Comment by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust

18 January 2020

There has been considerable discussion in the last week about re-introduction of amphibians and reptiles following an article in the Guardian (Read the full article). In brief, the article highlights the ambitions of a recently set-up company, Celtic Reptile and Amphibian to captive breed and release various reptiles and amphibians in the UK. ARC supporters have contacted us with concerns that far from assisting conservation, harm may be caused either directly through the company’s own work or indirectly through facilitating or inspiring inappropriate releases. These concerns are among the reasons why internationally accepted best practice guidance has been developed to govern species reintroductions.

ARC is a recognised authority in this area, having pioneered reintroductions and habitat management for native amphibians and reptiles, resulting in significant gains. Our work has, for instance, re-established populations of the natterjack toad, sand lizard and pool frog, bringing about a reversal of extinction at the regional or national level. This experience has been achieved in partnership with government agencies and other partners, and the learning outcomes have contributed to international guidance. While reintroductions can be an effective technique to recover species, it is vital that they are well planned and monitored.

ARC has been in discussion with Celtic Reptile and Amphibian, exploring their activities and approach. We are reassured to hear that the newspaper article does not accurately reflect all of their views (for example, they do not advocate releasing the Aesculapian snake, a non-native species). We believe that it is useful to engage with the suggestions put forward by Celtic Reptile and Amphibian, even where they might challenge existing conventions in nature conservation. We welcome the public discussion that they have contributed to, and their efforts to consult others before putting those ideas into practice. Unfortunately, the UK has a history of clandestine releases, and Celtic Reptile and Amphibian have affirmed that they oppose this approach.

The newspaper article highlighted the fact that the company is run by two teenagers, and we applaud that this showcases the passion of the coming generations for helping wildlife. Indeed, ARC offers a wide range of activities for younger audiences, encouraging interest from an early age and providing steps to voluntary, academic and professional involvement in conservation.

While ARC and Celtic Reptile and Amphibian have in common a vision of recovering reptile and amphibian populations, we have noted some areas of concern, where their activities or proposals entail avoidable and serious risks to native wildlife. Notably we are concerned about the selling of native and non-native animals with advice to keep them in outdoor enclosures. This is contrary to good practice as there is a risk of harm to native wildlife, chiefly through disease transmission and effects on genetic integrity.

Celtic Reptile and Amphibian have assured ARC that they will plan and implement any activities legally and to good practice, which should mean that risks are minimised and only appropriate projects are taken forward. We have also discussed with Celtic Reptile and Amphibian the fact that other methods of recovering species, such as natural colonisation and direct translocation, may be preferable to captive breeding. Celtic Reptile and Amphibian have undertaken to explore the areas of concern that we have raised.

We look forward to continuing discussions with Celtic Reptile and Amphibian, hopefully leading to positive gains for the UK’s amphibians and reptiles.

We refer readers to our updated advice on reintroductions, translocations and captive breeding, which covers some of the issues highlighted by the recent media coverage.