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 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:

Friday, 3 July 2009

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Amphibian and Reptile Conservation today launches its Frogbites news service.

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