Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Released terrapins give added headache to wildlife experts

Efforts to make urban ponds more wildlife-friendly are being hampered by exotic terrapins, say Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

The charity’s urban pond regeneration scheme will leave their staff with a unique problem: how to find new homes for exotic terrapins, which, when caught during pond clean-ups, are prohibited by law from being re-released.

Originating from warmer climes, terrapins find it too cold to breed in the United Kingdom – but ‘populations’ have built up following several decades of former owners dumping unwanted pets into urban ponds and lakes.

“Wildlife conservationists have long been aware of the unwelcome effects of releasing non-native plants and animals into the wild – but lately terrapins are proving to be a new headache,” said Rebecca Turpin, London Living Water Officer at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

“Much of our work involves making ponds more wildlife-friendly, but if terrapins are caught we are then faced with the problem of where to re-home them. Often terrapins end up being taken to animal rescue centres, but sadly many are either full, or lack the finances to look after an animal which can live for over twenty years.”

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is calling for the public to think carefully about buying terrapins over the Christmas period, which is a boom-time for sales of exotic reptiles.

“Baby terrapins might seem attractive pets. But they can grow to the size of a dinner plate. The importation of one species, the red-eared terrapin, was banned over ten years ago - but we’re still finding them in urban ponds because they can live for several decades.” said John Baker, Conservation Officer at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

“More recently, their numbers have been reinforced by other terrapin species that have taken the place of red-ears in the pet trade.” added Dr Baker.

“Terrapins are best left to specialist pet-keepers. They’re not a suitable pet for casual interest and they certainly shouldn’t be purchased as a present at Christmas - or any other time.”

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is calling on the public to report sightings of exotic amphibian and reptile species (including terrapins) seen in the wild. For more information see the website, Alien Encounters - www.alienencounters.org.uk

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting – details announced

Details of next year’s national conference for those involved in the conservation of amphibians and reptiles are being released today.

The Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting (HWM), is the main event of the year for those interested in learning more about the latest conservation techniques and research into the UK’s amphibians and reptiles.

The event is organised by ARG UK (the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK) and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

At the conference in Leicestershire, Pond Conservation’s director Jeremy Biggs will be speaking and also leading a workshop on pond management. Other topics will include an update on amphibian disease in the UK, and new educational approaches to promoting snake identification and appreciation.

“The conference is an opportunity to meet lots of interesting people for an enjoyable weekend, as well as a chance to hear a great range of speakers on a diverse range of conservation issues.” said organiser John Baker of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, and ARG UK representative.

The 2010 HWM will be held in Hinckley, Leicestershire on January 30-31st 2010. For further details please see our flyer and booking form

The all inclusive rate includes registration for both days of the conference, accommodation for the Friday and Saturday evening, lunch for both days, the evening meal on the Friday night and evening meal (and social event) on the Saturday evening.

“The recent Amphibian and Reptile Conservation/BHS conference in Bournemouth earlier this month was a sell out, so don't miss out on the HWM by leaving registration to the last minute.”

Friday, 27 November 2009

Great crested newts, licensing and mitigation...

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is providing a valuable training opportunity for wildlife consultants, planners and local authority ecologists working with great crested newts on development projects.

The course, entitled Great crested newts, licensing and mitigation, will cover licence applications, the planning and coordination of mitigation projects and it will include a workshop based on a local case-study.

It will take place on January 19th – 21st 2010, at Preston Montford Studies Centre near Shrewsbury. The course will be run in partnership with Golder Associates and the Field Studies Council.

Only 20 places are available - to avoid disappointment please contact the Field Studies Council directly on 0845 3307378.

If you have any queries about the course please contact David Orchard at david.orchard@arc-trust.org, 01204 529312; 07817 373853.

For more information: click here to download a flyer

Thursday, 19 November 2009

“Lizards 1 - People 1” argues ARC in response to roadworks debacle

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is calling for a more measured response from Bournemouth commuters to road verge works being undertaken while slow-worms and sand lizards are hibernating.

The story has received a great deal of coverage in past days. Papers, including The Daily Mail and The Sun, report that local businesses are upset over the roadworks, fearing an impact on trade in the run-up to Christmas. Many blame the lizards, arguing that the needs of wildlife have come before those of people. (‘Lizards 1: People 0’, reads one headline of Bournemouth’s Daily Echo).

The issue needs a measured response, argues Amphibian and Reptile Conservation in letters to the papers involved.

