Dorset Amphibian and Reptile Network (DARN)
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About us

About Us

DARN is a 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. DARN serves as a means of communication between volunteers, professionals and the general public. DARN members pay an annual fee of £6 and then when suitably trained they can  take part in our widespread reptile surveys. These can be viewed once reptile surveyor status has been achieved. DARN is also running the SliC project - Slow-worms in Churchyards. We have rare reptile survey sites on FE and MOD land and we are continually adding new transects as we expand our activities across the county. DARN also monitors non-native species to try to assess any impact on our native species.  

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.

Sheila Dyason is Chair of DARN. DARN Dispatches is a newsletter that is produced at least twice a year, telling you of news, items of interest, and projects to get involved in. Dorset is home to some of the most important reptile and amphibian populations in the country, with a high concentration of protected sites, 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.

The History of the DARN Group

DARN was set up as a surveying and recording group on 30/01/2020. Previously it had been an email and facebook group.

The founding members were Sheila Dyason as Chair, Catherine Dyason as Secretary, Pete Gillatt as Treasurer.

The Group started with rare reptile sites which Sheila had arranged with Forestry England to survey as part of HIWARG – the Hampshire Group. Some of them had been set up and monitored by David Tamarind who sadly died recently. There were not any widespread species surveys for members to get involved with so Sheila set up the SliC Project – Slow-worms in Churchyards - as a way to get members involved in surveying.  

As of July 2021 DARN has 8 widespread reptile transects set up in north Dorset and three more rare reptile transects including one on MOD land. DARN is working with land owners and managers such as Forestry England, Butterfly Conservation, the Dorset Wildlife Trust, the MOD, church communities and private land owners.

 

News

News

Happy 4th Birthday to the DARN Group

Posted on Tuesday 30th January, 2024

Screenshot 2024 01 29 074427


DARN Dispatches 15

Posted on Monday 15th January, 2024

DARN Dispatches 15

We are halfway through January already so a bit late to say ‘Happy New Year’. The weather has been fairly kind to Dorset so far. Mild and windy before Christmas but it did allow for plenty of habitat management opportunities. Bracken clearing has been the main focus at one site. Where the bracken has been left for a few years without management the heather is still fairly healthy underneath but where the bracken has not been managed for 6-8 years the ground is basically bare underneath once the dead bracken has been removed. Hopefully heather seeds have remained viable in the soil and will soon germinate. Habitat management is continuing but with the milder weather continuing we are also looking out for reptiles enjoying a bit of warmth in more sheltered areas.

Newts and Frogs are already arriving in ponds throughout the county and in our garden ponds. We have not heard of any Toad sightings yet. We wonder who will report the first spawn clumps of 2024.

Congratulations to Tina and Paul for being awarded their Natural England Rare Reptile licences. They have both completed lots of surveys and added numerous records to the DARN and HIWARG databases so they were well deserved. Two more DARN members are working towards their licences as well.

BBC’s Winterwatch starts tomorrow and is being broadcast from Arne so it will be interesting to see if the Team find any amphibians or reptiles on their wanderings.

As usual casual sightings of amphibians and reptiles can be added to Casual Sightings on the DARN website: www.groups.arguk.org/darn  or on Record Pool: www.recordpool.org.uk. Historic records are fine as well.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Keep safe!

Sheila Dyason and Cathy Dyason

Chair of DARN         Secretary of DARN

Conservation opportunities for everyone!


DARN Dispatches 14

Posted on Sunday 30th July, 2023

DARN Dispatches 14

It is hard to believe that we are halfway through Summer. I don’t want a heatwave but some settled warm weather would be good and if the grass could just stop growing for a bit so we can find the refugia that would be great as well!

We welcome two new active reptile surveyors – one in Verwood and one in Purbeck. They are already sending in survey results which is great. Thank you both. We also have connections with a school which I have visited and their pond is teeming with wildlife particularly Frogs and Smooth and Palmate Newts. Grass Snakes and Toads have also been seen. So I am looking forward to seeing and hearing more from there. All very exciting.

Thank you also to existing surveyors and to those of you who send in records occasionally. Every record counts towards a better understanding of the location of Dorset’s amphibians and reptiles and the habitat that needs protecting.

On the subject of habitats, Forestry England have just confirmed that we can continue with the habitat management in Ringwood Forest and Hurn Forest over the Autumn and Winter. We shall be continuing with the four sites from last year plus others to be confirmed. DARN started a new research project last year to investigate if there was a better way for our volunteers to control Birch on our heathland sites. This has been extended to look at controlling Bracken as well. Some work has been on-going over the summer and thanks to Cathy for her help with this.

The SliC sites – Slow-worms in Churchyards – continue to produce results. Thank you to all the Land Managers that we work with for allowing us to survey on your land.

Allotments are still being surveyed and a Grass Snake has recently been spotted at one of them along with the Slow-worms and Toads.

A new transect is about to be set up as a rare reptile site and this will also involve habitat management at some point. I have not seen the site yet but I am waiting to hear from the Wildlife Ranger.

Other DARN projects are FARM – Farming with Amphibians and Reptiles in Mind – where landowners are wilding their fields and woods. One site has not recorded any reptiles yet but I have found two Dormouse nests which Cathy and I survey for under our Dormouse licences.

We are continuing to monitor the Wall Lizards at various sites with our NISER project – Non-native and Invasive Species, Escapees and Releases. They appear to be colonising garden further inland. Whether that is because of an increase in numbers or due to disturbance we do not yet know. There is evidence that some of the holes in the walls where they are regularly seen have been made larger as if someone has been trying to capture them.

