ARC’s Connecting the Dragons Project Officer, Pete Hill give us an update and describes why spring is his favourite time of year.

With the change of season comes a change in activity patterns for amphibians and reptiles, and also for the Connecting the Dragons team. The end of the winter was the time to put the chainsaws and diggers away as our habitat restoration and creation effort came to an end for the season.

Our biodiversity-aware contractors have been working hard alongside us. Experienced and qualified professionals aid ARC in the delivery of habitat management that is beneficial to amphibians and reptiles throughout the winter. From climbing trees and going out on a limb so as to remove branches that over-hang ponds, to skilfully operating a mechanical excavator to improve aquatic and terrestrial habitats, a varied skill set is required. Many thanks to Our Tree Company for their hard work.

By the end of February, most of such work is done, and what never ceases to fascinate is the ensuing colonization of the recently managed habitat by wildlife, a trickle at first, which soon becomes a sheer explosion of life.

For example, until recently, a significant percentage of the first pond pictured below was completely shaded and silted.  With the help of our team of contractors, under license, we restored the pond by removing shading trees and silt from the affected area of the pond.  A section of the pond was however still in receipt of sunlight before we intervened, so that part of the pond was left undisturbed.  Looking at the image, the demarcation between the section of pond that we worked on and the section that we left is clear to see.  Aquatic vegetation is present where light has been reaching the pond, whereas everywhere that was previously shaded is devoid of plant life.  Now the whole pond is bathed in light, we are very much looking forward to surveying later this spring, next month hopefully, to see what is using the pond.

Spring has certainly arrived in Wales.  Frogs have spawned, toads are spawning and newts are also present and reproductively active in ponds. As well as surveying as many of the great crested newt pond sites that we have worked on in the past and recent winters, we also have toad ponds (pictured above) that were restored the previous winter to check on. So far, we are having a better March than last year.

Reptiles are also emerging and are already clocking-up the sunshine hours, even male sand lizards are already up and active. As well as monitoring known hibernation sites, we are encouraging and advising land owners to use the spring time emergence period to identify previously unknown hibernation sites. Hibernation sites can be communal, sometimes used by numbers of animals. It’s useful to know where such key habitat features are located, so that they can be avoided and preserved during management tasks on site.  Early spring is the ideal time to observe reptiles emerging and so identify sensitive locations.

Spring time has so much going on, life is erupting everywhere, and of course, it’s the most productive time of the year to observe reptiles. The cooler ambient temperatures of early spring means that reptiles bask for longer periods, and there is less concealing vegetation present also. We have already begun field mentoring sessions with key volunteers who help monitor the sites that we work on across Wales, it’s too large an area for us to cover otherwise, and one of our project aims is to encourage, support and mentor volunteers to a stage where they can confidently and sensitively monitor and record our amphibian and reptile colonies, and so better understand how the animals react to the habitat management we deliver.

So there are many reasons why spring is such a dynamic season. My garden pond is already alive with tadpoles, frogs spawned some weeks ago now, and it’s a nice to see so many tadpoles wriggling in the shallows already. For me personally though, seeing a male sand lizard in his sombre emergence attire this early in the year, and then checking on him again in a few weeks’ time to see how different he looks in his breeding colours has to be one of my favourite springtime spectacles of nature, so here also is a male sand lizard, the photograph taken a few days ago, his spectacular lime green breeding colours are yet to develop. Watch this space to see how the sand lizards look following some further sunshine hours in our next update!

If you'd like to read more about ARC’s Connecting the Dragon project and how to get involved visit the project page.

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