Tuesday, 18 September 2012

First phase of the Million Ponds Project is a success!

The first phase of the Million Ponds Project, funded by the Tubney Trust and Biffaward, has reached a successful conclusion.

The project, coordinated by Pond Conservation and involving Amphibian and Reptile Conservation as the lead partner, has helped to create over 1000 ponds to benefit Biodiversity Action Plan species across England and Wales. Over the past four years the project has:
  • focussed attention on the variety of freshwater habitats needed by these species.
  • highlighted the importance of pond design.
  • raised awareness of the value of temporary ponds.
A wide variety of water bodies has been created by the Million Ponds Project, from large ponds designed for water voles, to shallow temporary pools on sand dunes designed for the natterjack toad.
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s role in the project has been to help create ponds for the natterjack toad, common toad, great crested newt and grass snake. This has been a great success, with over 467 ponds created for the great crested newt and 47 for the natterjack toad. This is perhaps one of the most successful efforts to create such ponds in recent years.

David Orchard, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s Pond Project Officer, said “We know that amphibians need good terrestrial habitats, but without suitable breeding ponds they are unable to survive. The Million Ponds Project has been an opportunity to support amphibian populations across England and Wales in a very practical way.”

Another important achievement of the project has been to increase general understanding of the importance of clean water, the essential component of good quality ponds. (Clean water is that which is not contaminated by runoff from roads or agriculture or excessively disturbed, for example by artificially high numbers of birds.)

The project has produced a huge range of material which is free to download from the Pond Conservation website.

The Million Ponds Project is a fifty year vision with the aim of ensuring the UK has at least one million ponds in the landscape, approximately the same number that existed in 1900. Work over the past four years has been the first step towards this ambitious target, providing a firm foundation for the future.

David Orchard
Pond Project Officer

Monday, 17 September 2012

ARC Friends Day 2012!

On Saturday 15th September Amphibian and Reptile Conservation held the first dedicated Friends Day in Dorset since becoming Amphibian and Reptile Conservation in 2009. We had 14 attendees, some travelling from as far afield as Wales and Suffolk to come and meet species they hadn’t seen before! 

Dr Tony Gent, ARC’s C.E.O kicked off the day with an introduction to Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, what we get up to and media coverage of snakes - especially the adder and how it has suffered through history with a bad reputation. Gary Powell, Senior Reserves Manager followed with his presentation on Reptiles and gave a run- down of our native species, how they behave and how they use their habitats and just before lunch John Buckley, Amphibian Conservation Officer talked about our native amphibians including the extensive work he has done over the years with Natterjack toads. After a quick tea break Gary went on to describe how we manage the heath to benefit herpetofauna and what would happen if the management didn’t take place.

Over the lunch break we had a grass snake, two smooth snakes, two slow-worms and three sand lizards to introduce to everybody. For some it was their first experience of seeing a smooth snake in the flesh and they were surprised at just how smooth and silky they were to touch! The sand lizards were also a rare treat for some - many thanks to Martin Noble of New Forest Ecological Consultants for lending us the two captive bred sand lizards!
Before long we had the snakes and lizards bagged up and we made our way on to Parley Common. Gary did a great job showing everybody round pointing out areas of interest such as potential hibernacula. One of my highlights was the release of a rescued sand lizard which had been found on site a couple of days earlier and had been trapped in some scrapped scaffolding for up to two months. After a good meal of crickets the night before, he reluctantly left Gary (minus part of his tail) to fatten himself up before going in to hibernation!

The sun was very hot in the afternoon so it wasn’t ideal for spotting reptiles out in the open but we did find some under tins and some common lizards basking in the gorse. Heathland is full of wildlife and whilst we made our way around the reserve to put our snakes and slow-worms back under their tins we saw buzzards, stonechats, caterpillars, butterflies, spiders, grass hoppers and heathland plants such as the marsh gentian and sundew and these attracted just as much attention!

It was a superb day and I really enjoyed meeting and speaking to everyone. Many thanks to those who came along to enjoy the day with us, to the staff members that put their time in and to John Hanrahan - Manager of the Heatherlands Centre.

You can watch the film about the day by clicking here!

Angela Reynolds

Rare Sand Lizards Released Back to the Wild at Farnham Heath

Today [Monday 17 September] conservationists are giving the UK's rarest lizard a helping hand, when 40 captive bred sand lizards will be released at the RSPB’s Farnham Heath nature reserve.

