The aim of this group is to understand and protect the amphibians and reptiles of the Wirral peninsular through organizing training, raising awareness, surveys, habitat management tasks and other conservation activities.
The Wirral Peninsular has historically been habitat of Sand Lizard, Natterjack, Great Crested Newt, Common Frog, Common Toad, Smooth Newt, Palmate Newt, Common Lizard, Slow Worm and Grass Snake. However, developments in the 20th Century has seen species such as the Sand Lizard and Natterjack disappear. Status of other herps have been uncertain, the problem being linked to lack of survey effort and recording.
In 2018, preliminary surveys around Wallasey revealed many new and surprising records for amphibians and reptiles. This was part of the Cheshire & Wirral ARG. However, the size of this district with that county was a bit much, necessitating the formation of a new ARG for Wirral (WiARG) so more surveys and recording can be co-ordinated across this interesting penninsular.
Founding member and acting chair of WiARG, Tom Doherty-Bone, grew up on the Wirral and was frustrated by the lost herpetofauna species and limited opportunities to view the remaining herps in the area. Formation of this new ARG will create the opportunity for local residents in the Wirral to get involved with amphibian and reptile surveys and recording for both enjoyment of these wonderful animals and to aid in their conservation on the Wirral.
The itinerary for 2019 is presently being drawn up, confirmed activities including reptile surveys of the north Wirral coast and amphibian surverys and litter picking at ponds at Central Park Wallasey. Pond creation and monitoring is being planned for a local pocket park in New Brighton for 2019 into 2020. We are going to be involved with the Turtle Tally citizen science project. The possibility for visiting Natterjack sites, and other activities are also being looked into. Suggestions from members are welcomed.
Existing partnerships include the Wirral Ranger Service, the Friends of the North Wirral Coastal Park and Wirral Wildlife.
The present committee consists of: Thomas Doherty-Bone (chair); Jon Bielby (secretary); Frankie Bielby (treasurer); Mike Brown (senior adviser).
The membership fee for 2019-20 is £5, which goes toward conservation activities of the group, such as buying equipment. Payment can either be made in cash or paid through Paypal: https://paypal.me/WiARG?locale.x=en_GB
Membership cycle finishes each April.
Please get in contact if you wish to get involved.
We have set up our bank account and membership subs can now be paid via PayPal at paypal.me/WiARG
As a reminder, its £5 per year, renewal April.
We plan to use member subs for equipment, other expenses for surveys, outreach and maybe socials and day trips to other places.
We are rapidly seeing the end of 2019. I want to try something:
For all the herps you've seen around the Wirral, whether you've seen them with us or out and about, make sure to share this information on the ARG-UK's Record Pool. I am pleased to say when I have done this, it efficiently gets transcribed to the National Biodiversity Network and provides the crucial information for conserving our natural heritage. If you do share your findings, drop me an email (email@example.com) so I can have a "see Smither's, I told him to do that" moment, but also to quantify the value of members sharing their own findings to this.
The website to do this is here https://www.recordpool.org.uk/index.php?option=com_records&view=records&layout=survey and if you need any help with how to enter your findings (species ID, georeferencing).
The Herpetofauna Workers Meeting is an annual conference organised by the Amphibian & Reptile Groups UK and the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust, bringing together people interested in and working with these wonderful animals across the British Isles and sometimes further afield.
This meeting usually includes workshops on issues such as eDNA surveys for Great Crested Newt or restoration options for ponds in farmland. These are accompanied by numerous talks by a range of specialists in their fields, from government to NGO to consultants. One example is how useful they are is in 2017 Dr Carl Sayer and Helen Greaves gave talks and workshops on farm pond management, which provided the background to enable the present WiARG project in Royden Park. They are a great opportunity to meet knowledgeable and experienced people in the field, who are likely to be like-minded people. There is also a social element where people
This year it will be in Southport in the county across from the Wirral, where the North Merseyside Amphibian & Reptile Group often operates in its efforts to conserve Sand Lizards and Natterjack Toad. There will be a guided walk around the nearby sand dune system were much habitat management takes place. There will be two talks on the work around the Sefton coast that have relevance to the Wirral, from Andy Hampson from Gems in the Dunes, and Dr Phil Smith who is a former lecturer who has made a career of researching the Sefton Coast. There will also be posters presented, including one from WiARG on the reptile surveys in the north east Wirral coast.
Members of any ARG are given a subsidised fee for attendance, so make sure your subs are up to date (paypal.me/WiARG).
The chair (Tom) will be getting the train up for each day from the Wirral, so get in touch if you are looking for a travel companion.
