2017 was a fantastic year for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, and we wanted to bring you some of our personal highlights to celebrate the diverse range of projects and programmes we are running right across Britain to protect and conserve our native amphibians and reptiles. We are a charitable organisation and only able to achieve our conservation aims with your help - so our request from you is, please make it your new year's resolution to save our native amphibians and reptiles by supporting our work, as a volunteer or ARC Friend.

Tony Gent, Chief Executive Officer

Formation of a European herpetological foundation, RACE, and developing a partnership to pilot a new form of strategic licensing for great crest newts in the South Midlands.

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Looking back on 2017, it was particularly rewarding to see the official formation of our European herpetological network when colleagues from five national European organisations specialising in amphibian and reptile conservation met in Nijmegen in July to set up a new foundation called the “Stichting Reptile Amphibian Conservation Europe (RACE)”.  This move has formalised some long established working relationships with other European herpetological organisations, and we are looking forward to building on this with organisations in other European countries over the coming years. Read the full story

We have also been involved in developing a partnership with Environment Bank, Freshwater Habitats Trust and Nature Metrics to develop a pilot programme to undertake 'strategic licensing' for great crested newts in Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. This pilot was designed to explore how private sector and non-Government conservation organisations could implement and, indeed, influence the new licensing policies being developed and taken forward by Natural England to improve the conservation benefits for this species.  The consortium first explored the possibility of working together early in the New Year, and as the year closes we have made a huge amount of progress, including survey and modelling great crested newt occupancy, designing monitoring programmes and impact assessments and establishing a 'not for profit' company to take this forward. This has been an unbelievable achievement in such a short time and we have developed ideas that we believe will help 'raise the bar' for great crested newt conservation where such licensing projects are being considered elsewhere.

Jim Foster, Conservation Director

Launching Back from the Brink and the Woolmer Scrub bash

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We had our first full meeting of the ‘Back from the Brink’ team in Thetford, in Norfolk in July. This saw folks from the full range of projects right across the country get together to kick start this important national partnership project, which aims to save some of England’s most threatened species from extinction.The launch meant that ARC's own "Gems in the Dunes" team who are based in the Sefton Coast area of North Merseyside, got to mingle with like-minded people working on the various Back from the Brink species (including the forester moth, in this photo). It also brought home to me how this project has such potential to make a significant change to the way that species are conserved in England. Find out more about ARC's involvement with Back from the Brink. 

The annual Woolmer Scrub Bash in September saw an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers and ARC Friends descend upon perhaps southern England's most important natterjack toad site. The day was organised by ARC staff to help volunteers make a real, on-the-ground difference for natterjack toads. We cleared trees and scrub that is threatening to degrade the open habitats that natterjacks prefer. It was a great example of how ARC can help bring people together to directly help our amphibians.

Pete Minting, Great Crested Newt Detectives Project Officer

'Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science' awards day (aka proud parents and their kids at the prize-giving in Edinburgh)

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On Saturday 21st October 2017, school-age children and their families from across Scotland assembled at Edinburgh Zoo, for the "Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science" competition awards day, together with wildlife artist Cherith Harrison who helped with the prize-giving and gave a fascinating talk on her work. This ground-breaking wildlife art and writing competition for Scotland was organised by Pete Minting of ARC, as part of ARC's Great Crested Newt Detectives project which is based in Scotland. We were treated to an amazing display of art, poetry and prose, and the winning entries will be included in a new book called "Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science; how DNA technology is helping to save Scotland's wildlife." We would like to extend our many thanks to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), for providing us with such a brilliant venue and making sure that the day was a resounding success. Read more about this great event.

Ruth Popely, Cumbria Natterjack Officer

Toad balls at Sellafield – a haven for natterjacks

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I'd like to flag up our work at Sellafield. This is a tiny, but important private reserve owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) here in Cumbria, that was championed and managed by the wonderful volunteer and knowledgeable local enthusiast, Les Robertson. Les, who sadly passed away in 2016, was a real power-house for many local wildlife causes, and is much missed by us all. However, the reserve continues to support a great number of natterjack toadlets, as well as slow-worms and adders, which is a real tribute to his years of dedication.

This year I was blessed to witness what can only be described as balls of natterjack toadlets, each ball consisting of at least 50 individuals. We think these occurred when the number of toadlets emerging on site was so great, that they huddled together to take advantage of the warm sunshine, without drying out and possibly deter bird-predation.  The site is still in urgent need of additional management, including: re-fencing to make the site stock-proof so that vital grazing can be reinstated, correcting the fish pass installed in the beck to improve the water level management of the breeding pools to keep them in peak condition for the toads, and tackling the invasive sea-club, but we are determined to keep Les's legacy going! Find out more about our work with natterjacks in Cumbria.

Nick Moulton, Reptile Conservation Officer

Saving sand lizards for over 25 years

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ARC has had a busy year with the Sand Lizard Conservation Programme which supports the conservation of this charismatic native lizard by reintroducing it back into its historic range. In 2017 we were delighted to release almost 200 juvenile sand lizards at four sites across the UK, in Flintshire, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset.