“Efforts to reduce the impacts of essential road repairs should not be seen as a ‘battle between lizards and motorists’ but rather an attempt to strike a delicate balance between the protection of Dorset’s wildlife and providing a good transport infrastructure.” said Dr. John Wilkinson, a spokesperson for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

“The needs of Dorset residents and its protected species are both valid concerns and both must be carefully addressed in large-scale construction projects.” he added.

“More often than not, it is the wildlife that loses out as roads are driven through nature reserves (as is the case here with the Bournemouth spur road), and other natural areas.” said Rowland Griffin, ARC’s Dorset Community Officer.

“This not only negatively impacts wildlife but reduces the areas available to local people for leisure, cycling, walking, horseriding and for simply enjoying the countryside.”

Dorset is a stronghold for lizards, particularly sand lizards – a species restricted to the small pockets of heathland that remain in the UK countryside.

“Dorset would be a much poorer place to live without its wonderful heathlands and the unique wildlife that lives there. On a global scale, Dorset’s lowland heaths are rarer than tropical rainforest.” added Dr. Wilkinson.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

ARC receives warm applause...

Scientists and politicians were among those celebrating the formal launch of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation in London on Wednesday 4th November.

The organisation will lead on conservation efforts to save the UK’s disappearing frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation formed from the merger of national wildlife charities, Froglife and The Herpetological Conservation Trust. The charities merged in order to use limited resources more efficiently to tackle the causes of the recent decline.

“By merging we can achieve more for these animals – by forming a single organisation our thinking is clearer, making partnerships is easier, our money goes further and our message is stronger.” said Dr. Tony Gent, CEO of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Almost half of the world’s amphibians are disappearing, with early indications suggesting that reptiles are likely to be facing a similar risk of extinction. At the launch the charity outlined a ‘rescue plan’ to help save the UK’s thirteen native species.

“These actions give us the direction that we must take as a new organisation, but we need partnerships with other wildlife organisations and commitment to act from those in power, to make them into winning results for reptiles and amphibians.” said Dr. Gent.

The Right Hon. John Gummer MP (Cons), former Secretary of State for the Environment, gave the keynote speech at the launch event: “I am much impressed in the way that this amalgamation has taken place. It is amazingly valuable, and it will give you huge strength.”

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Bonfire warning for garden amphibians

Bonfire night can be a worrying time for hedgehogs. But bonfires, when lit, may also be a potential death trap for some garden frogs and toads, say experts at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Like hedgehogs, amphibians (frogs, toads and newts) seek out sheltered parts of gardens in the autumn weather to prepare for the cold winter. Unlit bonfires can be perfect because they offer protection from predators, and because they attract amphibian prey including woodlice, worms, spiders and beetles.

“Garden frogs, toads and newts can be very active at this time of year as they look to stock up on invertebrate prey for winter,” said Dr. John Wilkinson of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, a national wildlife charity.

“We advise that people avoid making up their bonfires until the day they’re to be lit – better still make up a similar stack of logs and branches in the corner of your garden and leave it for the frogs.”

Although people may think of amphibians as creatures that occur only in the countryside, gardens are important refuges for many of them.

Losses of ponds in the wider countryside have reduced the habitat available to many of these species: of the UK’s 13 species of amphibians and reptiles, 10 are listed on the Government’s Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) ‘watchlist’.

For more information on looking after amphibians in your garden visit: www.arc-trust.org/dragons

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Amphibian extinctions may not be uniquely high, say scientists

The global extinction crisis facing amphibian populations around the world may be as severe for reptiles like snakes, lizards, turtles and crocodiles.

The findings have been put forward in a scientific review in the journal Diversity.

The scientific review also cites evidence that recent scientific research into amphibian declines far outweighs research into reptile declines, even though both groups of species may be facing a similar extinction threat.

The authors of the paper, based at the University of Sussex and the UK wildlife charity Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, argue that future research should be more equally balanced, so that the investment in research mirrors the extinction risk of each group.

Reptiles in decline

The fragile state of the world’s amphibians was widely recognised in 2004, after release of the IUCN Global Amphibian Assessment. This report found that amphibians were facing a greater number of extinctions and declines than any other taxonomic group for which data were available at the time, with one third of all amphibian species worldwide threatened with extinction.

A Global Reptile Assessment is as yet incomplete but already research is indicating that a similar extinction risk may be facing reptiles too.

