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 surveys 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 too large, necessitating the formation of a new ARG for Wirral (WiARG) so more surveys and recording can be coordinated across this interesting peninsular.
Founding member and current Chair of WiARG, Tom Doherty-Bone, 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.
An outline itinerary for 2023-24 can be found under the 'Upcoming surveys' tab, 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 2023-24 is £5 (£2.50 for under 17s when accompanied by a guardian), which goes toward conservation activities of the group, such as buying equipment. Payment can either be made in cash, bank transfer or through Paypal: https://paypal.me/WiARG?locale.x=en_GB
Membership cycle runs from April to April.
Please get in contact if you wish to get involved.
There have been reports of Grass Snakes in the local press lately, which have still to be properly verified, however our chair Thomas Doherty-Bone has written a blog discussing this here: https://thomasdb.weebly.com/blog/snakes-in-the-grass-at-ellesmere-port-be-not-afraid-help-them
Minutes for Wirral ARG AGM 2022
Venue: Ranger’s Mess, Dibbinsdale Local Nature Reserve
Committee: Thomas Doherty-Bone (chair), Charles Mulryan (committee member)
Other attendees: Georgie Hobson (member)
Apologies: Jon Bielby (vice president), Frances Bielby (acting treasurer), Mike Brown (mentor), Sue
Noyce (secretary – at last minute due to being delayed by winter disruptions to public transport)
Acknowledgment and thanks are due to Wirral Borough Council ranger Russ Cottrell for helping
organise the venue, with invitation extended to us to use it in future.
This meeting was under-attended, disappointing but understandable given the time of year. It is
noted efforts had been made earlier in 2022 to organise a meeting but venues were proving difficult.
This apparently became worse as council-run community halls were deliberately closing in evenings
for cost-cutting on electricity and gas.
TDB gave a presentation (on a projector kindly provisioned by G. Hobson) on the progress and
achievement of the Wirral ARG (WiARG) for 2022, with plans for 2023 laid out. See below for details.
For 2022, the records showed 17 paid members, but 30 on the email list. Care may need to be taken
for when members pay in cash, with diligence to note it down in good time. The accounts ending
April 2022 were presented with £48.92 taken in, £3.38 only paid on materials leaving £272.46 in the
bank that includes funds from previous years.
The current balance is £78.00, with that financial
report for 2022-23 due this April.
The meeting was then opened to rest attendees.
Activities for 2022 included:
- Jan-May - continuing to monitor amphibians (especially Great Crested Newt) at Royden
Park, including overseeing the creation of a new pond;
- Feb-Aug - pond management at Eastham Country Park with follow up torch surveys;
- Mar-June- surveys and litter picks at Central Park Wallasey, including an outreach day;
- Apr-May - prospective surveys at Rendova Farm at the Cheshire-Wirral boundary;
- May - a prospective survey of Wirral Country Park;
- Jun - rapid surveys of the pond at Irby Mill in response to potential illegal activity;
- Jun-Sep - setting up reptile surveys are Thurstaston Common with Natasha Murwill as
part of her masters at Manchester Metropolitan University;
- Apr-May - surveying Heswall Golf Course;
- May-Sep - surveying Wallasey Golf Course;
- Jul-Sep - continuing the study of amphibian use of habitat around Hoylake and West
Kirby, particularly Natterjack Toad.
Many other surveys were planned but not achieved due to time constraints and limited volunteers
taking the lead. For example, Ditton Lane at Moreton is still in dire need of surveying given the threat of development. Land owner permission had been secured, but it was unsurveyed. Furthersurveys at Frankby Cemetery were desired but did not take place. Surveys around North WirralCoastal Park were set up but not properly followed up, which is understandable but limits thecomparison to the Wallasey Golf Course surveys. Other new sites were surveyed by members, suchas Prenton Dell by the Paunells (Paul & Di), and more dedicated, intensive surveys are desired here,especially laying down of artificial refugia. The heatwaves of 2022 were particularly troubling, andmay have explained very low encounter rates of Common Lizard at numerous sites when surveyedand this is something that should be looked into further.
