Impressions of an ARC newbie!

They came from far and wide, from Surrey, Hampshire, Sussex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk! ARC supporters and volunteers making their way to the Witley Centre for the annual ARC Friends Day!

This was my first ‘Friends’ day, having started with ARC only two weeks earlier and it was an opportunity for me to meet some of my fellow ‘friends’ and the Trust’s most devoted supporters. We all came together to share a lovely day with ARC luminaries Jim Foster, Rob Free, Matt Dowse and John Buckley plus a stellar cast of reptiles and amphibians!

Jim opened up proceedings with an enlightening introduction, followed by Rob who gave an overview of the work undertaken by the Weald team at its thirty plus reserves for species including sand lizards, smooth snakes and natterjack toads, whilst Matt detailed the success of the team’s sand lizard re-introduction programme that has seen the number of sites in the region that support our largest native lizard increase from three to twenty.
John’s talk on the work of ARC at Woolmer Forest highlighted the significance of the Ministry of Defence owned area for natterjack toads. Woolmer represents the only native site for natterjacks in Southern Britain and is also the best studied location for the species in Europe.

The morning’s talks were concluded by Jim with the story of the Pool Frog and how a ‘lost’ native is making a comeback to prove that, ‘extinction doesn’t have to be forever!’

A fine collection of amphibians and reptiles were on display for all to marvel at during the lunch-break and in the afternoon we were treated to the sight of adder, smooth snake, slow-worm and common frog on the ARC reserve at Witley Common. Most remarkable of which were two sets of juvenile smooth snakes! This included five fresh beauties found in the open by Dominik Reynolds. In fact the number of young reptiles across the site was encouraging and shows that conditions are good not only for a population of reptiles and amphibians, but for a thriving breeding population too.

As ever on days such as these the supporting cast of wildlife was impressive and Rob and Matt discovered bog bush crickets, long winged cone-heads, mottled and field grasshoppers, fox moth caterpillars, as well as the sand wolf spider, labyrinth spider, nursery web spider and the web of the purse web spider. All of which demonstrated the richness and diversity of well maintained lowland heathland, which makes it the wonderful habitat that it is.

Thank you to all who contributed to a memorable day, especially to Rob, Matt, Jim and John for sharing their experiences and expertise, and to the friends for their passion for and interest in amphibians and reptiles.

Robin Bassett
Weald Seasonal Field Officer