In May 2008, studies commissioned by the European Commission and carried out by IUCN, found that Europe’s reptiles and amphibians were in similar degrees of trouble. 22.9% of Europe’s native amphibian species were categorised as threatened with extinction, and 19.4% of reptiles. The study also reported that 4.3% of reptile species in Europe were listed as Critically Endangered, the most serious of the Red List categories. This is double the number of amphibians in the same category.

“It is increasingly clear that amphibians are not alone in facing a major biodiversity crisis,” said lead author Professor Trevor Beebee of the University of Sussex. “Other groups of ‘cold blooded’ vertebrates, notably reptiles and freshwater fishes, are in the same boat.”

The research bias toward amphibian decline studies

In the new study, the authors undertook searches of scientific publications between 2005-2009 under the theme of ‘biodiversity and conservation’, comparing the numbers that contained amphibian-related search terms (such as “frogs or toads") with those containing reptile-related search terms (such as “lizards or snakes”).

The results showed that published scientific papers covering amphibian declines outnumbered papers covering reptile declines by four to one (153 papers to 42 respectively), even though there are substantially more species of reptiles than of amphibians in the world ( 8,734 and 6,347 species respectively).

Similar findings emerged when looking solely at published studies relating to native amphibians and reptiles in the UK. There were, during 2005-2009, 69 “biodiversity and conservation” papers on the seven native British amphibians, compared to just 20 papers on the six native terrestrial reptile species.

“Evidently there has been a significant bias towards study of declines in the amphibians…,” say the paper’s authors. “…the question arises as to whether the bias in favour of amphibian decline research is justified on the basis of risk.”

Though amphibians and reptiles differ in their anatomy and life-histories, the causes of declines and extinctions are similar for both groups of species. They include: habitat loss, invasive wildlife species and disease, pollution, climate change and the impact of roads. Disturbance and persecution (particularly of snakes) are an added cause of concern to reptiles.

Future research into amphibian and reptile declines

To reduce risk of extinctions, the authors suggest that research should focus on the impact that the UK’s changing habitats and landscapes may be having on populations of amphibians and reptiles. This requires detailed ‘baseline’ knowledge about where these species occur, and how individual populations are faring.

In 2007, the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) was launched to improve understanding of the status of British amphibians and reptiles. The scheme is coordinated by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and encourages volunteers to survey selected 1km squares for amphibians and reptiles.

“We can base conservation decisions only on robust information,” said NARRS Coordinator Dr. John Wilkinson of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. “So if you’re looking at getting out and seeing some wildlife, learning new skills and helping protect some of our most threatened creatures, why not take part in NARRS?”

For more information visit: www.narrs.org.uk or join your local Amphibian and Reptile Group www.arg-uk.org

PAPER CITATION: Beebee, T.J.C.; Buckley, J.; Wilkinson, J.W. Amphibian declines are not uniquely high amongst the vertebrates: trend determination and the British perspective. Diversity 2009, 1, 67-88.

Online copy: http://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/1/1/67/pdf

Friday, 16 October 2009

Will our wildlife be celebrating Natural England's third birthday?

Three years ago last weekend, Natural England was born. Formed from the merger of three organisations, it emerged into the expectant glare of England’s wildlife charities. Organisations like Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, who make it their job to create, manage and campaign for a healthy natural environment.

We have been watching Natural England intently since its birth, helping and co-operating where we can. Its responsibilities have been clear – to protect and improve England’s natural environment, its wildlife, and the habitats upon which wildlife depends.

But three years on, how well it is doing?

There is no doubt that Natural England has made some impressive progress. And it deserves considerable praise for that. But with the political and economic landscape moving under its feet, what does the future look like? And where do we think Natural England should turn its attentions next?

We joined the Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, The Grasslands Trust, Plantlife, the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in a snapshot assessment of Natural England’s initial tenure. This is what we agreed…

An ‘A’ for effort

We’re pleased with Natural England’s progress towards the vital goal of improving the condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England. It’s not all rosy - only 15% of SSSIs include invertebrates as protected features, and considerably more could be done for plants. But great progress has been made with 89% of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in a recovering or favourable condition – on track to meet the Government 2010 target.

We’re also impressed by the organisation’s evidence-based input to policy development, such as recent moves related to set aside, and the formation of a government policy that supports environmentally responsible renewables.

Wildlife-friendly farming has undoubtedly benefited under Natural England, with innovative and well targeted agri-environment schemes aimed at halting wildlife declines. The take-up of these schemes by the farming community has been good and wildlife should benefit as a result.

And as the Government’s main conduit into saving species from extinction, we know that Natural England faces a tall order. However, we’ve been collectively impressed by its scientifically based approach to saving endangered species, involving a wide range of NGO partners.

