Read about how Janet Ullman, ARC’s Education Officer for Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR) has been busy with Freshers Fairs, Apple Days, Halloween events and much more 

Freshers week is a chance for new students to find their feet at universities and colleges. Edinburgh University in particular has a student body that values the opportunities Fresher’s week can give to new students. Often delivering a number of vibrant and exciting new experiences for a range of interests.

Edinburgh, 13th September during Fresher’s week, I had just stumbled off the train at Waverley with pond nets and trays. I had been invited to attend Fresher’s week in Edinburgh and my first port of call was the Societies Fair at Teviot Square. Teviot Square was a sea of tents and marquees, with crowds of excited new students meeting friends, chatting with new acquaintances or tentatively converging on the University of Edinburgh Society tent. I carefully steered myself through the hordes of excited young people to get into a rather large and imposing central marquee. Here gathered a number of student society representatives, manning tables heaving with information leaflets, displays and sign up sheets for a range of activities, sports and interests. Among them was the Wildlife Society and the Permaculture Society, whose tables neighboured each other. I was spotted in the sea of people (The bright purple ARC top making me quite noticeable) and soon waved over by Cally, Treasurer of the Wildlife Society. Here I got busy chatting to Society members about the opportunities the SSAAR project could bring to the Societies long list of activities and workshops. I soon got chatting to Ollie the Chair of the Permaculture society who had contacted me before about the number of amphibians in the Permaculture garden and green houses.

For Fresher’s week Ollie, Cally and I had combined forces to have a Freshers meet amphibians Picnic at the Permaculture garden at King’s Buildings on the 15th September. Cally had set up the event advertising, attracting over forty students, post grads and some support staff to the picnic. The day was one of those warm and dry September days, not perfect for amphibians, but everyone had a go at pond dipping, which tested my invertebrate skills, and with some on site expertise Cally and Ollie found frogs under logs and stones. The garden is a perfect habitat for frogs and the permaculture society have had the pleasure of homing a number of amphibians over the years. I got a chance to chat with a number of students who were interested in volunteering for ARC or becoming national amphibian or reptile surveyors. In no time at all I had promised training in adder surveying, pond surveys and training for great crested newt licences. A series of events were lined up for the new academic year and I offered support in all things herpetological.

On the 16th September Cally lead a Wildlife Society walk to Dr Neil’s Garden, which is especially known for its year-round smooth newt population and its beautiful gardens. This was one of the many amphibian and reptile themed activities that will form part of the society’s year of activities with support from SSAAR.

The SSAAR project has a rich history of supporting Scottish students and we are very lucky to have such a close working relationship with two very vibrant societies of the University of Edinburgh. In future we are looking to expand outreach to other colleges and universities across Scotland.

We have also been busy with a range of other community events. The beginning of October brought myself and ARC volunteers full circle. There were a series of autumn themed events where the team celebrated environments great for over wintering amphibians and reptiles, such as Cashel Natural Forest Park’s Autumn Bash, Loch Lomond on the 1st October. Where over 600 visitors enjoyed adder hunts, pond dipping, reptile themed art and face painting.

Twinned Apple Days, celebrating Orchards provided lots of herpetological joy at Broadford Isle of Skye and Achmore Lochalsh on the 7th and 14th October respectively. The village halls were busy with over 300 people joining in the pond dipping with ARC volunteers Cally Ullman-Smith and Mollie Ellis and frog/snake face painting with Isabel Blackburn.

The penultimate to the finale of the season was an environmentally friendly Halloween party at Broadford Hall, Isle of Skye, where I helped community artists Robyn Sands make scaly reptile masks for the Guisers with over 100 party goers. I finished off my flourish of autumn events by being the goddess Brighid, whose animal is the snake signifying wisdom and rebirth at the Haunted Plock ghost walk organised by Plock Ranger Paddy Logan Campbell. The walk attracted over 100 people, all of whom went back with a positive story about how great snakes are!

Most of our community events are finished for this year but keep an eye on the ARC website for more coming in the spring.