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.
FAH has been conducting studies into the use of ladders as an escape mechanism in gulleypots. The study began in 2014 and will continue with alternative materials in 2015. The project(s) involve visiting the study site(s) to observe and record any trapped amphibians and, by comparing results to "control" gulleypots (those without ladders), determining the effectiveness of the escape mechanism. Results will be compiled and reported in the form of a paper or dissertation at the end of the project.
FAH is currently seeking 2 to 4 students to carry out the survey/observation/data gathering and report writing on the projects. There are two study sites; Silver Birch Drive in Dundee and Orchardbank in Forfar. Students may work alone or in pairs at each site. Sites will need to be visited daily or every two days, for around 1 - 2 hours. Students living nearby to the study sites will find this advantageous, or will require their own transport.
These studies would suit students with an interest in wildlife and conservation, although many other aspects could be applied (for example, the student in 2014 applied the results of the study to a statistics module). No specific qualifications are required as all training and guidance will be given, as will necessary equipment and PPE. The work can be physical (lifting heavy gulleypot covers occasionally). Study sites can be visited at any time of day, but evening visits are advantageous for observing amphibian movements, especially early in the Spring. The study will begin in March and continue until September.
Participation will be voluntary; students should note that there may be grants available to cover travel costs, etc, and FAH will support any such grant applications by reference.
Gulleypots (roadside drains) have long been a problem for amphibians and other small animals as they act as pitfall traps from which entrapped animals have no means of escape.
FAH have now secured permissions from Angus Council to install and trial specially designed “ladders” at two sites known to be a particular problem. 25 ladders were installed yesterday (5th March 2014) at a site to the north of Dundee and a further 12 at a problem area in Carnoustie.
The Dundee site will be the subject of an intensive study being carried out by honours degree student Clare McInroy. In addition to the 25 gulleypots with the ladders installed, a further 13 gulleypots will act as “controls”, to monitor and compare the effectiveness of the ladders. During installation of the ladders on both sites, 20 frogs, 33 toads and 6 newts were found to be present and were released at breeding ponds nearby.
The ladder design is based on extensive work carried out recently in The Netherlands by the conservation organisation, RAVON. A presentation by Mr. Raymond Creemers at the annual Herp Worker’s Meeting held in Bristol earlier this year prompted FAH into action and the RAVON design was adapted to suit local conditions in Angus.
The ladders are made of steel sheet, cut to length to suit each gulleypot and then bent to form a gradually-reducing incline which levels out underneath the gulleypot cover. The steel is then covered in jute, a material which will provide frogs, toads and newts with a climbing frame and allow them to reach the underside of the drain cover, and then hop through the grating to freedom.
Hundreds of thousands of amphibians die a slow, lingering death in gulleypots every year in the UK. It is hoped, if the ladders are proved to be a successful solution, that they could be fitted to gulleypots everywhere and provide amphibians with a fighting chance of escape and help to halt the decline in their ever-falling numbers.
Our neighbours in Tayside will be launching their new Amphibian and Reptile group on 31st August 2013 in Blairgowrie - details below!Please give this event your support by coming along and meeting the new group.
Tayside Amphibian & Reptile Group (TayARG) meeting
9.30am-3pm, Sat 31st August
Newhill Primary School, Elm Drive, Blairgowrie, PH10 6UZ
9.30am Arrival and refreshments
10am Pete Minting (ARC Scotland) - Amphibian & Reptile volunteering in Scotland
10.30am Daniele Muir (Perth & Kinross Ranger Service/TayARG) - Amphibians in Drains Project
11am Catherine Lloyd (Tayside Biodiversity Partnership/TayARG) — Water & Wetland projects in Tayside
11.45am Gullypot rescue ID
12pm General discussion—the way forward for TayARG
12.30pm Lunch (please bring packed lunch)
Please reserve your place by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org by 17th August
NARRS training was rolled out once again and as always was very popular, with 13 attendees on the amphibian day and 14 on the reptile day. It is pleasing to see that biological recording is gaining momentum and so many new surveyors for reptiles and amphibians are joining up to the NARRS scheme. Thanks especially to Mr. Harold Jackson for the continuing use of his pond in the amphibian training.
We also held our annual guided walks to Loch Lee in Glen Esk in search of reptiles and amphibians, a now regular feature on the group’s calendar. The walks were fully booked as usual, but unfortunately both dates were marred by inclement weather, with just a few specimens found on the first trip and, for the first time ever, a complete blank on the second visit. Even our refugia turned up nothing! Attendees were understanding though and still claimed to have enjoyed the day. The fresh air and superb scenery never fail to delight.
Ongoing monitoring of the Kinnaber site, where in 2011 the group were involved in a last-minute “rescue bid” to save common lizards from construction of a cycle path, revealed that lizards were prevailing at the site and apparently doing well. The mixed bag of weather this summer has hampered any meaningful monitoring though so we look forward to further studies over the next few years.
The high profile of the Kinnaber project has befitted reptile and amphibian conservation locally, as FAH have been approached by developers and planners on other projects, thankfully allowing more timely intervention where it is required. Not least is a development currently at the planning stage in the reptile=rich area of Glen Esk, where slowworms are a particular concern.
FAH are very grateful to ARG-UK for the free website launched in 2010, and now again for the superb new website recording system. We look forward to seeing records building up for Angus over time, especially with so many local NARRS participants! It will be interesting to build a better picture of reptile and amphibian distribution across the county, which currently remains anecdotal at best, due to the lack of recent records.
We had hope to officially launch the FAH with a pond-building project in 2012, sadly this did not materialise but still remains on the Agenda for 2013. FAH will also be running NARRS training in neighboring Aberdeenshire in March 2013, date to be finalised so please keep checking our website!
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.
Upcoming events will be listed here.