Must try harder

This wouldn’t be a realistic report, though, if it didn’t point out some of the areas into which we think Natural England could put more effort. And as campaigners advocating a bigger voice for nature, we’re sure you’d expect nothing less.

In the next few years, we want to see Natural England became a more vocal champion for nature. We hope our own voices are strong, but a little extra volume would go a long way! We need Natural England to provide impartial scrutiny of Government performance on wildlife conservation, and offer more consistent and well-versed advice to landowners, planners and other bodies so that they can contribute fully to conserving wildlife.

And while the intention has been good, Natural England has been painfully slow in organising systems for administering key agri-environment schemes. This overly bureaucratic approach is really hindering delivery of these schemes, and we want to see all blockages removed.

Finally, Natural England has made only tentative steps on habitat restoration and creation – notably through funding Wetland Vision projects. This really worries us, as larger areas of good habitat and ecological corridors to join them up are essential to help nature survive under a changing climate. We think the slow pace of progress is largely down to a lack of funding, but this area deserves more of Natural England’s resources.

So how should we assess Natural England’s overall progress? There’s no doubt that its vision is good, and its progress is sound in some areas. But could it do more? Of course it could – and because our nation’s wildlife depends on it, it absolutely should.

That’s why we’re pleased to wish Natural England a Happy Third Birthday. We hope that, in another three years time, we can give it an even bigger party – and raise a toast to an even more secure future for England’s wildlife.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Sand lizards given “fighting chance” on One Show

Millions of viewers learnt more about sand lizards and the UK’s disappearing heathlands, thanks to coverage on the One Show last night.

The show’s Miranda Krestovnikoff joined Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to learn more about the coordinated efforts throughout the summer to release 400 rare sand lizards back into the wild at sites across the England and Wales.

The show covered the captive breeding work taking place at Marwell Wildlife and Miranda joined Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s Nick Moulton in releasing the lizards at Puddletown Forest, a heathland site managed by the Forestry Commission.

“We reckon the animals have got a superb fighting chance for the future,” summarised Nick Moulton.

The coordinated action forms part of a major ‘rescue operation’ to save the UK’s threatened reptiles and amphibians - frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

To see last night’s show: click here to view I-Player

Monday, 12 October 2009

Joint Scientific Meeting 2009 - details announced

Some of the UK’s top conservationists will be presenting the latest scientific research on amphibians and reptiles, in a special event organised by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and the British Herpetological Society.

The theme of this year’s Joint Scientific Meeting will be ‘Amphibian and Reptile Biology and Conservation’ and presentations will cover a number of interesting topics including the role of the lunar cycle in amphibian reproduction, the origins of dwarfism in boas and how cattle grazing could be impacting on the conservation of the UK’s rarest snake, the smooth snake.

The Joint Scientific Meeting takes place on the Sunday 6th December 2009 at Bournemouth Natural Science Society, Dorset. To see the programme, and for details on how to register, please click here.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Earlier toad migrations spark government rethink

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation has been informed that the government’s Department for Transport will rethink rules governing temporary ‘Toad Crossing’ signs.

Traditionally toad signs in many areas could only be erected between February and May. Now, because of earlier migratory habits of the common toad, councils will now be allowed to erect signs from January onwards.

Thousands of toads migrate from hibernation sites to breeding ponds in early spring. In many areas this journey, sometimes up to a mile, will involve crossing roads.

“Because of changes in our climate they are breeding and migrating earlier in the year," said Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s Dr. John Wilkinson. “Erecting toad crossing warning signs up to a month earlier could potentially save thousands of toads every year."

"We look forward to hearing more information about the change in signage laws from the Department of Transport.”

The common toad Bufo bufo is found throughout Britain, though populations are thought to have disappeared in recent decades, particularly in the south east of England.

Declines have been so severe that the species is now listed on the UK government’s ‘Biodiversity Action Plan’ watchlist.

"Toad mortality is very high on the roads. Once you used to see a flood of the creatures, now it is down to a trickle,” said Dr. Wilkinson. "They have also suffered because of a loss of habitat, a loss of woodland and the increased use of pesticides."

In a Telegraph article today Edmund King, the AA’s President said: "To be honest I have always wondered what drivers are supposed to do if they see amphibians in the road in front of them."

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation advise the following:

1. Slow down carefully and, if possible, safely drive around toads.

2. Note your location, the approximate number of animals and, if possible, the direction the toads are moving and report this to Froglife – they map where crossings occur, support the process of sign erection and in some places we can help coordinate volunteer ‘Toad Patrols’.