The main plans for 2023 are:-
Surveying Royden Park’s ponds to track the effectiveness of the past 3 year’s interventions;-
Set up surveys of Ditton Lane (Charles Mulryan offered to lead);- Set up surveys for Prenton Dell (possible Paul & Di Paunell to lead?);-
More pond management and follow-up surveys for Eastham Country Park;-
Continue monitoring of ponds at Central Park (Sue Noyce lead);-
Investigate the possibility of creating more ponds in New Brighton, especially aroundHarrison Park (no amphibians have ever been recorded there), which will also includefollow-up refugia and walk-over surveys;-
Organisation of an action plan workshop for Great Crested Newt on the Wirral (morerealistically from October 2023);-
Set up training sessions to empower members to take the lead on effective surveys,mostly likely for late March-early April;-
Plan further outreach events, which proved very successful in 2022;-
Administer the WiARG via the ARGWEB online portal to enable members to contribute more efficiently.
The surveys around Red Rocks and Hoylake Beach are now concluded and will be subjected to peer-
reviewed publication, with discussions to plan where to move forward on this. There may however
be opportunities for a group visit to Red Rocks with members in liaison with the Cheshire Wildlife
- Further surveys might be planned, but require input from members.
- The chair will be unable to devote as much time as before due to gradually relocating to
North Wales. Members need to start getting ready to receive the baton for leadership of the
- No new volunteers for committee had come forward, nor were present committee members
requesting changes to their positions.
- This AGM, while not well attended, will be the milestone for 2021-2022, the next one will be
held much sooner in March/April 2023, which will be a mixture of training session and
survey at Dibbinsdale (Russ has offered the venue again) with the aim of recruiting new
members and empowering them to continue with surveys and other projects.
In the summer of 2021, the Wirral ARG led a study on the habitat use of amphibians in the north west Wirral coast. This primarily looked at whether amphibians were using areas outside of the Red Rocks Nature Reserve, where it was already known populations of four amphibian species occur: Smooth Newt, Common Frog, Common Toad, and the Natterjack Toad. The study was born out of the long-term consideration of expanding and sustaining the rare Natterjack population on the Wirral. Natterjack had been reintroduced to Red Rocks in the early 00s and was sustaining its population thanks to management of its breeding habitat by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust (the Wirral Parks & Recreation before them). While they were stable there, this was still a small, vulnerable population, with more needed to expand across the Wirral coast.
Back in 2019 when WiARG were turning our attentions to Red Rocks, there was only bare sand, housing, roads and sea walls connecting the dunes there to the dunes at Meols and the Gunsite. We had thought about how the habitat between the two main sand dune sites could be restored so these rare toads could have lots of other breeding populations. In particular, we wanted to work out how to engage with the public to get consent for geoengineering the coast to make this possible. Then came the revelation that the beach at Hoylake was being kept artificially bare, that the council had been spraying and raking vegetation that would have formed coastal habitat. Things then started moving. First of all, the council stopped spraying and raking the beach. Then the coastal vegetation started to grow, and grow, forming green mats of a mixture of saltmarsh and sand dune species. Over a hundred plant species were found to be colonising (or resurrecting within?) the shore over two years. Sadly, despite much positive support for the development, there was a loud chorus of disapproval that made the issue of the vegetational succession highly polarised. This was apparently party politics seizing the opportunity to discredit opponents making the decisions and win over disgruntled voters. Whichever decisions were to be made, a scientific evidence base would be needed.
We therefore took the opportunity to obtain baseline data on the status of amphibians outside of Red Rocks, not just Hoylake but other, adjacent areas. We held back from surveying residential properties to save frightening people who would see us wondering around their gardens at night. Academically, this study has been interesting in understanding how amphibians move along coastal environments – one rule of thumb is that amphibians avoid saline environments or at least do not thrive in them. For example, oceanic islands formed by volcanic activity typically have no amphibians at all as they can’t enter the sea. Natterjack have some tolerance to salt water that can give them the upper hand over Common Toad, but even a high tide can put them off breeding in a pond for a while. One night we found that where amphibians stopped, the crabs started – there was an abundance of Shore Crab on land. This may have been an unusual night as we didn’t see it every time, but was food for thought.
