Friends of Angus Herpetofauna (FAH) is a local Amphibian & Reptile Group (ARG) founded in 2007, serving Angus and surrounding areas. Affiliated to ARG-UK, the national umbrella group for local ARGs, FAH is a constituted, non-profit group of volunteers, involved particularly in various monitoring projects at a local level linking into schemes of national importance.
At present, FAH is conducting annual surveys throughout the county to monitor the presence and status of our widespread amphibian and reptile species. These surveys feed directly to the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) coordinated by the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC Trust). Survey protocols are strictly controlled and training of voluntary surveyors is provided free at the beginning of each survey season.
Projects currently in progress include a study into the effectiveness of amphibian ladders in gulleypots (roadside drains). Migrating amphibians frequently fall into gulleypots and remain entrapped, unable to escape, eventually dying a lingering death. New ladders, designed by FAH (based on an idea from RAVON) are proving to be a viable sollution to this long-standing problem and are now installed in pioneering work in three locations across the county. FAH are also keen to identify amphibian migration crossing points and set up Toad Patrols, which involves the recruitment of volunteers to collect amphibians with torches and buckets to help them across busy roads where they might otherwise be killed by passing road traffic.
FAH can offer pond and habitat surveys on request either to an established protocol or to a tailored specification. FAH also provide the manpower to undertake a range of field work, including monitoring and habitat management, or offer help and advice as required. Experienced herpetologists are also on hand to provide training, presentations and guided field walks.
Giant reptile washed up on local beach
A huge oceanic reptile washed up on the shores of St. Cyrus beach last Friday (8th January 2016). The leatherback turtle, the largest turtle species in the world, was thought to have been overcome by heavy seas whipped up by the tail-end of storm Frank.
The massive turtle, 1.5 metres long was spotted by Ian McKay who walks the beach daily and it was later recovered by a team from Scotland’s Rural College. Despite its size, this individual was less than average size for the species, so probably a young, sub-adult turtle.
Leatherback turtles wander thousands of miles across the seas in search of jellyfish swarms, their specialist food. That is what brings them to the shores of the UK, where they are frequently recorded in the Irish Sea and Western Isles. Only rarely do they venture in to the colder North Sea, and most sightings are recorded in the summer months, so this turtle was off the beaten track and out of season, which may have contributed to its demise.
These leviathans range across the globe, with distinct populations in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The Pacific leatherbacks have declined significantly in recent decades, and although the Atlantic race seems to be faring better, all turtles are threatened and endangered. Leatherbacks are particularly vulnerable to ingesting plastic bags and other materials which they mistake for their favourite jellyfish food. All turtles can become entangled in ropes and fishing nets and frequently drown when they cannot resurface for air. Longline fishing is also a major cause for concern for marine turtle conservationists.
Go our Gallery to see an image of the St. Cyrus turtle.
For more of pictures of the turtle including the recovery, go to local photographer Andy Thompson's website: www.atimages.com/p460095677/h602d0804#h602d0804
Leatherback turtle facts:
- There are less than a dozen records for leatherback turtles on the north east coast of Scotland, compared to hundreds on the west coast and over 2000 in total around the UK
- The St Cyrus specimen is the first to be recorded by NESBReC, our local records centre (they have over 1.2 million other species records!)
- The scientific name for the leatherback turtle is Dermochelys coriacea
- Leatherback turtles have been around for 150 million years and survived the extinction of the dinosaurs
- Leatherback turtles are so called because their carapace is a tough, fleshy skin rather than a shell comprised of individual scutes as in other turtles
- The carapace, with its concave dorsolateral ridges, allows them to dive deeper than any other turtle species; the deepest dive recorded on a satellite tracked specimen was 1280m. Only sperm and beaked whales can dive deeper.