As well as successfully raising animals that are in good health and able to survive the all-important first winter in the wild, an important part of the release programme is ensuring that the re-introduction sites are in tip top condition to give the young lizards the best chance possible. We work closely with land owners, and volunteer surveyors to ensure that sites are ready, and where necessary undertake additional "species specific" habitat management. This can include creating patches of bare sand for egg laying, and managing bracken and trees to reduce shading, so that the animals can bask successfully, giving them the energy to hunt and breed. In 2017 we monitored over 50 sites in the New Forest, and worked alongside NRW partners in Wales, and local partners in Sefton coast and Dorset to improve the sites there. Read more about over 25 years of sand lizard conservation.

Ben Limburn, Snakes in the Heather Project Development Officer

Harnessing citizen science to monitor smooth snakes in the New Forest

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Our New Forest Smooth Snake Survey project had another fantastic year. Our fabulous band of  55 dedicated Reptile Survey Volunteers carried out an incredible 128 site visits, collecting over 500 species records from 1300 artificial refuge lifts! This really highlights the power of ‘citizen science’ in our quest to collect valuable data to support and inform conservation practices for our reptiles, and particularly the smooth snake, in the New Forest National Park.  As a result the rare and elusive smooth snake has been found at several new locations, helping us to better understand the species distribution and how it interacts with this dynamic landscape. Volunteers have also collected a number of records for the adder, a native species which is now recognised as in national decline, and we believe that the New Forest may be an important stronghold for this vulnerable species. A big thank you from all of us at ARC to everyone who has taken part and we look forward to continuing the project in 2018. Find out more about our work to save the smooth snake.

Richard Clark, ARC volunteer from the Weald

An extract from ‘ A Volunteer’s Summer’ - Conservation tasks at Benham’s Lane Ponds, Greatham 15th August

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Our small band of volunteers were asked to help open up several small and now heavily over grown ponds, originally created for the Million Ponds Project, which are particularly important for dragonflies and all three native species of newt.

A very thick growth of great willowherb, bramble and some willow was strimmed and cleared around the first and largest pond, while a second team went further down the lane to rake and stack a small mown hay meadow. The aim was to create large piles of hay for grass snakes to nest in. The stacks were located at the grassy margin of a group of small ponds and bogs on one side of the meadow.

After a break we were able to inspect the ponds. One  had a healthy growth of frilled water-lily Nymphoides pelteta in flower while the other two contained one of the Potamogeton pondweeds. There was the usual duckweed and flag iris and some flowering water-plantain [Alisma] and lesser spearwort Ranunculus flammula.

However, the day belonged to the dragonflies and damselflies. Emperor and gold-ringed dragonflies, southern and brown hawkers, common and ruddy darters; and emerald, red and azure damselflies were identified with the help of our knowledgeable photographer Mike Berwick. We also spotted a couple of our native hornets patrolling the ponds. One over-powered an emperor dragonfly and was later seen carrying off sections of its prey.

On a more comforting note, while waiting for the others to arrive I suddenly became aware of being watched by a female roe deer from a shallow ditch at the side of the lane. I kept still and after deciding there was no threat she looked back, and another only slightly smaller deer emerged from the trees behind her and followed as they both sprang forward before entering the trees a few metres from where they had emerged. Find out more about volunteering with ARC.

Rick Sharp, Dorset Field and Health & Safety Officer

Using drones for habitat mapping in Dorset

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ARC has been mapping vegetation and archaeology on our reserve at St Catherine's Hill in Dorset using the latest drone technology. In partnership with Christchurch and East Dorset Council and the Friends of St Catherine's Hill, we brought in experts from the New Forest National Park Authority to produce hyper detailed aerial imagery through a process called photogrammetry.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the joint project is looking at site use during the First World War. These images should help us analyse vegetation change and recovery after the big heath fire in 2015, and will enable us to see how our target species use the structures on site. The results will be reveal in 2018 so watch this space.  

Mandy Cartwright - North Wales Officer

Partnerships for natterjack toads

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I recently teamed up with Siemens who have been working along the North Wales Railway Line. Siemens and Network rail are keen to support local projects and to facilitate and fund vital components in making these projects sustainable for the future.

Eleven Siemens staff and a staff member from Network Rail gave their time to enhance habitat for the rarest amphibian in Wales, the natterjack toad. The work day consisted of scrub clearance and the creation of habitat piles, which will provide ideal habitat for natterjacks to hunt their prey and for them to take refuge during the daytime.

Partnerships and volunteers are vital to the long term vision for natterjacks toads in North Wales, which is to protect and enhance their habitat and extend their geographic range, thus creating a more genetically robust population. 

On behalf of ARC and the natterjack toads, I would like to say a big thank you to Siemens and Network Rail for all of their help with this project.