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!
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.