their hair down, so the whole event kicked off with a curry on the Friday night, and Saturday night saw a very entertaining gala dinner, quiz and raffle! Our thanks go to all the organisers and helpers, ARG UK panel, speakers and workshop leaders, staff at the Jury’s Inn Oxford, and all of our generous sponsors: Caledonian Conservation (Gold Sponsor), NHBS, CGO Ecology, Habitat Aid, Surrey ARG, and the British Herpetological Society. Watch out for news of the 2017 meeting, and don’t be put off if you’re just beginning: we aim to make the meeting inclusive and we welcome new-comers!
In other news… This year Sussex Amphibian & Reptile Group turns 30 - Happy Birthday Sussex ARG! Leicestershire Amphibian & Reptile Network is looking for a new Activities Coordinator. If you live in the county and can help please get in touch with Andrew Heaton firstname.lastname@example.org
To find your local ARG visit www.arguk.org/local-groups
Fun with the herp super hero mask quiz round! © Angela Reynolds.
Other talks included early results from a study of a large grass snake population in Norfolk, results from environmental DNA surveys, done as part of the PondNet project with the Freshwater Habitats Trust, PhD students from DICE outlined their studies into the potential impacts of marsh frogs on common frogs, and the herpetofauna of Jersey. There were results from a slow-worm mitigation project and great news that newts subject to development and mitigation near Glasgow have apparently increased in number substantially. Away from the UK, the Zoological Society of London gave a fascinating talk on efforts to save the endangered Chinese giant salamander.
Amphibian & Reptile Groups
Natural England explained proposals for new ways to regulate impacts of development on great crested newts and gave a handy update on herp activity in England whilst Scottish Natural Heritage outlined how the standard guidance for great crested newt mitigation is being revised. We also heard from The Highland Council that sustainable drainage schemes - if well designed and maintained - can support thriving common frog populations.
Species Profile Smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)
Breeding males are a brownish-grey with prominent dark spots, dark eye stripe and a continuous, wavy crest which extends all the way along the back and tail. They also develop frills on their toes and the tail often has a blue stripe along the bottom edge. The females lack the crest of the male and are a uniform light or olive brown with dark spots. The tail has a line of spots and an orange or yellow streak along the lower edge. Both sexes have an off white throat with dark spots and a pale belly with dark spots and an orange or yellow central streak. Out of breeding season the crest of the male significantly reduces and both sexes look very similar with brown or gingery dry velvety skin. An adult male is around 9-10cms from nose to tail.
Found throughout Britain with highest numbers in the south and east of the country. Sparsely distributed in Scotland north of the central lowlands. It is the only newt present in Ireland and can also be found in Guernsey. Found in a wide variety of lowland habitats but they prefer small ponds without fish and ditches. Prefer ponds with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Upland populations tend to be found in areas with chalk or limestone. Can frequently be seen in garden ponds. During the terrestrial phase they like to spend time in hedgerows, undisturbed grassland, woodland, gardens and farmland.
Smooth newts hibernate on land between November and February. Between March and June they return to their breeding ponds. Through the summer months they spend time on land (terrestrial phase) and are often very secretive hiding under logs and debris during the day and emerge on damp nights to hunt for small invertebrates. They can travel over a great distance in search of new ponds to colonise and can tolerate high population densities in small ponds.
Courting, mating and egg laying take place day and night during breeding season. Over several weeks a female will lay several hundred individual eggs which are carefully concealed in the fold of a leaf. Eggs take around two weeks to hatch. The newt larvae are solitary and secretive and stay at the bottom of the pond where they develop slowly and emerge between July and September. In colder ponds some larvae will stay in the pond and ‘overwinter’ carrying on their development the following year.
Photos: Top left - Male smooth newt. Middle right - Female smooth newt. Middle left - Smooth newts in their terrestrial phase. Bottom right - Smooth newt belly pattern. All images © Fred Holmes.