For more about Toads on Roads (through Froglife) visit: www.froglife.org/toadsonroads

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

School children meet the Welsh Dragon

After last week’s successful releases in Surrey, sand lizards are today being released at a National Nature Reserve in Wales, managed by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).

Due to extensive loss of heathland and sand dune habitats on which they depend, sand lizards were lost entirely north and west Wales during the last century. Coordinated releases, over a number of years, are now seeing them return to Ynyslas nature reserve.

“The project has been a resounding success over the past fifteen years or so,” said CCW’s Dr Liz Howe. “We’ve seen numbers increase strongly on all the release sites, because the lizards are now breeding naturally. We also know that they are extending their range as they move further from the reintroduction areas.”

“But it is important that we continue to introduce young lizards to suitable new sites for some years to come – so that a population with a good range of ages and genetic variation is established.”

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s Chris Davis, -who, along with Paul Hudson, reared the lizards from eggs- was on hand at the release site:

“Every year we undertake these lizard releases I have an immense sense of pride, satisfaction and joy, but with a tear in the eye…” he said.

Yesterday local school children were introduced to the lizards and learnt more about their important sand dune habitats, with lizard experts and Mike Bailey, CCW's Head Warden, along with other CCW site staff.

“They proved an attentive and appreciative audience with many interesting questions,” commented Mr Davis.

The sand lizard Lacerta agilis is the UK’s largest and rarest lizard. The three inch long baby sand lizards released today have been reared in special hatcheries, prepared by zoos (including Chester Zoo and Marwell Wildlife) and experts from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

The coordinated action forms part of a major ‘rescue operation’ to save the UK’s threatened reptiles and amphibians - frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

For more information: www.arc-trust.org/science/saps.php

Thursday, 3 September 2009

400 rare lizards released into wild as part of ‘rescue operation’ for UK’s reptiles and amphibians

Almost 400 of the UK’s rarest lizards are being carefully prepared for release into the wild at sites across England and Wales, starting today at a nature reserve in Surrey, owned by the National Trust.

The coordinated action forms part of a major ‘rescue operation’ to save the UK’s threatened reptiles and amphibians - frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

The sand lizard Lacerta agilis is the UK’s largest and rarest lizard. The two inch long baby sand lizards released today have been reared in special hatcheries, prepared by zoos and experts from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

The male sand lizard’s striking green flanks were once a common sight in certain parts of England and Wales. But massive loss of heathland and sand dunes in the twentieth century led to widespread extinctions. Sand lizards were lost entirely from Kent, Sussex, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Devon, Cornwall, Cheshire and north and west Wales. In addition, conservationists estimate that over 90% of suitable habitat in Merseyside, Surrey and Dorset has been lost.

Over the coming fortnight, starting today, coordinated releases will see them return to their former habitats, now that both the animals and their habitats are protected under wildlife law.

“It’s great to see them going back, now safely protected, where they belong.” said Nick Moulton of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, the wildlife organisation coordinating the lizard releases.

“We are constantly delighted that partnerships between wildlife organisations and land-owners can deliver such success, and often quickly.”

David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation at the National Trust, said: "The return of sand lizards to this part of Surrey is a real success story allowing visitors to get closer to these special creatures. We've been able to create the right habitat conditions for this rarest of lizards to flourish and hopefully this can be replicated at sites across England and Wales."

Government wildlife agencies Natural England and Countryside Council for Wales are working in partnership with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to make the lizard releases go smoothly at other sites in the UK.

Special permissions will see the lizards carefully released at five nature reserves overall, managed by the Countryside Council for Wales, Dorset Wildlife Trust, the Forestry Commission, the National Trust and Surrey Heath Borough Council.

At some of these release sites local schools and community groups will be invited to take part in special ‘release ceremonies’.

“These sand lizard releases are just one part of our 133 actions, which in partnership, will help us turn back the clock on amphibian and reptile declines in the UK.” said Dr Tony Gent, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s Joint Chief Executive.

The 133 point Action Plan for saving amphibians and reptiles has been put together by a partnership involving government bodies - the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage - and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, a charity recently formed by the merger of charities Froglife and The Herpetological Conservation Trust.

“Today’s event demonstrates the wide variety of very active stakeholders and partners required to make actions count.” added Dr Gent. “We hope similar partnerships will be as effective for the other actions outlined in these combined Action Plans.”

