As ARC’s National Lottery Heritage Funded project, Connecting the Dragons reaches its conclusion, project officer Pete Hill updates us on the project progress and reflects upon the past few seasons of work. 

We are in the final stages of the Connecting the Dragons project, and the team has been busy.  It’s been both rewarding and challenging, particularly steering the project through a global pandemic! Despite such potential barriers to progress, overall, we are extremely pleased with the project outcomes. We have trained multiple volunteer surveyors and restored and created habitat for our target species all over South Wales. We are pleased to say that the project ends much the same way as it started, as during the past few weeks we have managed to fit in some more pond restoration and creation for great crested newts as well as some further sand provision for sand lizards at a reintroduction site.

As well as great crested newts and sand lizards, grass snakes have also benefitted throughout the project.  As the UK’s only oviparous (egg-laying) snake species, the grass snake needs suitable places at which to incubate their eggs. Throughout the project, we have delivered numerous workshops teaching people how to create suitable ovi-positing (egg laying) sites, both face to face, in the field and online, and also produced a “How to” leaflet; "Hatching a plan for grass snakes", designed by my colleague Tawny.  Grass snakes also of course benefit from the increased amphibian populations resulting from our pond creation and restoration programme.

The adder has been another project target species, and as well as our “Adam the adder” attitude changing campaign, we have undertaken habitat improvements for adders and liaised with and influenced land managers to further consider the needs of adders.  This month, with the help of local design artist Siaron Hughes, we have installed interpretation panels at a great site in Pembrokeshire, at which ARC has been working in collaboration for a decade, the excellent Bug Farm, just outside St David’s. The interpretation, “Amphibians and reptiles in the landscape” features adders as well as all of the other amphibian and reptile species present in the Pembrokeshire countryside and also describes and explains various habitat features required by amphibians and reptiles.

Toads have also benefitted from targeted pond work, and we have received numerous reports of both great crested newts and common toads recently breeding within ponds restored during the earlier stages of the Connecting the Dragons project.  Personal highlights for me include a report from Newport Wetlands of great crested newts breeding successfully in Spring 2023 at ponds restored the previous Winter, and confirmation of great crested newts breeding for the first time this spring in new ponds created by the project at a Wildlife Trust site on the Gower peninsula back in 2021.

So, its time for a big thank you from me to all of the project collaborators, land managers and hard-working volunteers that have been involved throughout the project.  Without you, it wouldn’t have been possible!   It has been both a challenge and a pleasure.  Although the project is ending now, the project legacy lives on, and ARC has plans for further conservation action for our Welsh herpetofauna and increased training and engagement for the growing squad of surveyors and habitat managers in Wales.  Watch this space!