On Saturday the 7th December, we were back at Royden Park to improve ponds for Great Crested Newts. This time it was a task that needed one of us to don waders and enter to remove the alder trees growing in the water. While in there we found submerged plants growing underneath, which is encouraging as newts will be able to use these for laying their eggs. As with last time, we used the wood to create a hibernacula, which would provide amphibians and other animals a shelter from extremes in the elements, whether it be extreme cold or even extreme heat, and provide dead wood for saproxylic organisms like fungi and beetles. We also cleared the brambles around the banks, not all of them mind but enough to again, get more light to the water column. We actually know why this is important from attending the Herpetofauna Workers Meeting in 2017, when Dr Carl Sayer presented on farm ponds, showing that ponds allowed to scrub up with woody vegetation had much diminished water quality that was in fact toxic (lots of excess nutrients, sulphates, high turbidity, etc). This indicates that it is not just lack of light, but builds up of excessive dead plant material that encourages microbial activity that likely induces these chemical imbalances. This was noticeable when wading through, and the smells of the "swamp gas" coming out, likely from sulphide-creating microbes. We had a break at the park cafe and finished off. We should be starting on the next bunch of ponds in the new year. Thanks for those volunteers and rangers making this happen.
In partnership with the rangers of the Wirral Council Parks and Countryside Department, the Wirral Amphibian & Reptile Group have initiated a project in Royden Park for Great Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus).
Records for this protected species have been diminishing in Royden Park, as well as other parts of the Wirral. This species has historically declined across Europe, hence its protection status. While it has stabilised and even grown in parts of Britain, it is clear it is in decline on the Wirral based on historical data. The last observation of Crested Newts was two years ago. So, we did a walkover of Royden Park to assess the habitat quality - while the terrestrial habitat of woodland and meadows is fine, the breeding habitat was found to be average to below average for Crested Newts. This included dense shading of ponds by tree growth. One pond was full of invasive New Zealand Pygmyweed. Another (where most historical records from the 1980s were) had practically disappeared, apparently from siltation.
So, we made a plan: each pond would be subject to management practises to bring up their Habitat Suitability Index. This included reducing shade to the ponds, so aspects such as aquatic plants can proliferate, which is good for breeding habitat, and possibly also for the newt's prey: aquatic invertebrates [maybe explained by "green" food webs are empirically found to be more productive than "brown" food webs].
The plan has begun implementation: Last week, a work team that included WiARG volunteers Tom, Kieran & Nathan with rangers Paul & Rosemary and a large team from Friends of Royden Park. We focused on the pond by the meadow. Paul was cutting the larger trees down with the chainsaw, while the rest were clearing the meadow of Turkey Oak (an invasive alien species that has not had as much awareness, see: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/turkey-oak/) which has been popping all over and threatening to outshade all the sun-dependent grassland species in the meadow and will likely threaten even woodland species (including the english oak).
As lots of wood was accumulating, we use it to create some hibernacula. This would act as shelter for newts, other amphibians like frogs and toads, as well as other smaller animals to hibernate during winter. I could also provide basking spots, as well as perching spots for birds, and the wood might even become a substrate for fungi to grow. So an effort to protect one species is benefitting others (theoretically!).
So that one day we made a lot of progress, finishing with the south-facing side of the meadow pond now more expose to the sun, one hibernacula and another started, and the meadow cleared of Turkey Oak. We shall be returning to work on this pond a bit more, then onto another one. In the Spring we shall start monitoring the population of newts. The initial plan was to survey the newts first then do the management, but the population might disappear by then, and this habitat management is already confirmed to benefit their population, but the newts could disappear through non-breeding if we do not act now!
In addition to our group's physical activity, the ranger Paul used our advise to direct management for another pond in Royden. The Wirral Evolutions group, which helps people with learning and physical disabilities reach their potential, took the initiative to remove the New Zealand Pygmyweed from one pond. This involved simply scooping out the weed and leaving it on the side of the pond for any aquatic creatures to return to the pond. As this plant is massively invasive, it could not be moved further in case of escape to another water body and will require constant control each year to stop it becoming dominant. This pondweed can actually remove the water column from a pond, and is sub-optimal for newts to lay their eggs on. However, for the breeding season of Spring 2020, the pond is more suitable for newts to breed in. Great work guys!
We have another task day planned for the weekend, Saturday 7th December. Thereafter, tasks will continue into January and February. Keep an eye on this website, Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. If you want to be added to the email list and become a member, email the chairman: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming events will be listed here.