DARN is an informal network of people in Dorset interested in our native reptiles and amphibians. Its purpose is to promote the conservation, recording and appreciation of native amphibians and reptiles in the county of Dorset. Operating mainly via email, DARN serves as a means of communication between volunteers, professionals and the general public.
Dorset has 12 of the UK's 13 native amphibian and reptile species, and a handful of non-native species. Its internationally-important heathlands are famous as national strongholds for the rare reptiles - sand lizard and smooth snake - and southwest England's only populations of our second-rarest amphibian, the natterjack toad. With such an important wildlife heritage in Dorset, several wildlife NGOs have their headquarters in the county, including the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC). Together with the various statutory bodies and local authorities, this means Dorset has many wildlife professionals. DARN aims to form a link between all these people, and to nurture an appreciation among the general public for our herpetofaunal friends.
To get on the DARN mailing list, simply email Chris Gleed-Owen firstname.lastname@example.org with 'DARN' in the subject header. You will receive regular emails telling you of news, items of interest, and projects to get involved in; and there will be at least one annual meeting. Dorset is home to some of the most important reptile and amphibian populations in the country, with a high concentration of protected sites, and a buzz of conservation activities and research projects. There are endless opportunities for helping out by volunteering, and there are already many volunteers in the county who give their time towards projects helping to conserve our herpetofauna, and raise awareness.
We encourage people to take part in reptile and amphibian survey projects like 'NARRS' and 'Make the Adder Count' coordinated by ARC, as well as rare reptile monitoring on sites that are short of voluntary surveyors. We help train people where necessary. There are also numerous opportunities for taking part in conservation tasks across the county (usually winter habitat management), on nature reserves managed by ARC, local authorities, Natural England, the Forestry Commission, RSPB, National Trust and other landowners. DARN aims to provide a link between these bodies and all the keen volunteers that are out there. If you want to offer your services, or you need volunteers for your herp-related projects, then get in touch!
A few further herpy things to mention:
1) ToadSize - Following my earlier email, I received the email below (with attached ToadSize recording sheet) from Angie Julian at ‘ARG-UK HQ’. Seems like toad migrations are happening in earnest all over the country this week, and there’s a big publicity push on to get people measuring their local toads for this ToadSize project.
2) GCN training - Several people have asked me if they could either shadow me on great crested newt surveys, or attend survey training locally. Well I’ve buckled under the pressure, and have decided to organise a one-off GCN/amphibian survey training evening next Tuesday 23 April, venue tbc. I expect it will start early evening, perhaps with a daylight egg search and netting visit around 7-8pm, and continue later with a torchlight survey about 10-11pm. Ideally the two sessions would be punctuated with a sojourn in a local establishment for pub grub and a pint, while waiting for it to get dark. I would demonstrate bottle-trapping, but won’t be setting any (unless a licensed DARNer fancied emptying them in the morning?). I will email this list again, hopefully tomorrow evening, once I have firmed up on a pond venue for the event. It is likely to be in the Purbeck or Winterbournes area. Please let me know if you plan to attend (and/or want to help). I think this might be a good opportunity for any NARRS volunteers wishing to receive training.
3) NARRS – Now is the time to sign up for your random (within 5km of your home) 1km survey square. Contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to take part, but feel you lack the skills, drop me a line. It only takes a few hours of your time to do a NARRS survey, and often you are filling in a gap on the known distribution map.
Cheers for now,
NARRS - The herp survey season is upon us. For those of you already taking part in NARRS amphibian and reptile surveys, you’ll be aware that this year is a really important big push to get as many squares surveyed as possible, as it is the last of the current six-year survey cycle. If you’re not already involved, please contact Ben Limburn at ARC (email@example.com) to register. It’s quite simple, and you only need a couple of hours here and there to take part. DARN members can help show anyone the ropes if needed.
Make The Adder Count – After a very mild winter, and despite a severe cold snap, the adders are out and about already this year. If anyone has an adder site they know about and would like to monitor as part of ‘Make The Adder Count’, contact DARN, and we will help you get set up to do that.
The Big Pond Dip Survey – Rosie Salazar at WildCRU, University of Oxford, is looking for volunteers to take part in a pond survey initiative. It can be carried out alongside a NARRS pond survey. Contact Rosie (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get involved.
Sopley Common adders – Jonathan Crewe is gathering volunteers for a one-off ‘adder-blitz’ at Sopley common soon, to try and identify the hibernation areas. Please contact Jon (email@example.com) to assist.
As ever, pass on any herp-related news or requests to DARN for circulation .
Chris Gleed-Owen, Dorset Amphibian & Reptile Network
A few updates as spring is threatening to peep through the clouds..
1) Chytrid survey results – Some of us took part last year in the national chytrid fungus survey being carried out by ZSL on amphibian populations across the country (‘the Big Swab’). The palmate newt population we swabbed at Puddletown Forest turned out to be negative for chytrid, which is great news. (Not so good news for the pond I assisted with sampling in Nottinghamshire though: chytrid positive).