My garden pond continues to be home to Frogs and Palmate Newts. The baby Frogs have just started to leave the water. Three Toads have also been seen and one has been under a tile for weeks. It has made a Toad print in the grass so it has obviously found a spot that is just right and it is not moving anywhere else. I have seen two of this year’s juvenile Slow-worms. They have been found with last years juveniles and adults as well. We have a population of 14+ Slow-worms. If anyone else has a garden pond or reptiles in their gardens I would love to hear from you.

It was good to see reptiles being featured on Springwatch recently.  It was being broadcast from Arne and it highlighted the number of reptiles being eaten by raptors. Particularly gruesome was the female Sand Lizard whose eggs were being plucked out of the decapitated body and fed to young Kestrels, I think. Confirmation of the Wall Lizards at Corfe Castle was also interesting as I have not seen them there yet.

As I have said in previous Dispatches, if you are interested in becoming a DARN reptile surveyor, email me and we will arrange for ARGWEB and field survey training if it is needed and then you will be given access to our widespread transect sites.

As usual casual sightings of amphibians and reptiles can be added to Casual Sightings on the DARN website: www.groups.arguk.org/darn  or on Record Pool: www.recordpool.org.uk or email the details to: sheiladyason2007@yahoo.co.uk. Historic records are fine as well. If you are not sure just email or message me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Keep safe!

Sheila Dyason

Chair of DARN

Conservation opportunities for everyone!


DARN Dispatches 13

Posted on Tuesday 28th March, 2023

DARN Dispatches 13

Spring has finally come, and I am looking forward to some warm, settled weather.

Habitat management, over the autumn and winter, was a great success although more could have been achieved with more volunteers. Ringwood Forest and Hurn Forest were the two main areas we focused on. DARN started its new research project to investigate if there is a better way for our volunteers to control Birch on our heathland sites. Thank you to all the volunteers from DARN and HIWARG who participated.

DARN also helped Freshwater Habitats Trust with some water sampling in Ringwood and Hurn Forests and I am very pleased to say that the phosphate and nitrate levels were very low indicating unpolluted water.

#darnspawnandeggcount2023 was designed for people to report their frog spawn and newt sighting but it was mainly my garden ponds that were recorded. A maximum of 69 Palmate Newts were seen and 15 spawn clumps. The tadpoles have now emerged, and the water is bubbling with activity.

#darngardenslowworms2023 has just started and anyone can report their garden sightings. So far, I have three juvenile Slow-worms from last year, two adult males and an adult female in my garden under felt and roofing tiles.

Last weekend Tina led a training session on her favourite site for a new surveyor and we saw 65 reptiles including all three lizard species and Adders. A special thank you to Tina for sharing her knowledge and reptile surveying skills.

Other DARN projects are FARM – Farming with Amphibians and Reptiles in Mind – where landowners are wilding their fields and woods; and CAMPAR – CAMPsites with Amphibians and Reptiles – which will add a new dimension to staycation holidays this year.

We are continuing to monitor the Wall Lizards at various sites with our NISER project – Non-native and Invasive Species, Escapees and Releases.

The SliC project – Slow-worms in Churchyards - is also ongoing as is our Allotment project.

As I have said in previous Dispatches, if you are interested in becoming a DARN reptile surveyor, email me and we will arrange for ARGWEB and field survey training if it is needed and then you will be given access to our widespread transect sites.

As usual casual sightings of amphibians and reptiles can be added to Casual Sightings on the DARN website: www.groups.arguk.org/darn  or on Record Pool: www.recordpool.org.uk or email the details to: sheiladyason2007@yahoo.co.uk. Historic records are fine as well. If you are not sure just email or message me.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Keep safe!

Sheila Dyason

Chair of DARN

Conservation opportunities for everyone!


DARN Dispatches 12

Posted on Tuesday 4th October, 2022

DARN Dispatches 12

I hope you have all had a busy summer surveying and submitting lots of records on ARGWEB and Record Pool. Our GIS map is certainly becoming a multi-coloured patchwork of dots and diamonds.

Habitat management has just started with DARN undertaking a new research project to investigate if there is a better way for our volunteers to control Birch on our heathland sites.

Other new projects are FARM – Farming with Amphibians and Reptiles in Mind – where landowners are wilding their fields and woods; and CAMPAR – CAMPsites with Amphibians and Reptiles – which will add a new dimension to staycation holidays next year.

We are continuing to monitor the Wall Lizards at various sites with our NISER project – Non-native and Invasive Species, Escapees and Releases.

The SliC project – Slow-worms in Churchyards - is also ongoing as is our Allotment project.

David, our foreign correspondent in Greece, continues to send us wonderful photos of reptile sightings from his back garden and beyond and he is now trying to entice our surveyors to join him snake hunting.

We have just held another Committee Meeting to discuss plans for habitat management and how we are going to expand our range of activities next year. Thanks to all the Committee Members for their hard work and to our other reptile surveyors. Recruited another surveyor just a few days ago. Thanks also to our friends at HIWARG – the Hampshire Group – who continue to help us in so many ways.

As I have said in previous Dispatches, if you are interested in becoming a DARN reptile surveyor, email me and we will arrange for ARGWEB and field survey training if it is needed and then you will be given access to our widespread transect sites.

As usual casual sightings of amphibians and reptiles can be added to Casual Sightings on the DARN website: www.groups.arguk.org/darn  or on Record Pool: www.recordpool.org.uk or email the details to: sheiladyason2007@yahoo.co.uk. Historic records are fine as well. If you are not sure just email or message me.

I look forward to hearing from you

Keep safe!

Sheila Dyason

Chair of DARN

Conservation opportunities for everyone!


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