- At such depths, the carapace actually compresses and the body narrows under pressure
- Leatherback turtles can stay under water for over an hour on deep dives
- Leatherbacks, although classed as cold-blooded reptiles, are able to maintain their core body temperature to some extent as a result of gigantothermy (also seen in large crocodilians). This allows them to operate in colder, northern seas where their prey is particularly abundant
- Leatherback turtles eat jellyfish with specialised teeth and jaws. The food source is mostly comprised of water; only the jellyfish reproductive organs offer any form of substantial food material so they must consume large quantities in order to survive
- Leatherback turtles, like other marine and freshwater reptiles, must return to shore to lay their eggs; females haul themselves onto beaches and dig a nest with their flippers above the tide line, lay their eggs (up to 100 in each clutch), back-fill the nest and return to the sea. A female may repeat this several times in a season
- Males never come to shore at any time in their life
- The Atlantic leatherbacks nest on beaches in Costa Rica, the Caribbean Islands, French Guiana and Surinam
- Leatherback turtles may spend the first 20 or 30 years of their life at sea, before they reach maturity and return to the same beach where they were hatched
- Leatherbacks can reach over two metres in length. The largest individual ever recorded was washed up on a Welsh beach in 1988; it measured 2.4m long and weighed in at 900kgs!
Amphibian Ladder Trial Study Results now Published
The study results from the local Amphibian Ladder Trial undertaken by Friends of Angus Herpetofauna have now been published by the British Herpetological Society.
The important study, the first of its kind in the UK, has been trialling the use of Amphibian Ladders as a means for toads, frogs and newts to escape certain death from gullypot entrapment.
Results show that more than 70% of amphibians falling into gullypots will use the ladders as a means to escape. The paper (McInroy & Rose, 2015), published in the latest edition of the Herpetological Bulletin, also provides photographic evidence of toads climbing the ladders and extricating themselves back through the gullypot grating to freedom. The 2014 trial used hessian-backed steel strips for ladders and the results demonstrated that individual amphibians were able to climb them. However, hessian was a substitute material of lower quality than the preferred type (Enkamat® - a loosely woven nylon mesh) and the authors expressed concern that gravid female toads especially, and pairs of toads in amplexus, were not recorded as escaping on the hessian ladders.
The ladders in the Dundee study area were upgraded to Enkamat® for 2015 and the trial continued. Preliminary results (unpublished data) from the 2015 trial are indicating that gravid females and amplexing pairs can manage the near-vertical climb on the Enkamat® ladders, and once again photographic evidence has been captured.
The authors plan a follow-up paper for 2015 to update the new findings. The British Herpetological Society are so excited about the ladder solution that they have endorsed the ladders as a branded product, and have offered to provide them to prospective clients via their online shop, with all proceeds being fed back into UK conservation projects.
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of amphibians fall to a certain death in gullypots every year. Whilst the ladders offer a retrofit solution to the problem that can be adapted to suit local conditions and gullypot types, the authors are keen to promote the use of alternative, gully-free drainage systems such as swales and permeable surfaces as the best amphibian-friendly way forward in new developments.
For a free pdf copy of the Amphibian Ladder paper, please email email@example.com
McInroy, C. & Rose, T. A. (2015) Trialling amphibian ladders within roadside gullypots in Angus, Scotland: 2014 impact study. Herpetological Bulletin 132, pp15-19.
Launch of the Amphibians in Ladders Report & Angus Council Biodiversity Duty Report
Angus Council has published its first formal Biodiversity Report, outlining the work it’s carried out to support wildlife and the local environment during the last three years.
The Nature Conservation ( Scotland ) Act 2004 places a duty on all public bodies to ‘further the conservation of biodiversity’ (also known as ‘Biodiversity Duty’) in the course of carrying out their responsibilities. The report highlights the council’s commitment over the last three years in delivering on this duty.
A council spokesperson said: “In Angus we are lucky to have one of the most biologically rich areas in the country – from the golden eagle in the uplands, the red squirrels in our woodlands, to the farmland barn owls and seabirds and small blue butterflies on the coast. Today’s report highlights the council’s responsibilities to conserve this biodiversity.
“The council works with partner agencies including community planning partners and nature conservation bodies to conserve this special natural heritage. Such partnerships are vital and working together we are developing the best ways to do this - and at the same time, contributing to other policies and initiatives.