The 133 actions to reverse declines in the UK’s reptiles and amphibians include: monitoring species’ distributions, enhancing volunteer networks, undertaking research, and encouraging land-owners to include features (like ponds or basking areas) to help amphibians and reptiles thrive. Some of the work is well underway, while other actions will take many years and additional funding to come to fruition.

Together the actions will help achieve the goals of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, a major initiative aiming to get everyone working together for threatened wildlife.

Dr Tom Tew, Chief Scientist for Natural England said: "Today’s release marks the next step in a recovery project to restore these fascinating creatures to their former range. Reptiles and amphibians are coming under pressure from an increasing number of factors including habitat loss, disease and a future of climate change."

"This important reintroduction programme is an example of the action that must be taken to reverse the decline in England’s biodiversity and to conserve the habitats that our unique wildlife relies upon."

Photo credit: Fred Holmes

Friday, 28 August 2009

Alarming decline of Britain’s ‘common’ reptiles and amphibians highlighted by new photographic field guide.

The author of a new field-guide has expressed alarm at the disappearance of amphibians and reptiles from many parts of the countryside, particularly those species once regarded as ‘common’.

Britain’s Reptiles and Amphibians, published by WILDguides, is the first photographic guide to all of the reptile and amphibian species found in Britain and Ireland and features almost 200 photographs of frogs, toads, newts, snakes, lizards, turtles and terrapins.

The guide includes several species whose name includes the word ‘common’, for example the common toad, common lizard and common frog.

“In researching the guide it became clear that the so-called ‘common’ species are now far from common.” said author Howard Inns.

“Species such as the common lizard have disappeared from many sites they once inhabited and many of the people who monitor common toad populations at traditional breeding ponds reported to me that their numbers have crashed in recent years.” he said.

“Common frogs fare well in garden ponds but they too have declined significantly in the wider countryside.”

The guide is a flagship publication for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, a newly formed charity resulting from the merger of Froglife and The Herpetological Conservation Trust.

Howard Inns, also Vice Chairman of Trustees for the charity, commented further: “The conservation efforts focussed on the rarer species of Britain’s reptiles and amphibians have been successful in recent decades.”

"The creation of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation means that more resource and expertise can be brought to bear on understanding why the more widespread species are in decline and preventing today’s ‘common’ species from becoming tomorrow’s rarities.”

The new field-guide Britain’s Reptiles and Amphibians, published by WILDguides, covers the 16 native reptiles and amphibians that breed in Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands and the 5 marine turtles that visit our seas.

As well as species’ distribution maps the book features introductory sections on their biology and conservation, taxonomy, distinctive life-cycles and the behaviour of each species group.

The field-guide also covers the 15 ‘exotic’ species introduced to the UK deliberately or accidently. In addition it features hints and tips on where, when and how to watch reptiles and amphibians in the wild.

Chris Packham, well known wildlife TV presenter, says of the book in his foreword: “When I flick through its pages I so wish I’d been armed with it when I first began sneaking up on snakes, netting for newts and lunging after lizards.”

To purchase a copy of Britain’s Reptiles and Amphibians for £15.00 (RRP £17.95) visit: www.wildguides.co.uk or visit: www.arc-trust.org/shop/books

Proceeds from sales support Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Funding lifeline for newts announced

A small grants scheme, available from September, is aiming to help people improve ponds and habitats for the UK’s great crested newts.

The money will contribute to a number of tasks that benefit great crested newts, such as pond creation schemes, pond management, survey work and local mapping studies.

Distributed by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, the money is available to a wide audience including councils, national parks and wildlife organisations and volunteer groups, including Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG UK). Schools and community groups are also encouraged to apply.

“Many great crested newt ponds are disappearing in the UK, so the local actions of volunteers and other experts in helping keep these ponds in tip-top condition for newts is really important.” said Dorothy Wright, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s Great Crested Newt Conservation Officer.

“The award is designed to help achieve the targets set out in the UK great crested newt Species Action Plan, which includes survey work and the creation and restoration of ponds and the newts’ terrestrial habitat.”

Groups or individuals can apply for funds typically up to £500. The scheme is supported by the Countryside Council for Wales and Natural England.

For more details on applying:

1. Introduction to the GCN grants scheme
2. Guidance for applicants
3. Application form

Find out more about the UK’s Species Action Plan for great crested newts > GCN SAP

Further awards for dragons

Dragons in your Garden, a campaign to encourage gardeners to take simple steps to help out the UK’s frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards, continues its tour around the UK.

