Dorset Amphibian and Reptile Network (DARN)
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About us

About Us

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 chris@cgoecology.com 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!

News

News

Chytrid swabbing at Puddletown Forest

Posted on Tuesday 29th March, 2011

Our group took part in the national Chytrid Survey 2011 (aka "the Big Swab") last week. DARN members Jonathan McGowan, Phil Smith, Alan Uren and Chris Gleed-Owen visited a pond in Puddletown Forest (with permission kindly arranged by Mark Warn of the Forestry Commission). The pond supports a large population of palmate newts, as well as common toads and common frogs.

The survey protocol required the participants to catch 30 amphibians from one pond (not to include common frogs) and swab their rear undersides with medical swabs. The swabs will be tested for chytrid DNA as part of a project coordinated by Freya Smith at the Institute of Zoology, to discover whether the infectious disease is spreading in the UK.

At the Puddletown Forest pond, extensive netting failed to catch any toads (or frogs), but a full quota of 30 palmate newts was caught easily in only three net sweeps! The newts were individually bagged with water and air, and then swabbed and released over the next hour.

As reported here previously, the spread of chytrid fungus has had devastating affects on amphibian populations across the world, and many herpetologists fear the possible impacts on populations in the UK. Chytrid is already known to affect natterjack toads, one of our rarest species. High mortality was discovered in captive-bred natterjacks in Cumbria in 2006 due to chytrid infection.

See our chytrid swabbing photos in the Gallery. 


Chytrid survey 2011- "the Big Swab"

Posted on Sunday 20th March, 2011
Four years ago, the Institute of Zoology coordinated a survey to determine the prevalence of chytrid infection of amphibians across England, Scotland and Wales. The project was delivered largely by ARGUK volunteers who carried out swabbing exercises at 120 ponds across Britain. Chytrid is the disease responsible for devastating many amphibian populations around the world, and implicated in the extinction of entire species like the golden toad in Costa Rica.

The results of the 2007 survey were very worrying in that they proved the widespread occurrence of chytrid across Britain. The biggest concern was its high prevalence in natterjack toads, already a rare and threatened species. In fact, unexplained mortality in a captive-bred population in 2006 (part of the national reintroduction programme), due to chytrid infection, was the impetus for the project in the first place.

Still, as the survey only provided a snapshot of prevalence, there was no evidence of any negative impacts. A repeat survey a few years later is the only way to see whether prevalence has increased, or if populations have crashed. Hence this is the year of "the Big Swab 2011", a repeat survey coordinated by the IoZ and funded by Defra. ARGUK volunteers will revisit the 2007 sites where possible, and survey new locations to fill in some geographical gaps.

The project officer is Freya Smith. She has spoken about the project at several conferences this winter, and says that there are a few differences to the protocol. For example, chytrid prevalence in common frogs was so low that it does not seem to be a concern for them, and the 2011 swabbing exercise will omit common frogs. The number of animals swabbed will still be 30 per site, but the number of visits will be reduced from two to one. DARN members will be conducting swabbing at several ponds in Dorset in March/April 2011.

Time to count your adders!

Posted on Thursday 17th February, 2011
Well, spring is by no means here yet, but we are already getting occasional breaks in the weather, with sunny days hovering around 9 or 10 degrees centigrade: warm enough to bring out the first male adders from hibernation. Hence the adder monitoring season starts about now, in mid-February. Each year since 2005, the Make the Adder Count project (MTAC), coordinated by ARC, has been encouraging surveyors to go out to sites where they know adders are present, and to count the number of adders they see. Ideally, the surveyor makes four or five visits over the course of the spring, and tries to make a thorough walk over all the likely adder basking places each time. In this way, a reasonable picture of the population size is gathered. Around 100 sites are monitored in this way each year, gathering a vital dataset that will help us determine whether adders are declining as much as many of us fear they are. My own five sites in the Bournemouth area are all small populations, and at least one seems to have declined drastically in recent years. If you want to get involved in MTAC, contact ARC (01202 391319) to get hold of survey forms. You could also call me, Chris Gleed-Owen (DARN Chair) on 07846 137346 or email chris@cgoecology.com, to chat about your proposed adder monitoring sites.

Wall lizards are spreading

Posted on Tuesday 25th January, 2011
It has been well-known for more than a decade that Dorset has several populations of European wall lizards (Podarcis muralis). Established populations were known from quarries on the Isle of Portland, two quarries on the Purbeck coast, and at Canford Cliffs in Poole Bay. Then in 2002, another population was discovered on the cliffs at Boscombe, Bournemouth, where not only wall lizards, but western green lizards (Lacerta bilineata) were established. Genetic tests suggest that the founder stock of the Boscombe animals came from northeast Italy, but little is known about how any of the populations became established.

Since then, surveys by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (formerly HCT), students and volunteers, has monitored the spread of wall lizards in these areas, and discovered even more populations. The Poole Bay populations at Boscombe and Canford Cliffs are spreading rapidly along the coastal cliffs, but new isolated nuclei have been discovered on the Bournemouth East Cliff, indicating continued releases by unknown individual(s). Wall lizards now effectively occupy more than half the seven-mile coastline of Poole Bay. ‘New’ populations have also been discovered (or possibly re-discovered) at Corfe Castle and Abbotsbury Gardens.

So it seems as though wall lizards in Dorset are here to stay. It would be impossible to catch or extinguish them all. They are simply too numerous and too widespread across miles of cliffs. Nevertheless, there are some concerns about their presence. Some researchers believe there is strong evidence that they are out-competing sand lizards where the two species are syntopic (living together). There is little we can do though, except hope that the wall lizards don’t spread into the wider heathlands of southeast Dorset. The wall lizard’s ecological preferences makes this unlikely, and the current isolation of most populations is reassuring. Only those on the Poole Bay coast are in contact with sand lizards.

The Corfe Castle wall lizards are possibly the great threat, as a railway line runs right past the site. Wall lizards thrive in any environment with bare rock, scree, sand or gravel bordered by vegetation in which to hide. Railway lines are typically underlain by crushed-rock clinker, and provide an ideal habitat. Elsewhere, in West Sussex, railway lines seem to be promoting the rapid spread of wall lizards in the Worthing area.

If you want to get involved in monitoring any of the wall lizard populations in Dorset, please get in touch. If there’s sufficient interest, we will run an identification and recording training day.

DARN structure and constitution

Posted on Tuesday 25th January, 2011
With the aim of simplicity, DARN is an informal network; but to meet a minimum level of formality, a small committee helps coordinate it. This currently comprises a Chair (Chris Gleed-Owen), Secretary (Dorothy Wright), Amphibian Officer (Philip Temple) and Reptile Officer (Jonathan McGowan). We aim to set up a bank account for DARN shortly, so that it can receive funds and instigate and support projects more effectively. To this end, a simple constitution has been drafted as follows:

1.    The purpose of DARN shall be to further the appreciation and conservation of native amphibians and reptiles in Dorset.

2.    DARN shall act as a communication and action network to help facilitate the above aim.

3.    DARN may initiate its own projects as well as promoting and assisting those coordinated by other parties.

4.    Membership shall be open to all interested parties by inclusion in an email circulation list.

5.    DARN shall be coordinated by a panel of officers elected from the membership, including a Chair, a Secretary, and others as deemed necessary.

6.    Election shall be by simple democratic majority by voting among the membership.

7.    An Annual General Meeting shall be held.

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Dorset Amphibian and Reptile Network (DARN), c/o
Cranbourne House, 12 Knole Road, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH1 4DQ
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