Rachael Cooper-Bohannon, ARC’s Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles Project Officer shares some exciting developments with the SSAAR project this summer.

As a member of the Scottish Environment LINK we are taking part in the ‘Nature Champions’ initiative, where MSPs are invited to champion a species or habitat.

We are delighted to welcome Jenny Gilruth MSP (Minister for Transport) as our smooth newt champion; and Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills) as our common frog champion, co-hosted with National Trust for Scotland (NTS). We are also co-hosting road verges, led by Plantlife and our Nature Champion for this habitat is Mercedes Villalba MSP (North East Scotland); and our newest Nature Champion for gardens and designed landscapes, led by NTS and co-hosted with ARC is Sharon Dowey MSP (South Scotland). We are looking forward to working with our Nature Champions to raise awareness amphibians, reptiles and their habitats across Scotland.

Grass snakes in Scotland?

Did you know… there is an ongoing debate about whether or not grass snakes are a Scottish species? So, on World Snake Day 2022 (16th July) the Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR) project team launched an exciting new citizen science survey to find out!

For those of you based in, or visiting Scotland, please keep a lookout when you are out and about - particularly in southern Scotland. If you are lucky enough to spot a grass snake (or other reptiles), please fill in our short online form to let us know what you spotted and where. We welcome your photos too, which can be uploaded (if you are quick enough off the draw to get that shot). The form is very quick and easy and it will help us to get more records for reptiles in Scotland. Incidental records are a great way to increase our awareness of species distribution and habitat use. To find out more please visit our Spotting Grass Snakes in Scotland page.

Rescuing amphibians in Newtyle

We've also been excited to get involved with a great project in Newtyle, a lovely village in the west of Angus. This amphibian rescue project in partnership with Friends of Angus Herpetofauna, started with two local residents on a mission to save amphibians from gully pots (also known as storm/roadside drains). Amphibians often cross roads on their way to and from their breeding ponds and may also spend time on the road surface trying to catch prey or intercept mates. Consequently, road traffic kills many amphibians but large numbers also become trapped and eventually die inside roadside drains from drowning, starvation or exposure to pollution. Kerbs make the problem worse, by making it difficult for amphibians to leave the road and by channelling animals toward gully pots. 

Newtyle has a large common toad population. About two years ago, two local residents started to rescue amphibians – common frogs, common toads and palmate newts (and the occasional small mammal) from drains on their street. In the absence of other mitigation measures, amphibian ladders can be installed to help amphibians (and mammals) to climb back out of drains. Together with Trevor Rose who runs Friends of Angus Herpetofauna and Angus Council, we organised an event on Monday 18th July and were delighted to have 22 people attend. The evening session started with a presentation on amphibian ID, an introduction to gully pots and the challenges, followed by some examples of amphibian friendly drainage systems, mitigation measures for existing gully pot systems and a demonstration on how to construct an amphibian ladder. The group then proceeded to work in teams to construct their ladders and armed with our 14 ladders, we headed out to install them. We also handed out amphibian rescue kits to anyone who was keen to sign up to help in surveying other gully pots in Newtyle and beyond! With limited data on the potential impact of gully pots on amphibian populations in Scotland (and the rest of the UK), we are aiming to recruit and train volunteer surveyors to carry out surveys to inform evidence-based conservation. 

If you would like to find out more about these projects or how to get involved with amphibian and reptile conservation in Scotland please visit the Saving Scotland's Amphibians and Reptiles project page. If you would like to support our work in Scotland please visit www.justgiving.com/campaign/SSAAR to make a donation or create a fundraising page.

We are very grateful to our funders, The Helvellyn Foundation, The R S MacDonald Charitable Trust, The Bannister Charitable Trust and Thistledown Trust, who have made this project possible.