Friends of Angus Herpetofauna (FAH) is a local Amphibian & Reptile Group (ARG) founded in 2007, serving Angus and surrounding areas. Affiliated to ARG-UK, the national umbrella group for local ARGs, FAH is a constituted, non-profit group of volunteers, involved particularly in various monitoring projects at a local level linking into schemes of national importance.
At present, FAH is conducting annual surveys throughout the county to monitor the presence and status of our widespread amphibian and reptile species. These surveys feed directly to the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) coordinated by the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC Trust). Survey protocols are strictly controlled and training of voluntary surveyors is provided free at the beginning of each survey season.
Projects currently in progress include a study into the effectiveness of amphibian ladders in gulleypots (roadside drains). Migrating amphibians frequently fall into gulleypots and remain entrapped, unable to escape, eventually dying a lingering death. New ladders, designed by FAH (based on an idea from RAVON) are proving to be a viable sollution to this long-standing problem and are now installed in pioneering work in three locations across the county. FAH are also keen to identify amphibian migration crossing points and set up Toad Patrols, which involves the recruitment of volunteers to collect amphibians with torches and buckets to help them across busy roads where they might otherwise be killed by passing road traffic.
FAH can offer pond and habitat surveys on request either to an established protocol or to a tailored specification. FAH also provide the manpower to undertake a range of field work, including monitoring and habitat management, or offer help and advice as required. Experienced herpetologists are also on hand to provide training, presentations and guided field walks.
2011 was our busiest year by far since the inception of the group in 2007.
The year began with a presentation to the Recorder’s Forum hosted by NESBReC in Aberdeen. Trevor Rose reported on local newt records and on his observations of large common lizards and their habits.
NARRS training was again a dominant feature on the calendar, with 5 attendees for the amphibian day and 13 for the reptile day. Unfortunately the amphibian day was disrupted by bad weather and resulted in 7 attendees cancelling, hence the low turnout. FAH were also pleased to team-up with our neighbouring group in Fife (FARG) to deliver the training in their area for the first time. These additional training sessions were also well attended with 10 attendees to the amphibian day and 16 for the reptile day. The amphibian day was particularly special as great crested newts were found during the torchlight session, much to everyone’s delight! This species is absent from Angus so it was a thrilling find.
The group also revisited two sites for chytrid swabbing exercises, for the project run by IoZ, London. First visited in 2008, it was interesting to see how both ponds had changed in a relatively short time. Amphibian populations at both ponds seemed to be stable and ample specimens were available for swabbing.
A further chytrid sample study was carried out at a pond on a golf course near Edinburgh. This formed part of a GCN presence/absence survey, required due to impending improvements to the pond planned by the golf club. The pond was known to contain non-native alpine newts (hence the concern regarding chytrid), and the survey revealed a very strong population. Interestingly, no other tailed amphibian species were present, widespread species or otherwise, although the pond was shared with frogs and toads.
Two guided walks took place to Loch Lee in Glen Esk in search of reptiles and amphibians and the local herpetofauna did not disappoint, despite very poor weather during the first walk. After heavy rain in the morning, those who braved the weather saw many basking adders during a clear spell at midday before the clouds gathered again in the afternoon. The second walk one week later was equally rewarding and much kinder weather, with all species present being recorded.
FAH were also pleased to be involved in consultation regarding the construction of a dry stane dyke (dry stone wall) with the intention that it would serve as a refuge and hibernaculum for amphibians. This work took place at “The Dighty”, a local conservation area in Dundee. During discussions, it emerged that there may also be a possibility to construct and install a new pond in the already boggy area on the site, and we look forward to seeing this project come to fruition over the coming months.
By far the most significant task accomplished by FAH in 2011 was the campaigning and mitigation undertaken at Kinnaber Moor, the site of a large, isolated and very important lowland population of common lizards. Angus Council were due to construct a new cycle path at Kinnaber with no knowledge of the lizards’ existence. FAH stepped in at just before work commenced and managed to preserve some of the existing habitat, create new areas and rescue some lizards from certain death. The success of this project was due in no uncertain terms to some great local publicity and the help of many volunteers, previously unknown to FAH. Our ranks swelled from around 20 interested individuals to well over 100! The cycle path was completed in July and shortly afterwards lizards were observed inhabiting the site including several gravid females. With the knowledge that the habitat on and adjacent to the cycle path was otherwise going to be destroyed, it is safe to say that the actions of the FAH and its volunteers certainly saved this part of the population at Kinnaber and raised awareness locally to developers and the general public.
At the Scottish Herpetology meeting held in Glasgow in November, Trevor Rose gave a step-by-step account of the project and conservation work achieved at Kinnaber, supported by slides and video.
For 2012, FAH hope to properly and formerly launch the group with a “flagship” pond-building project, which should see plenty of local involvement and public interest. Also high on the agenda is the mortality suffered by amphibians in gulleypots, and it is hoped that, in conjunction with the Tayside Biodiversity Partnership and Angus Council, some headway can be made into this on-going problem.