Due to the viciousness of some of the discourse from some members of the public, manifest by abuse directed to other scientists involved with studying the beach, we did our best to keep a low profile. And it seemed to work as we carried on without hassle, with no snide comments from the usual suspects after we posted findings on social media platforms. Afterall we just wanted to do the science, enjoy ourselves meeting amphibians doing interesting things on the coast and send it back to the public for consideration. And we met some lovely amphibians, even the protected Natterjack in abundance, which we had to arrange for licensing to survey from Natural England. Common Toad were mostly found to be spilling over into Hoylake Beach, with one young Natterjack, but none more than 100m. In contrast, we found no amphibians at all in the raked West Kirby beach. The only amphibians in the eastern end of Hoylake Beach were Common Frog (more terrestrial than people realise), and this Spring they were found breeding in a puddle on the beach with the tadpoles still present in early June.
The data from 2021 is being analysed and further surveys to augment the dataset are being planned, at Hoylake, West Kirby and further afield to capture better information on coastal movements of amphibians. A manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal is already drafted with this preliminary data – this is just the start of things, a scientific paper is more a status report than the final story. The story is however pointing to a potential future for when the habitats of Hoylake Beach could act as a corridor for Natterjack and other amphibians to move east toward the other sand dunes of Meols and Leasowe-Wallasey. And that would only be one part of the broader restoration of the living systems of the Wirral that would benefit people as much as the species that will prosper because of them.
What can you do to help? There is a consultation for residents of the Wirral to feedback to the council how the beach at Hoylake should be managed – this might include leaving the beach to continue to develop sand dune & saltmarsh habitat; returning to the former management; a blend of both; or something only you may have thought of. If you want to lend your voice to this, the consultancy ends 10th August, so make sure to make your thoughts known here: https://haveyoursay.wirral.gov.uk/hoylake-beach-information/survey_tools/hoylake-beach
We will be running a stall by the ponds at Central Park Wallasey during the Jubilee weekend. The stall will be raising awareness of the amphibians & reptiles across Wirral, with special focus on pondlife in the park. We will have some newts, tadpoles (if any about), as well as numerous invertebrates.
This will be in collaboration with RECORD the local biological record centre, who will be introducing park visitors to biological recording via bug hunts, bird spotting and more.
We will be setting up the stall about 08:30 a.m. so if you want to come and volunteer, let us know. Hope to see you then, whether you are helping out or just saying hello and seeing what we can show you. The stall will be up from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m.
Minutes for Wirral ARG AGM Date 25/05/2021
Venue: On Zoom
Committee: Thomas Doherty-Bone (chair), Jon Bielby (secretary), Frances Bielby (treasurer), Mike Brown (mentor)
Other attendees: Sue Noyce, Charles Mulryan
TDB gave a presentation on the progress and achievement of the Wirral ARG (WiARG) since its launch in March 2019, with plans for 2021-22 laid out. So far there are 18 members. The accounts were presented. The meeting was then opened to the rest of the attendees.
Royden Park : Management of Ponds and Monitor amphibians
Harrison Park : Monitor reptiles and investigate amphibians (none ever recorded) – torch surveys and plans for a possible pond
Eastham Country Park : Management of ponds and surveys.
Wirral Country Park : surveys
Prenton Dell : surveys
Action Plan Workshop for Great Crested Newt for Wirral
Outreach Events-to add in an extra venue (possibly Royden Park) to build on the success of the event held in Central Park.
Golf Course surveys • Heswall Golf Course • Wallasey Golf Course
Member training for conducting/leading surveys
We will be doing our first proper group survey on Friday the 21st April to assess how the amphibians are doing at Royden Park. CH48 1NP
We will be meeting at the car park at 20:00 so we can go and set traps, and be ready for dark c. 21:30. The survey will probably finish by 22:30-22:45 but you are welcome to leave earlier if you want. We will return to check the traps Saturday morning, meeting in the car park at 08:00, probably finished by 10:00. I will use that morning to also do some dip-netting to record which invertebrates are using the ponds.
Bring a good torch, warm clothes and wellies or footwear that will inevitably get wet. Please use the "check-clean-dry" technique with your outdoor gear for biosecurity. Likewise, if you keep amphibians and reptiles at home, probably use separate clothes if you have been handling or servicing them to save spreading exotic pathogens around.
Let us know if you plan to come along.
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