This weekend saw Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s ‘Dragon Garden’ appear at the British Birdwatching Fair in Rutland. The stand was awarded second prize at the show and thousands of people stopped by to find out more.

By providing free advice to gardeners about adding ponds, compost heaps, rockeries and bog gardens, conservationists from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation hope to see populations of ‘little dragons’ like smooth newts, slow-worms, and even grass snakes, flourish in urban areas where they may be scarce currently.

The Dragon’s Garden will next appear at the Dorset Show on the 5th and 6th of September 2009.

For more about the campaign, along with tips and ideas for your garden, visit: www.arc-trust.org/dragons

Dragons in your Garden is supported by a number of organisations including Scottish Natural Heritage, Herpetosure, Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG UK) and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Friday, 7 August 2009

National stocktake: deadline looms…

The deadline for giving us your garden sightings of frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards is looming…

Earlier this year our national survey Reptiles and Amphibians in your Garden, in partnership with the BTO, brought together an army of amateur wildlife watchers including birdwatchers, gardeners, hands-on conservation volunteers and the general public.

There is still time to get involved! As the deadline looms, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is urging those who received a survey pack to post their recording forms as soon as possible.

The results will contribute to knowledge of where frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards are found nationally and allow scientists a better insight to how important gardens are for their conservation. The results will also be used to understand how amphibian and reptile populations may be responding to a variety of threats, including habitat loss, disease and garden chemicals.

For more information – or to request a new pack email: enquiries@arc-trust.org

For more about Reptiles and Amphibians in your Garden visit: www.bto.org/gbw/herps/2009_survey

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Snakes go west: UK’s rarest snake to be re-introduced to Devon

Smooth snakes are to be re-introduced to Devon after an absence of 50 years. The project, organised by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust and the RSPB, with support from Natural England, will see smooth snakes from Dorset released at an RSPB nature reserve in East Devon.

The timid and non-venomous smooth snake is the UK’s rarest snake and currently is only found on lowland heaths in Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset.

Historically they were more widespread, but due to habitat loss disappeared from a wide area of southern England. In Devon the last recorded sightings of smooth snakes were in the 1950s.

With the gradual restoration of heathland over the past two decades, conservationists are now hoping to return the smooth snake to much of its former range, including Devon.

This summer experts from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation will collect ten snakes, under licence, from several well-populated sites in Dorset. The snakes will be taken to East Devon and released at one of the RSPB’s heathland nature reserves. The site has been chosen due to the excellent quality of the heath, and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as Special Area for Conservation (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds.

Nick Moulton from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation said “This is a tremendously exciting project for us as it marks the beginning of what we hope will be the re-establishment of the species to Devon and potentially a huge expansion of range for smooth snakes.

Historically, much of the former heathland areas have been lost to many land use pressures and the remaining sites are often fragmented and isolated. The smooth snake is not very mobile and in many cases cannot naturally re-colonise isolated heathland sites.

With this re-introduction all we do is give the animals a helping hand to cross these areas. The East Devon heaths are in superb condition and very well managed and we believe that the re-introduction has every chance of success.”

The smooth snake is a priority species in the UK and the re-introduction is fully supported and licenced by Natural England, the government’s advisor on the natural environment.

Tom Sunderland, Senior Reserves Officer at Natural England said: “We are working closely with Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and RSPB and are keen to see the success of these efforts to re-establish this nationally scarce species in Devon. This is not only good for the snakes, its also great news for heathland.”

Toby Taylor, RSPB site manager in East Devon said “Since the 1980’s the RSPB has been working hard with many other organisations to restore East Devon’s precious heaths for the benefit of a huge range of wildlife. Over the years we’ve seen a resurgence in the numbers of Dartford warblers, nightjars, silver studded blue butterflies and southern damselflies, all important species nationally with close ties to heathland. The return of the smooth snake will really complement this; it’s the icing on the cake for us.”

Smooth snake releases will continue every summer for the next few years to establish a healthy self-sustaining population.

Nick Moulton from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation added: “It’s heartening to think that this secretive snake -whose survival was once hanging on a knife-edge- is returning to Devon. To see historical landscapes like these heathlands restored and vulnerable wildlife returning is a real success story."

Learn more about the Smooth Snake >>>

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Gardeners urged to look out for little dragons…

Launching at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, a new campaign called ‘Dragons in your Garden’ will encourage gardeners to take simple steps to help out the UK’s frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards – many of which are disappearing from the wider countryside.