2) Adders – Some of you will be familiar with the ‘Make the Adder Count’ project that aims to monitor trends in adder population sizes during their spring emergence at hibernation areas. After a bit of a lull for the last couple of years, this project is back on track, and all adder surveyors are urged to forward their results to John Baker (63a Thoroughfare, Halesworth, Suffolk, IP19 8AR). Please keep surveying this year too. We are trying to keep up numbers to about 100 adder sites across the country. Also, if anyone would like to try their hand at adder surveying this spring, but feels they need a bit of assistance before they go it alone, please let me know. I will try and arrange a day or two in Feb/Mar where we can see some adders, and get you started on monitoring your own population with landowner permission.
3) Frogspawn – The ‘Big Spawn Count 2012’ is a survey of common frog spawning, coordinated by Pond conservation, ARGUK and ARC. You simply need to count the number of clumps of frogspawn in your garden pond or other site, and submit the results. You can get involved online at http://www.arguk.org/news/Page-2.
Adders in crisis, declare experts
Issued by: Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group
Monday 21 November 2011
For immediate release
The adder, Britain’s only venomous snake, is in crisis. This is the conclusion drawn by a group of reptile experts and conservationists who attended a conference on the latest research on adders, including reports about its status in this country.
The meeting at Greenwich University in Chatham, Kent, on Saturday 19 November painted a bleak picture of the snake’s likely future. Adder numbers are thought to be falling, and at the end of the conference the more than a hundred participants unanimously passed a motion stating that the adder is in more urgent need of new conservation efforts than any other reptile or amphibian species in Britain.
Said Gail Austen-Price of the Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group which arranged the conference: “There is a regional meeting of amphibian and reptile groups in London and the South East every year, but this year we decided to hold a meeting about adders because our own experience suggested that their conservation is a matter of concern. We were proved right. This conference has set a milestone by announcing that the adder’s plight is reaching a critical point, and now is the time for government bodies and conservation organisations to take note.”
Reptile ecologist Dr Chris Gleed-Owen, who chaired the final session, explained: “Adders are widespread but numbers are dwindling and the snake is now extinct in some counties such as Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. In many areas remaining adder populations have become very small because of habitat loss, and are very vulnerable to inbreeding as well as any further damage to habitat.
“Some people still persecute adders even though they are protected by law and only bite humans in self-defence when they can’t escape. But the main problem is that adders are often given a low priority in management plans even in nature reserves and protected landscapes. For instance scrub clearance may be carried out to restore chalk grassland without considering whether this may harm hibernating adders.
“Sometimes land managers don’t even know that adders are present, but even when they do totally inappropriate actions may be carried out. One site I was studying was cut with a flail killing at least two adders out of a population of 10 adults.”
One of the main threats to adders is the accidental destruction of their winter hibernation refuges. Dr Gleed-Owen pointed out that adders often hibernate communally in mammal burrows or under tree roots. Damage to these sites while the snakes are there risks killing an entire population, but even when they are absent may force the snakes to disperse into less suitable habitat.
The meeting was told that ARG UK, the national umbrella organisation for amphibian and reptile groups, now plans to set up a national register of hibernation sites, to alert local authorities and other countryside managers of these crucial locations. It is also setting up a website for a flagship survey project called Make the Adder Count, where volunteers monitor adder numbers at their local sites.
Adders are famous for dancing (true, actually a ritualised wrestling match between males competing for a female) and for swallowing their young (false), but experts admit that they suffer from a poor public image.
“We need a battle plan to raise awareness and appreciation,” Dr Gleed-Owen said. “It would be tragic if this iconic animal, steeped in history, folklore and literature, were to disappear.”
Notes for editors:
The adder (scientific name: Vipera berus) is a small snake, reaching about two feet (60cm) long. It is typically brown or grey, with a distinctive dark zigzag running the entire length of its body from head to tail.
Adders generally live in heathland, moorland, sand dunes, forest edges and other relatively wild places. They tend to avoid human habitation and highly disturbed areas such as arable farmland.
If approached an adder will normally retreat, but if it feels threatened and cornered it will hiss and may strike. The best thing to do is stand well back from a suspected adder, and let it escape unharmed.
Many people mistake other species for adders, especially grass snakes and slow-worms which are common in gardens and allotments. Both are harmless, and neither has the adder’s distinctive zigzag marking along its back.
Adders are venomous (they deliver venom through their teeth to kill prey or defend themselves). Bites are fairly frequent, but they rarely kill humans. The last death in Britain was over 40 years ago.
Loss and fragmentation of adder habitats, and unsympathetic land management are believed to be the causes of much local extinction. Persecution is also a problem, despite the adder being legally protected.
The adder is protected in Britain under Schedule 5 (Section 9) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), which prohibits killing and injury.
Please ask for digital photographs, further information, advice or comment from the following:
Dr Chris Gleed-Owen – Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK & the British Herpetological Society - 07846 137346 - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr John Baker - Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK - 01986 872016 - email@example.com
Dr Lee Brady – Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group – 01227 751408 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Phillips - Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group - email@example.com – conference organiser
Rick Hodges – Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group – firstname.lastname@example.org