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:

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:

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