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 current chair of WiARG, 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.
Since its formation in 2019, WiARG has undertaken numerous surveys and practical conservation tasks across the Wirral. Some of the highlights have been mapping out the extent of Common Lizard in Harrison Park, Wallasey, as well as lizards and amphibians across the North Wirral Coastal Park, updating the known status of amphibians (including Great Crested Newt) at Royden Park and more recently measuring the use of the tidal zone of amphibians in the north west Wirral coast.
The itinerary for 2021-22 is presently being drawn up as winter draws in following a busy survey season. Suggestions from members are welcomed.
Existing partnerships include the Wirral Ranger Service, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the Friends of the North Wirral Coastal Park and Wirral Wildlife.
The present committee consists of: Thomas Doherty-Bone (chair); Sue Noyce (secretary); Jon Bielby (vice chair); Frankie Bielby (treasurer); Charles Mulryan (general committee); Mike Brown (senior adviser).
The membership fee for 2020-21 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.
From mid March the COVID-19 Pandemic put everyone in a spin, with our AGM cancelled and a brief spate of limbo as the lockdown followed. The permitted 1 hour exercise in the outdoors enabled us and other ARG Groups to take the opportunity to survey herps, at least alone. In the case of the Wirral ARG, we were able to continue our plans to survey the ponds of Royden Park to work out if Great Crested Newt still occurred there and whether the ponds managed over winter were being used.
The last official records in Royden Park went back to the 1980s, with only one other record in 2011 and one unverified (these newts can be mistaken with Smooth Newt) sighting from 2017. Was the management of the park conducive to the persistence of this highly protected species, historically imperilled by land use change? Before we surveyed, we could tell there were lots of ponds but nearly all not quite suitable for this species to breed in. Hence a succession of management interventions were planned and carried out by WiARG volunteers, the park rangers, Friends of Royden Park, and the Wirral Evolutions group. These were carried out through the winter months where we would have least disturbance on any newts. Trees were thinned out around ponds, invasive weeds were removed, measures that would increase the "Habitat Suitability Index", the technical measure of whether a pond will support a breeding population of cresties.
So to the surveys, covered by a licence from Natural England, torchlight searches, bottle traps and egg searches took place. We shouldn't disclose exactly where we found them, but the Great Crested Newt was alive and well in two ponds. One pond had adults, subadults, larvae and eggs. There were also plenty of Smooth Newts and Common Frog tadpoles. One of the ponds which was managed had a female crested newt checking it out and plenty of Smooth Newt, but not enough aquatic plants to lay eggs on. The other ponds had no newts at all, and only some frog tadpoles. Some of the ponds in Thurstaston Common were checked, but these seem to be massively disturbed by trampling, especially from dogs. What became clear as the May drought proceeded was how these ponds are very susceptible to drying out, and possibly threatens the ability of the next generation of newts to survive. Ways to mitigate this will be investigated for the coming winter tasks.
In addition to Royden Park, ponds at Jenny's Wood, Saughall Massie were surveyed. These ponds was found to be used by Smooth Newts, though one was full of fish, leaving only one suitable to breeding newts. This one pond was still in a bad state, full of garbage and in need of some clearing of vegetation so the water column is more open. This is a clear candidate for management, and possibly attracting use by crested newts too as the NBN Atlas has shown records for them to the north of the site as recently as 2017. On to Eastham Country Park, where discussions have taken place with the ranger there for possible surveys and tasks. Numerous ponds were shown that were not known to the chair (shamefully considering he did a Geography Key Stage 3 report on this park!), and lots of potential for improving ponds for amphibians and surveying the effectiveness was agreed. Other sites have been visited, such as Central Park Wallasey, and Harrison Park where we have been monitoring incidents of fire.
The next stage now, going into the end of summer, is to assess terrestrial habitat use by newts and other amphibians in these and other parks. This is to help understand where the newts, frogs and toads go to forage when they are not breeding in the ponds. This provides an evidence base to the park managers to protect natural habitat, especially from invasive species such as rhododendron shrubs and from interests to create ornamental gardens that push nature out. Great Crested Newt that are being encountered are being individually recorded so an accurate population assessment can be made. In addition, a survey campaign is planned for the entire North Wirral Coastal Park for reptiles to help inform effectiveness of habitat management by the rangers and friends group.
This work is dependent on funds to acquire equipment to achieve this, so do become a paid member (£5 a year) or if you want to make a donation, you can make one here: https://paypal.me/WiARG?locale.x=en_GB.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the AGM planned for the 27th March is cancelled to reduce the risk of spreading this pathogen further. It will be rescheduled once it is certain this matter has passed. Apologies for any inconvenience.
At request of the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, we will be rescheduling the task day at Red Rocks Nature Reserve from the 2nd to the 23rd February. Apologies for the incovenience.
Last Saturday a small group of us (three, incl. ranger Rosemary) started to clear the trees shading the pond across the entry road to the park. We were joined by Toby for an hour as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award. As a lot of the work was cutting up the brush and branches and turning them into a hibernaculum, and there is an observable difference in the pond. There is still more to be done, so we will be back again on the following Saturday (1st Feb) to keep at this and get more done. The more who can help the better as we need to make as big impact as possible before amphibians start moving to the ponds for breeding season. There will also be a task day on Tuesday the 11th February.
On the 7th January, we met with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust (CWT) on Red Rocks Nature Reserve, Hoylake-West Kirby to do some terrestrial habitat management. We removed woody vegetation encroaching on both sand dunes where Natterjack and Common Lizard bask, forage and over-winter, and on ponds where Natterjack and other amphibians breed. The brush was turned into wood chip by the grounds staff of the Royal Liverpool Golf Course, who actually own the land of Red Rock. Red Rock is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and so the CWT manage it on the golf course's behalf to ensure compliance. There is still plenty of work to be done (invasive sea buckthorn is starting to pop up) and we will be back on Sunday the 1st February to do more bits, including on the Natterjack ponds.
Make sure you check the latest COVID safe advice on www.gov.uk/coronavirus or ARGUK before attending any event
Habitat Management task
Contact Mike Brown for details
Free Online Series
25th Jan 7pm
Intro to herps in meadows
23rd Feb 2pm
1st March 7pm
Managing fields and farms