The release is the start of a long-term conservation project to restore the species to this part of its historic range.

The RSPB is working with Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC) and Natural England, the Government conservation authority, to safeguard the future of these magnificent lizards.

Due to vast habitat losses across the UK, sand lizards now only occur naturally in Surrey and Dorset where it lives on sandy heathland, and further north in Merseyside where it is confined to coastal sand dune systems.

Sand lizards are believed to have been lost from the Farnham Heath site when the land was planted up with a commercial conifer crop after the Second World War.

Since 2004 the RSPB has restored over 70 ha of heathland at Farnham Heath and much of this is now in a suitable condition to support this beautiful animal once again.

Mike Coates, the RSPB site manager for Farnham Heath said: “There have always been sand lizards present on Gong Hill, which is next to our reserve, but they were confined to a very small pocket of suitable habitat.

Once our heathland restoration work started to take effect, they did spread onto our land west of Old Frensham Road. However, even minor roads can act as a barrier, and, despite searching, there was no sign of them on the remainder of our reserve, east of the road.

So we decided that we should use animals from the ARC's on-going captive breeding programme, to establish a second population on the eastern part of the reserve.”

ARC, under licence from Natural England, maintain a captive breeding population of animals, originally drawn from sites in Surrey, to provide a source of young lizards that can be re-introduced to areas where suitable habitat has been created.

Rob Free, from ARC said: “The superb restoration and management of the Farnham Heath site has allowed good recovery of many of our native heathland species.

It has also allowed us this opportunity to help restore the sand lizard’s former historic range through this joint partnership re-introduction. We believe this has every chance of success as the site is very well managed to cater for all heathland species and is ideal for this particular species’ habitat requirements.”

This is the start of a three year project, with further releases of 40-50 juvenile lizards planned for each autumn.

The UK’s largest lizard, reaching up to 20cm in length, sand lizards are active from late March through to late October; with the males emerge from hibernation first followed by younger animals then females.

Mike Coates added: “During the breeding season the male's sides become highly coloured, with some individuals turning almost completely bright green.

We hope they will thrive here at Farnham Heath, and that visitors might be able to glimpse the spectacular males basking alongside paths in years to come.”

Monday, 10 September 2012

Annual ARC-BHS Scientific Meeting - December 2012

The programme for the extremely popular joint scientific meeting of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and the British Herpetological Society has now been finalised!

The meeting will take place on Sunday 9th December, from 9:30am to 5:00pm and will be held at the Bournemouth Natural Science Society.

Registration closes on Friday 23rd November. This event is always oversubscribed so book now to avoid disappointment!  For more details and to register for the meeting please download the flyer HERE

Friday, 7 September 2012

Jim Foster joins ARC as Conservation Director

Jim worked on the Froglife Common Species Project from 1994-9. That post supported the emerging ARG movement, and provided guidance for herp workers across a range of sectors. From 1999 to 2011 Jim was the national amphibian and reptile specialist at Natural England. There he worked on a range of conservation issues including legislation, surveillance and species recovery – often in collaboration with partners such as ARC. After taking voluntary redundancy last year, he’s been doing consultancy and supporting local conservation projects.

As Conservation Director, Jim hopes to expand ARC’s capacity to deliver major gains for herps. “It’s an exciting time to join the ARC team,” he says. “There are plenty of changes afoot: some major shifts in the way government works on biodiversity, and a hefty review of wildlife legislation, to name but two. ARC is well-positioned to influence all these initiatives, so I’m delighted to be helping with that. And of course, it’s fantastic to be working with site management colleagues who keep herp hotspots in top condition.” He’s looking forward to being a passionate advocate for herps, working in co-operation with landowners, volunteers, recorders, scientists, government agencies and other conservation organisations.

Thursday, 6 September 2012


This course will run in 27th-29th November in collaboration with the Field Studies Council and Jim Fairclough, Senior Ecologist with Golder Associates. It is aimed at those ecologists with knowledge and experience of great crested newt survey techniques but limited experience of licensing and mitigation projects. It will include case-study, syndicate exercises, sites visits and demonstration techniques to help participants understand licence application and mitigation projects. It will include completing the Natural England method statement (WML-A14-2) and cover in depth the best practice protocols to approach mitigation.
For more details and to book, please visit the Field Studies Council website.