FAH would like to take this opportunity to deliver a few acknowledgements. Thanks as always to Mr. Harold Jackson for the kind use of his pond for NARRS training. Also to Jennifer Davidson for organising the NARRS training in Fife. A special thank you to David Orchard, ARG-UK and Jen Drage for the opportunity to establish a website for the FAH. Thanks also to Catherine Lloyd of Tayside Biodiversity Partnership for her continued support of the group, and last but not least a big thank you to all our new volunteers who engaged with FAH in the Kinnaber project, all of whom have remained “friends” to our local group and Angus herpetofauna.
8th May 2011 - Despite the very wet weather at the weekend, which led to cancellation of 11 of the 14 places booked on the Guided Walk to Glen Esk, the local adders defied the odds and surprised us once again by appearing in numbers!
Within a few minutes of the walk beginning, two female adders were found laying out in light rain between the heavier showers. A slowworm was also found under refugia at lunch time, then during some respite from the rain and an outbreak of very welcome warm sunshine, 9 more adders were found. A very heavy rain storm caught the group on the return walk to the car park and gave everyone a thorough soaking. However, 4 more refugia were checked and 2 slowworms were added to the tally.
With sightings of cuckoo, wheatear, an osprey carrying prey and the call of a black grouse, the day was very rewarding and the rain did not dampen anyone’s spirits! We hope for similar success on the 21st May, but perhaps not the weather.
The destructive phases of the Kinnaber cycle path development north of Montrose are now complete.
FAH volunteers have been monitoring the site during construction in a bid to move as many common lizards as possible out of harm’s way. Kinnaber Moor is one of only a handful of lowland sites where the creatures can still be found in Angus.
On Wednesday 27th April 2011, contractors moved on to the site to skim the topsoil and gorse roots from the top of a disused railway embankment, which is to become the foundation of the cycle path. This phase of the construction was attended by Trevor Rose & Tim Castleton (FAH), Carol Littlewood (independent advisor), Sally Young (Angus Council – Roads), George Addison (Angus Council technician) and the construction staff headed by Alan Barnes.
There were only three lizards seen; one was captured for relocation and two were in the safety of the adjacent standing gorse. Two toads were also retrieved from the disturbed earth during digging. Trevor Rose said “Although this number is low, I think we can presume that most of the resident lizards had relocated themselves to the standing gorse and possibly beyond, due to the exposure they experienced over quite a long period after the gorse had been cut.” Predation by corvids and raptors was also raised as a concern after the gorse had been cut ten days earlier; although there is no direct evidence to suggest this was an issue, it remained a possibility.
Mr Rose continued, “We can be reasonably sure that few if any lizards came to harm during the excavation and it has certainly been a very worthwhile exercise. The site has the appearance of being fairly devastated now, but the contractor was very accommodating during the process and laid the spoils (which came off in large mats of turf and very loose composted gorse litter) carefully to the edge of the path, creating an embankment running the length of the site. These turf mats lay "folded" loosely on the cut gorse stumps and I am quite confident that any lizards hiding amongst the gorse stumps will be able to free themselves. We also had the opportunity to avoid burying some of the larger gorse root systems, leaving them exposed for lizard refuge and basking. When the new embankment has had chance to settle and vegetation returns, this will create an excellent habitat for future lizard generations.”
Angus Council are also considering the installation of an information notice for passers-by and users of the new path to bring to their attention the presence of the lizards and to acknowledge the effort that went into preserving them.
Refugia placed at the beginning of the rescue bid around three weeks earlier are to be left in place around the standing gorse, in the hope that this will help to retain the lizards in the safe, undisturbed area. When the final work is complete (installation of a new fence line on either side of the path), the refugia will then be removed.
“All in all, our efforts have been rewarded with very few or possibly no lizard deaths, due in the main to the vigilance of volunteers and monitoring of refugia, modified route of the path (biased westward) which reduced the gorse cutting by 50%, the avoidance of destruction of the recognised hibernaculum near the gate, and the careful cutting of topsoil and placement of spoils by the contractor in the final phase,” Mr. Rose said.
The rescue mission is now complete and FAH would like to thank all the volunteers who came forward to help with the mitigation measures. None of this work and the publicity it received would have been possible without your contribution.
Please visit our Gallery for pictures from the Kinnaber site.
FAH were pleased to be invited on to BBC Radio Scotland’s popular morning show, MacCaulay & Co to discuss adders.
No half measures though – BBC sent roving reporter Richard Cadey to Glen Esk in Angus, accompanied by Trevor Rose, to go in search of adders in readiness for the live mid-morning show.
Blessed by the weather, the pair found adders and slowworms in abundance. Armed with a portable studio, Richard quickly set up a satellite link to the studio in Glasgow, and despite the lack of pictures, host Fred MacCaulay and Richard set the scene beside the River North Esk, and with adders and slowworms to hand, Richard made good use of the opportunity to enthral the listeners with his new experience of seeing both species for the first time in his life.
Although the item lasted only 4 minutes, a considerable amount of information was imparted, including appearance, diet, predators, visual searching techniques, threats and declines, and envenomation, providing a fascinating insight into the lives of adders.
It was also a great opportunity for FAH to get air-time on national radio!
Hear the show on BBC iPlayer until 21st April.(http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0102fy2/MacAulay_and_Co_14_04_2011/)
Find the clip around 1hr 13mins in.
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