Dorset Amphibian and Reptile Network (DARN)
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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. Operating mainly via FaceBook, 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.

Sheila Dyason is Chair of DARN and you can email her at: with 'DARN' in the subject header. DARN Dispatches is a newsletter that is produced every two months, telling you of news, items of interest, and projects to get involved in; and there will be at least one annual meeting or event. 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 England, 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!



New UK Turtle Stranding Code Launched

Posted on Thursday 1st September, 2011

A new Code has been produced for dealing with stranded marine turtles found on UK coastlines. The code is produced by a partnership including the Marine Conservation Society, the statutory agencies, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, and others.

Many marine turtles are stranded on the British coastline each year. UK waters are home to leatherback turtles (the largest turtle species on earth, and the only one able to regulate its own body temperature), but other species occasionally drift into UK waters. These species are not so tolerant of the cool conditions, and often end up stranded in a state of torpor.

Dorset has a long coastline, with long beaches, and plenty of opportunities for stranding. It is always worth keeping your eye out when walking on the coast.

The new Turtle Code advises you what to do if you find a stranded marine turtle, who to report it to, and who to get emergency assistance from.

You can download the Code here:

It is designed to be printed as a wall poster. Please circulate it widely if you can, and post it on walls in relevant places.   

All sightings of turtles stranded on British (and Irish) coastline are submitted to a valuable database coordinated by Rod Penrose of Marine Environmental Monitoring.

Upton Heath fire - a big thank you to all volunteers

Posted on Tuesday 12th July, 2011

Last Thursday evening (7 July 2011), Dorset Wildlife Trust hosted a barbecue and social evening to say thank you to all the volunteers that helped out with the aftermath of the devastating fire last month. This was followed by a walk through remaining areas of Upton Heath to hear nightjars.

An overwhelming response was received in the rescue campaign after the fire, with over a hundred volunteers on some days, hundreds of reptiles, and finishing with a big litter pick.


Steve Davis from Dorset Wildlife Trust said: "Over the course of the 8 days of rescue work, we had a total of 261 individuals volunteering, many of them doing multiple days.  Couple this with the staff and others who helped to lead the groups of volunteers, and it was in excess of 300. Volunteer online registrations jumped from a usual  5-6 per week to 302 in three days!"

A total of 551 reptiles were rescued: 34 sand lizards, 432 common lizards, 28 slow-worms, 4 grass snakes, 26 smooth snakes, and 27 adders. Nine amphibians were also caught and moved: 7 palmate newts, 2 common toads.

Following on from the rescues, Steve Davis and Andy Fale from DWT organised a litter pick, "...while we have the enthusiasm of the volunteers, and before it all greens up and covers the litter again."

Upton Heath Fire - update Friday 24 June 2011

Posted on Sunday 26th June, 2011
The following update was issued by Nick Moulton, Reptile Conservation Officer of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation:

Earlier this month a large fire decimated c. 60+ ha of the DWT heathland nature reserve at Upton. This fire was started deliberately and in drought conditions. It was started on land that is outside of the nature reserve, and due to the drought conditions, firstly burnt through the bog system. This limited Fire Brigade access to the fire edge and by the time the burning front reached the fire-break system its momentum was too large to stop.

This fire will have vastly affected all heathland wildlife; mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants within their breeding system. For reptiles it could take c.20-40 years for both habitat and species population recovery. It is estimated that 1000’s of animals will have been directly killed by heat, smoke, loss of habitat and increased predation. This will have affected all 6 of our native species including sand lizard and smooth snake. Dorset’s urban heaths are constantly under pressure, with increasing visitor pressure and associated increasing new housing and population pressure.

All nature organisations try and reduce the legacy of these and the ongoing impacts by working with council planners to reduce direct and indirect public pressure, have increased site staff and volunteer wardening, and via the partnership of Urban Heaths Project improved Fire Brigade access routes to the sites, coordinated and joint Fire Brigade, Police and community involvement, not least via a large educational remit to schools and community groups, to reduce arson and ensure that reduced impacts on the heaths will occur.

As ever, the prompt and professional response by both the Fire Brigade and Police limited the impact of this catastrophic event and also reduced the chance of human lives being lost. It is very encouraging to note the prompt response by all the organisations staff and volunteers, i.e. DWT, ARC, DRAG, UHP, DCC, NT [& DARN] and the local community to DWT’s request to help with the reptile rescue. Superb co-ordination and organisation by Steve and Andy ensured that there was often 90 staff and volunteers on site undertaking rescues.