Alien species Aliens amongst us - A plea for data! By Rob Williams - PhD student at the University of Leeds Letâ€™s face it! We have a comparatively low diversity of native reptile species - compared with the continent and more exotic places. Some would say the introduction of non-native (alien) reptiles into the UK, such as the Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus), Red eared terrapin (Trachemys scripta), Wall lizard (Podarcis muralis), and visually striking Western Green lizard (Lacerta bilineata) is a bonus, and creates a more diverse species list for our herping pleasure. However, with any species introduction (intentional or otherwise) there is potential for significant negative impacts on native biodiversity. Both the Wall lizard and Western Green lizard are doing very well in areas where they have been introduced in Southern England, but despite having been here for many years the nature of their interaction with native species, particularly the sand lizard is not known. Some evidence suggests that these introduced species are indeed capable of out-competing our native lizards, but further research is needed to quantify these impacts and to investigate the ecology of these aliens in the UK. For my PhD research with the University of Leeds I will be carrying out this investigation into the ecology of the UKâ€™s alien lizards and I am putting out a call to anyone interested in helping establish the current population status of these species (particularly the wall lizard) at various sites in Southern England. Some excellent work has been done by Steve Langham of Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group in compiling data on the known populations of Wall lizard (http://tinyurl.com/ztbkwf6), but owing to the numerous sites and survey effort needed there is a need for updated population surveys, assessment of range expansion, and of course identification of new populations.
If this is a project that interests you, or maybe you already have information you feel may be of use, then please do get in touch for details on how you can help. Email: email@example.com
Photo above: Pair of wall lizards. This photo: Male wall lizard ÂŠ John Wilkinson
Map Corner LiDAR By Thom Starnes - G.I.S & Data Officer LiDAR, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging’, is a surveying technology that measures distances by determining the time taken for a pulse of light emitted from a known source to reflect and return to the source, similar to radar which uses radio waves. When a LiDAR instrument is attached to an aeroplane, vast swathes of the landscape can be surveyed rapidly and cost-effectively. Since last year, the Government has made this data openly available under the Open Government Licence. There are two primary products of LiDAR data; there are digital terrain models (DTMs) which show the underlying elevation of the land, and digital surface models (DSMs) which account for surface features such as buildings and vegetation. Here at ARC we’ve been using DTMs to map out the historic extent of freshwater ponds at some key sites in order to help us better plan habitat restoration work for amphibians. We’re working to make sure that open data and technologies such as LiDAR are put to best use for the conservation of amphibians and reptiles everywhere. The images below relate to Blackmoor which features in the centre pages.
Image 1: 1 km square DTM indicating potential pond extent (vertical scale exaggerated x10 to accentuate relief).
Image 2: 1 km square DTM with aerial image overlay to provide site context (vertical scale exaggerated x10 to accentuate relief).
3 Image 3: Orthographic (top down) DTM indicating potential pond extent. Contains Ordnance Survey data Crown Copyright and Database Right 2015.
Tail-Enders Quick fire Question round! TAIL-ENDERS
Grass snake or adder? Adder, I love adders. Conservation hero? Sir David Attenborough closely followed by Chris Packham. Both are excellent communicators and stand up for what they believe. Tea or coffee? A strong cup of English breakfast tea with honey every time. Favourite book? British Wildlife by Paul Sterry. An invaluable companion when showing people wildlife. Great crested newt or natterjack toad? Great crested newt, a stunning monster! Salt & Vinegar or Cheese and Onion? Cheese and onion. Early bird or night owl? Both, especially when a curry and cold beers are thrown in! Heathland or sand dune? Heathland. Great mix of reptiles and invertebrates. Wellies or flip flops? Flip flops. Favourite season? Spring, when everything bursts into life.
Grass snake or adder? Grass snake always the grassy. Conservation hero? ARC’s Amphibian Officer John Buckley. Tea or coffee? Neither, don’t drink them. Favourite book? The New Naturalist: Malcolm Smith’s The British Amphibians and Reptiles. Great crested newt or natterjack toad? Great crested newt - sorry John (Buckley) Salt & Vinegar or Cheese and Onion? Neither, I don’t eat crisps. Ask yourself this, salt, sugar and fat - do you really Chris want them? Early bird or night owl? Both, enjoy every moment! Heathland or sand dune? Sand dunes look nicer but, heathland. I grew up in the south and they mean a lot to me. Wellies or flip flops? Wellies, I’ve never owned flip flops. I hate feet, I hate my own feet! Favourite season? Tough question! Spring, not winter, I hate rain! Chris Packham's new book Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is available to buy right now. In his coming-of-age memoir, Chris writes candidly about his lonely childhood, struggle for acceptance and his magical relationship with the outdoors and all its wonderful and inspiring creatures. Available to buy from all good book shops and online. Hardback Publication date: 5th May 2016 Publisher: Ebury Press ISBN: 9781785033483 Photos © Chris Dresh
We’ve been finding out about the important stuff with our Patrons Chris Packham and Iolo Williams!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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