“However it is not all about actions and targets – by involving the local communities and council officers in many of these projects, this has helped to raise awareness of a range of biodiversity issues across the county and enabled many people to call a project their own. This in itself creates a ripple effect of more work being achieved and many more of our important Angus species and habitats being safeguarded.”
A key project featured in the report is managed by Friends of Angus Herpetofauna, a group of local volunteers and enthusiasts have worked with the Angus Council road team on pioneering work, the first British Amphibian Ladder trials in the UK and they are now installed in three locations across the county including the Angus Council campus at Orchardbank campus, Forfar. Migrating amphibians frequently fall into gulleypots and remain entrapped, unable to escape and recent trials of the ladders show that they can provide escape for 73% of trapped amphibians.
Friends of Angus Herpetofauna are also launching their ‘Amphibians in drains project 2014’ report. The report highlights the success of the ladder trial and how they are keen to identify amphibian migration crossing points, install ladders and set up Toad Patrols, which involves the recruitment of volunteers to collect amphibians with torches and buckets to help them across busy roads where they might otherwise be killed by passing road traffic. Angus Environmental Trust funded wildlife kerbs at a key toad and frog crossing point at Monikie Country Park . During the migration period in March, 60 local volunteers over 14 nights took part and more than 1300 amphibians were rescued from the road.
It is hoped that in the future that an Amphibian Priority Zone mapping project will be possible for inclusion in the future Local Biodiversity Action Plan. A second edition will be published later this year which will guide local projects for the period 2015 to 2025.
Ladders proving to be a great success with new material
Our on-going amphibian escape ladder trials are showing that the new Enkamat material is, as expected, providing trapped frogs and toads with much more opportunity to ascend and make their bid for freedom after falling into gullypots during migration.
In the first trial at Silver Birch Drive, Dundee last year, we used hessian as the climbing material as the Enkamat was proving difficult to source. Even with the inferior material, there was a 73% escape success rate (currently unpublished data, to be released soon). Female toads in particular seemed to have trouble ascending the hessian. This year however, we are repeating the study with Enkamat, a randomly woven nylon matting with a 25 year life, which provides much better purchase and should improve the climbing capabilities of the amphibians.
It has been a slow start to the season as we have had a long spell of cold nights, however this week amphibians have been on the move in our area and we are now recording frogs and toads using the ladders to escape from gullypots. Already we have seen many animals in various stages of ascent, and frequently more than one individual on the ladders at the same time. Check out our gallery for the latest pictures, and follow the link below for a YouTube video at our new and second trial site, Orchandbank, Forfar.
We still need a student volunteer to monitor the study area at Forfar, so please do get in touch if this is something that interests you.
To find out more about our ladder trials, or to get help setting up a study in your area, please do get in touch via the Contact Us tab.
FAH Recruiting Students for on-going Ladder Trials
FAH has been conducting studies into the use of ladders as an escape mechanism in gulleypots. The study began in 2014 and will continue with alternative materials in 2015. The project(s) involve visiting the study site(s) to observe and record any trapped amphibians and, by comparing results to "control" gulleypots (those without ladders), determining the effectiveness of the escape mechanism. Results will be compiled and reported in the form of a paper or dissertation at the end of the project.
FAH is currently seeking 2 to 4 students to carry out the survey/observation/data gathering and report writing on the projects. There are two study sites; Silver Birch Drive in Dundee and Orchardbank in Forfar. Students may work alone or in pairs at each site. Sites will need to be visited daily or every two days, for around 1 - 2 hours. Students living nearby to the study sites will find this advantageous, or will require their own transport.
These studies would suit students with an interest in wildlife and conservation, although many other aspects could be applied (for example, the student in 2014 applied the results of the study to a statistics module). No specific qualifications are required as all training and guidance will be given, as will necessary equipment and PPE. The work can be physical (lifting heavy gulleypot covers occasionally). Study sites can be visited at any time of day, but evening visits are advantageous for observing amphibian movements, especially early in the Spring. The study will begin in March and continue until September.
Participation will be voluntary; students should note that there may be grants available to cover travel costs, etc, and FAH will support any such grant applications by reference.
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Tel: 01674 671676 (eves) or 07778 830192
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