By providing free advice to gardeners about adding ponds, compost heaps, rockeries and bog gardens, conservationists from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation hope to see populations of ‘little dragons’ like smooth newts, slow-worms (a legless lizard), and even grass snakes, flourish in urban areas where they may be scarce currently.

The campaign launches with a ‘Dragon’s Garden’ exhibit at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

The Dragon’s Garden showgarden includes a pond with plants suitable for egg-laying by newts, frogs and toads as well as ‘nursery areas’ for developing tadpoles. The structure and planting of the Dragon’s Garden also mimics that of reptiles' natural habitat, providing open areas for basking alongside hiding places and foraging sites.

The Dragon’s Garden also features a reptile-friendly compost heap: rotting compost is a natural source of warmth for grass snakes and their developing eggs, and a place for slow-worms to give birth.

The showgarden was awarded Bronze by the Royal Horticultural Society judges yesterday.

“Populations of amphibians and reptiles in the UK have declined and are still declining. A little help from gardeners can make a real difference to the conservation of these enigmatic species.” said Dr. John Wilkinson of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Of the UK’s thirteen species of amphibians and reptiles, ten species are listed on the Government’s Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) priority ‘watchlist’.

The Hampton Court Palace Flower Show signifies the first public event of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation – the new charity formed from the merger of Froglife and The Herpetological Conservation Trust.

The Dragon’s Garden was researched and designed by the National Diploma in Horticulture students from Kingston Maurward College, Dorset. The wider campaign is supported by a number of organisations including Scottish Natural Heritage, Herpetosure, Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG UK) and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

For a free copy of the advice booklet ‘Dragons in your Garden’ please visit www.arc-trust.org/dragons or call Amphibian and Reptile Conservation on 01733 558960.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Efforts to save UK’s disappearing amphibians and reptiles boosted by charity merger

The mounting ‘extinction crisis’ facing frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards across the UK and Europe has led to the merger of two UK-based organisations dedicated to their conservation.

Launching today, the new charity ‘Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’ -formed from the merger of The Froglife Trust (Froglife) and The Herpetological Conservation Trust (The HCT)- will be a single voice for the conservation of these animals and their habitats.

The charities have merged in order to use limited resources more efficiently to tackle the causes of the recent decline. Major threats include habitat loss, pollution, non-native diseases, climate change and the isolation of populations by roads and other infrastructure.

More than half of all European amphibians and two-fifths of all reptile species are disappearing, according to studies published last month funded by the European Commission and carried out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Of the UK’s thirteen species of amphibians and reptiles, ten are listed on the Government’s Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) ‘Watchlist’.

“This merger is a common sense approach to wildlife conservation.” said Jonathan Webster, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s Chair of Trustees. “Put simply, we can act with greater influence as a single organisation than as two separate entities.“

"The merger makes us more effective in achieving our shared goal, which is to reverse the current widespread decline of amphibians and reptiles, by actively improving wildlife habitats and encouraging a wider audience to understand and appreciate the importance of these animals”

Both Froglife and The HCT were formed in 1989. Froglife traditionally focused on public campaigns and education projects. The HCT focused on reserve management and protecting rare species like the Natterjack toad, Sand lizard and Smooth snake.

As a single organisation Amphibian and Reptile Conservation will cover a range of activities to conserve frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

Activities will include managing eighty nature reserves, working with the education sector, researching and monitoring species’ populations in the wild, and working with other wildlife organisations and the public, to influence wildlife legislation and its implementation relating to reptiles and amphibians.

As well as working in the UK, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation will also work in Europe and in the UK overseas territories.

The formation of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is thought to be the highest profile merger in the UK wildlife charity sector.

The merger has been applauded by many within the UK wildlife conservation sector:

Kate Humble, presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch series said: "This is what it's all about: people and organisations coming together and sharing resources and knowledge to make sure that their shared vision of saving wildlife can be realised."

Distinguished zoologist and broadcaster Professor Aubrey Manning said: “Amphibians and reptiles are often inconspicuous in Britain, but they are a fascinating and important part of the web of life. This merger will help to bring the best minds and resources to bear on their conservation.”

For more information please visit: www.arc-trust.org

Friday, 3 July 2009

Be first to know...

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation today launches its Frogbites news service.

Have these news alerts delivered directly to your inbox by signing up on the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation website, www.arc-trust.org/news

Be first to find out the latest news about amphibians and reptiles, and receive insights into conservation efforts to help reverse their widespread decline in the UK and further afield.

Visit: www.arc-trust.org