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!



Genetic study investigates ailing adder populations

Posted on Wednesday 30th March, 2011

A research project is under way to investigate whether populations of Britain's only venomous snake - the adder (Vipera berus) - are suffering from genetic bottle-necking. Many conservationists believe adders are declining rapidly in Britain. Habitat degradation and fragmentation are factors often cited, but there may be genetic problems too. 

Adders are susceptible to localised threats such as scrub removal or hibernaculum destruction that can wipe out whole populations. Localised damage is often the result of well-meaning conservation work by land managers targeting other wildlife. These local extinctions add up nationally to 'death by a thousand cuts'.

Adders are not very effective at spreading and colonising new areas, and when they undergo a localised extinction, they rarely recover. Fragmented and isolated populations could then face genetic problems. Low genetic diversity in isolated populations can lead to 'inbreeding depression', making populations vulnerable to birth defects, low fertility, and general lack of fitness.

Researchers at London's Institute of Zoology are working with Oxford university and Natural England to study adder populations from around England this spring. Each adder is swabbed to take a DNA sample, and examined to measure its genetic profile. The researchers are sampling two types of population: smaller ones with fewer than 10 individuals, and larger ones with 20-30 individuals.

The project's fieldwork and staff costs are funded by Natural England and the other research partners. The laboratory analysis costs are being funded by a £1000 grant from the British Herpetological Society. Nigel Hand, a well-known herpetologist from Herefordshire, is the project officer. He is currently busy travelling the country, catching and swabbing adders.

To read more about the project, see the following news item:

NARRS training days

Posted on Tuesday 29th March, 2011

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is once again running training days for participants in NARRS surveys. They are open to all volunteer surveyors who can spare a few hours here and there over the spring, to survey a site within their own randomly-allocated 1km square.

Location: Furzebrook Village Hall, Purbeck, Dorset
Dates: 4th – 5th of April 2011
Cost: £10 to cover materials and basic refreshments
Contact: to book a place, and for details.

Chytrid swabbing at Puddletown Forest

Posted on Tuesday 29th March, 2011

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. 

Chytrid survey 2011- "the Big Swab"

Posted on Sunday 20th March, 2011
Four years ago, the Institute of Zoology coordinated a survey to determine the prevalence of chytrid infection of amphibians across England, Scotland and Wales. The project was delivered largely by ARGUK volunteers who carried out swabbing exercises at 120 ponds across Britain. Chytrid is the disease responsible for devastating many amphibian populations around the world, and implicated in the extinction of entire species like the golden toad in Costa Rica.

The results of the 2007 survey were very worrying in that they proved the widespread occurrence of chytrid across Britain. The biggest concern was its high prevalence in natterjack toads, already a rare and threatened species. In fact, unexplained mortality in a captive-bred population in 2006 (part of the national reintroduction programme), due to chytrid infection, was the impetus for the project in the first place.

Still, as the survey only provided a snapshot of prevalence, there was no evidence of any negative impacts. A repeat survey a few years later is the only way to see whether prevalence has increased, or if populations have crashed. Hence this is the year of "the Big Swab 2011", a repeat survey coordinated by the IoZ and funded by Defra. ARGUK volunteers will revisit the 2007 sites where possible, and survey new locations to fill in some geographical gaps.

The project officer is Freya Smith. She has spoken about the project at several conferences this winter, and says that there are a few differences to the protocol. For example, chytrid prevalence in common frogs was so low that it does not seem to be a concern for them, and the 2011 swabbing exercise will omit common frogs. The number of animals swabbed will still be 30 per site, but the number of visits will be reduced from two to one. DARN members will be conducting swabbing at several ponds in Dorset in March/April 2011.

Time to count your adders!

Posted on Thursday 17th February, 2011
Well, spring is by no means here yet, but we are already getting occasional breaks in the weather, with sunny days hovering around 9 or 10 degrees centigrade: warm enough to bring out the first male adders from hibernation. Hence the adder monitoring season starts about now, in mid-February. Each year since 2005, the Make the Adder Count project (MTAC), coordinated by ARC, has been encouraging surveyors to go out to sites where they know adders are present, and to count the number of adders they see. Ideally, the surveyor makes four or five visits over the course of the spring, and tries to make a thorough walk over all the likely adder basking places each time. In this way, a reasonable picture of the population size is gathered. Around 100 sites are monitored in this way each year, gathering a vital dataset that will help us determine whether adders are declining as much as many of us fear they are. My own five sites in the Bournemouth area are all small populations, and at least one seems to have declined drastically in recent years. If you want to get involved in MTAC, contact ARC (01202 391319) to get hold of survey forms. You could also call me, Chris Gleed-Owen (DARN Chair) on 07846 137346 or email, to chat about your proposed adder monitoring sites.



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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)      

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