This has been ongoing for c.10 days and we estimate c.100+ reptiles [DWT estimate is several hundred], from all six species, have been rescued and relocated in the closest viable remaining habitats. Through such prompt action we know that, with the recovery of the habitats through time, both viable and robust reptile populations will also recover. This is only possible by the efforts of all the groups and volunteers who have helped with this project.

[The rescue has now stopped, and no more volunteers are required. Thanks to all the DARN volunteers who helped out, or offered to help out.]

Upton Heath fire - the reptile rescue continues

Posted on Wednesday 15th June, 2011
We were all shocked and saddened to see the devastating scale of the fire that swept across Upton Heath last Thursday (9.6.11). The sheer size of the burn - up to 100 hectares (250 acres) - and the amount of wildlife killed, is pretty horrific. With typical heathland densities of up to a thousand reptiles per hectare, the potential death toll beggars belief.

Still, if there is one glimmer of hope it is the overwhelming response from members of the public, including DARN members, who wanted to help in the aftermath. With thousands of surviving reptiles left without viable habitat or food source, an urgent rescue operation has been under way. Hundreds of reptiles have already been caught and moved to the nearest intact habitat. This will at least allow them to survive until the burnt areas develop a bit of grass cover.

Steve Davis, the Volunteering Programme Manager for Dorset Wildlife Trust which manages Upton Heath, said yesterday (14.6.11):

"The volunteering support for the reptile rescue has been simply astounding. I put out a call for volunteers over the weekend to join us at the Wildlife Centre to assist in walking the site. This was picked up by various media and broadcast as an appeal on the BBC local news (TV and radio). As a result, we had 52 volunteers turn up on Monday. Today we had 93 volunteers. Tomorrow – who knows! I’m keeping tight control on them all, my years of military training are proving very worthwhile!

"Rescues were estimated at around 100 or so reptiles on Monday. Today we had a total of 161 common lizard, 10 adder, 3 grass snake, 1 smooth snake, 14 sand lizard and 2 slow worm. At some point of course, we anticipate that numbers will drop off – and we will then shift our focus onto taking the opportunity for a bit of a litter pick while we are out there!

"Good to know that the media are also interested in following up with the good news bit – and we have BBC Newsround, Meridian News and Animal Rescue 24:7 out with us this week to cover the rescue work."

Digging for sand lizards on Turbary Common

Posted on Saturday 14th May, 2011

Today's DARN task to create bare-ground patches for sand lizard egg-laying was a great success. A merry band of seven volunteers spent the morning digging sand patches on Turbary Common heathland nature reserve managed by Bournemouth Borough Council. Patches of bare sand are essential for female sand lizards to lay their eggs in at this time of year. They dig short tunnels in firm sand in sunny locations. Much of Turbary Common has become too dominated by western gorse that leaves little bare ground. In turn, sand lizard numbers have declined as a result of poor breeding success.

We dug a total of 30 patches today, generally around 1m in size. From 9am til 12pm, we worked our way across all the heathland compartments that are known to support sand lizards. After clearing vegetation and turf with mattocks and loppers, we dug or scraped down to firm sand with garden spades. Sand lizards have suffered dramatic declines in recent years in nearly all areas where they are present, so hopefully today's task will start reversing the decline almost immediately. This year's warm spring has meant that the end-of-May egg-laying season has started early. We found two 'test burrows' (shallow preliminary diggings by egg-laden female sand lizards) on an existing patch of bare sand beside an abandoned fox earth. We hope that the new sand patches might be used by sand lizards over the next couple of weeks, and we will monitor this.

Today's energetic volunteers were: James Boyland (Bournemouth Borough Council), Jonathan Crewe, Stephanie Clark & Chris Gleed-Owen (DARN volunteers), Darren Millward & Tina Ballard (Stour Valley Volunteers), and Brian Whitehorn (local reptile photographer). See the photos posted on this site's Photo Gallery.



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Info & ID guides

Info & ID guides

Herp Identification - downloadable colour charts

Amphibian Identification - downloadable colour cards 

Reptile Identification - downloadable colour cards

Newt Eggs & Larvae - downloadable colour cards 

Dogs & Adders - downloadable advice sheet.   

Improving Herp habitat

Creating Garden Ponds - downloadable booklet   

Herp diseases - recognise & report

Snake Fungal Disease  

Toad fly (Lucilia bufonivora)   

Amphibian Chytridiomycosis  

Ranavirus Disease  

Reptile Slough Genebank - collection & submission of found sloughs  


Useful glossary of terms often used within the herpetological field. (Credit due - unknown)      

Kids stuff - Educational items for the young ones

Pond pack                                                             
Pond Pack                                                  

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