Connecting the Dragons (CtD) is a large-scale, four-year project across southern Wales that aims to restore and raise awareness of its declining and fragmented amphibian and reptile (herpetofauna) populations. Evidence points to amphibians and reptiles being the most threatened of all vertebrate groups, with more than 50% of species being threatened globally, and this is equally true in South Wales. Moreover, herpetofauna are often a low priority – even with other conservation NGOs.

A key element to the project's success is community involvement; ARC will undertake habitat creation and restoration in strategic locations, with trained and mentored volunteers, to improve habitat permeability for wildlife metapopulations in an increasingly urbanized environment. Enthused interns and volunteers will be trained to survey and monitor their local herpetofauna populations, with the data feeding directly into nature conservation. Furthermore, a campaign will be launched utilising social media and community events to bring herpetofauna conservation up the agendas of partner bodies, raise partner knowledge, and improve species’ image. We will work with bilingual volunteers and partners to deliver the project in both English and Welsh.

We have consulted 195 representatives from 45 stakeholder organisations, as well as 251 potential volunteers from local communities. There is widespread enthusiasm for engagement with the project from both individuals and organisations, and we have already signed Memoranda of Understanding with nine partners, allowing us to work on up to 42 sites in the first year of delivery alone. We plan to work on approximately 76 sites during the four years. The project's legacy, with the help of our partners, will be both a physically better-connected natural heritage, plus communities with a better understanding and connection to that heritage.

"It’s a sad and wholly inappropriate reality that ‘survival of the cutest’ is a very real factor in contemporary conservation. And as we know securing funding, particularly the long-term funding that proper conservation normally requires, is also very difficult at the moment. So… reptiles and amphibians… warty, slimy, misunderstood and feared… tricky.  But obviously ecologically as important as Dormice or Hedgehogs or Red Squirrels and equally in need of urgent study and protection. The HLF has a tradition of intelligent generosity when it comes to allocating grants to applications of this sort, so I sincerely hope that Connecting the Dragons appeals. Our Grass Snakes, Adders, Sand Lizards, Great Crested Newts, Toads and Frogs all need vital support across South Wales and this suite of proposals will help achieve that - c’mon, time to champion the underdog!"  Chris Packham, Naturalist and broadcaster, ARC Patron

The below three aims summarise the projects objectives:

Aim 1: To increase habitat connectivity and colony robustness of our target natural heritage species, through:

1.1. Creating and restoring ponds for great crested newts, common toads, and other wildlife

1.2 Working with partners, stakeholders and volunteers to change how adder habitat is managed

1.3 Creating and restoring suitable breeding habitat for the sand lizard with volunteers in its only stronghold in southern Wales

1.4. Working with partners, stakeholders and volunteers to create and restore the egg laying sites of grass snakes.

Aim 2: To create a network of skilled, motivated volunteers and partners undertaking surveying and monitoring of our target natural heritage species now and into the future, through:

2.1. Giving new and existing volunteers the skills and confidence to engage with the project by delivering a tailored programme of training and providing continued bespoke mentoring throughout their journey

2.2. Delivering a coordinated Citizen Science based pond survey and monitoring programme for great crested newts and common toad, in order to collect robust data vital to informing project outputs, status assessments and future habitat management

2.3. Delivering a coordinated Citizen Science based reptile survey and monitoring programme, in particular of adder hibernation sites, and grass snake and sand lizard egg laying sites, in order to collect robust data vital to informing project outputs, status assessments and future habitat management.

Aim 3: To improve the image and increase understanding of our target natural heritage species in the public eye, through:

3.1. Targeting existing and new, including hard to reach, audiences in a varied and exciting programme of image-changing positive encounter events and activities

3.2. Working with partners to interact with the public at high footfall locations using interpretation points and free educational materials

3.3. Undertaking a social media-based awareness campaign, using inspiring storylines and memorable messages, enhanced by ARC’s public figure supporters and prominent position as the leading amphibian and reptile conservation organisation in the UK

3.4. Creating resilient partnerships between community, voluntary and statutory groups; sharing knowledge and resources to promote awareness and better management of our amphibian and reptile heritage

3.5. Raising the skill base of partner staff, interns and key stakeholders in order to support project delivery and leave a lasting legacy that benefits the conservation of amphibians and reptiles and their habitats long into the future

3.6. Collecting and regularly evaluating feedback from the variety of audiences and stakeholders involved, to ensure the project is well directed and continually evolves throughout delivery.

Welsh translation pending