Education Officer for Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR), Janet Ullman has sprung into action with the tide of emerging frogs this March. In her debut blog post she gives us a taste of ‘the life of an Education Officer’.

1st March – Book reading for World Book Day

At the beginning of March, I was asked by the Highlife Highland Library Service to do a storytelling video for World Book Day (3rd March), reading ‘In Search of Old Uncle Blue’ by Rob Ingle, Tim Bernhard and Owain Masters, published by ARC. I arranged a background of cuddly snakes, lizards and frogs, before sitting down and beginning with the traditional ‘if you are sitting comfortably, then I will begin’. I read with each beautiful page held to camera, giving voice to the characters as I shared the adventure of Sophie with the children watching. Watch the video here.

The video was uploaded to the Highland Library facebook page by Carina Hibberd Plockton Librarian and shared on the ARC’s facebook page. Within a few days the video had received over 700 views on the Libraries page. I have now been asked to do more readings, for which every cuddly frog I possess will be found and star as background performers.

7th March – family event planning at Holmhills Wood Community Park

Site meeting with Nicole (friends of Holmhills), Hannah (photographer), Alison (friends of Holmhills) and Pete (SSAAR volunteer).

On the 7th March I had the pleasure of meeting with the Holmhills Wood Community Park LNR Friends’ group towards planning a family fun day on the 9th April. Holmhills lies to the south of Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire. It has amazing panoramic views across Glasgow to the Campsie Fells and Ben Lomond. It is a green oasis in an urban setting, not far from Kirkhill train station out of central in Glasgow. It has woods, scrub land and meadows with three beautiful ponds full of life. Together with SSAAR Volunteer Pete and the Friends of the LNR I am planning a pond dipping, wildlife exploring and wildlife stories session, followed by a late afternoon natural history photography workshop with Glasgow based photographer Hannah Absalom. Friend of Holmhills and wildlife photographer Andy Wilson will be with the team on the day, sharing his experiences of being a photographer on site.

Currently volunteers from the Holmhills Friends’ group are gathering at dusk, observing hordes of frogs coming into the ponds to spawn. Nicole Digruber of the Friends Group described the ponds as ‘boiling with frogs and the throbbing song of male frogs hanging in the air.’ Joining the frogs are smooth and palmate newts which have been observed slowly crawling towards these amazing ponds.

For more details about the forth coming event for the 9th April please check the event pages at the beginning of April or go to Friends of Holmhills Facebook page.


8th March - evening training session with the Lorn Natural History Group (LNHG)

On the 8th March I delivered an evening training session with the Lorn Natural History Group LNHG, it was via Zoom, social distancing still very much observed in Scotland, but it was still full of fun and laughter as I was introduced to a wonderful group of people. The training session covered common Scottish amphibians and reptile identification, how to survey them, how to monitor and where to record data. At the end of a presentation encompassing a lot of information in an hours meeting, I was asked questions in a great exchange between myself and the group. LNHG made the meeting feel completely comfortable and engaging, and it is with grateful thanks that I appreciated the membership of LNHG welcoming me into their lives for an hour on a Tuesday evening during a thunder storm.

If you are part of a Natural History group or society in Scotland, that would like an evening training session via Zoom with me, please contact me via [email protected].


9th March – planning training events at Malls Mire Community Woodland

Janet and Stewart checking out common frog refugia at Polmadie plots, Malls Mire by Gemma Jennings

I took the opportunity of travelling back and forth to Glasgow with gusto and on the 9th March, I went west of the city centre to Toryglen, to explore the large and extensive Malls Mire Community Woodland with Gemma Jennings, Community Engagement Manager and Ecology Advisor for the Urban Trust based at Malls Mire. There we explored the large SUDs pond by the new housing estate, where we disturbed a heron on our search for frogspawn. Malls Mire provides a network of ponds and wetlands which support common frogs. With the woodland, scrub, grasslands and community garden the area is perfect for other amphibians and reptiles. With volunteer help conservation tasks are under way to maximise habitats and opportunities for wildlife.

Malls Mires has great community volunteering and community practical conservation skills workshops, with school visits and family days to explore the woods and wetlands. I met Stewart the community gardener and spent a happy half hour with him, frog refugia surveying. I have been invited to work with different groups and run some training activities at Malls Mire over the next few months. Please check out the events pages for details to come. To find out more about Malls Mire and Urban Roots please go to


10th March - Rewilding Panel Discussion at University of Edinburgh

University of Edinburgh rewilding debate by Gunnar Enlow

University of Edinburgh student societies are well known for organising debates, giving students an opportunity to question people of different professions, interests and political groups. I had the pleasure of being invited to the Rewilding Panel Discussion at the gloriously gothic Old College on the evening of the 10th March. The panel included William Mackaness, professor of geoscience, who discussed the rewilding of Carrifran and Alex Jenkins, estate overseer and keeper of Edinglassie of Dunecht estates.

The lecture theatre soon filled even with social distancing in place and two hours of animated discussions and questions soon flew by. I highlighted the need for surveying sites before considering their future management, which was agreed in principle by all present. The question of non-native species, such as rhododendron on land and azola in fresh water was voiced and this led to a very considered debate on funding control and management to release land and water from being lost to invasive species.

Many thanks to Františka Vosátková of the Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club and her team for organizing such a fascinating evening and inviting SSAAR to the panel.


16th March – pond dipping at Broadford Primary, Isle of Skye

The sun was shining as I was welcomed on site at Broadford Primary, Isle of Skye on the 16th March, to start a week-long programme of pond dipping classes. The school is backed by a beautiful wildlife garden, the work of the staff, pupils and the Broadford Community. Rampant gorse and bramble were cleared to restore a vibrant heath and open woodland. A pond was installed on site to add to the site’s diversity.

Broadford Primary group

After a few games where children acted as pond weeds sheltering tennis ball tadpoles or guessing the stages of metamorphosis, the class headed to the pond. I demonstrated the safe and best way to pond dip and netted a female palmate newt straight away. Soon children were delighted with the sight of palmate newts carefully transferred from nets to tanks. The children learnt how they could not touch the newts, their skin being too delicate for hot dry human hands, which just increased the children’s sense of wonder.

The children worked with their teachers to recognise other pond creatures from damselfly nymphs to pond snails. The variety of life showed the pond had a high-water quality index, which delighted everyone and especially the newts.

If you would like me to visit your school pond or you would like advice on using school ponds to support outdoor education in Scotland, please contact me on [email protected].


19th March - Students of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) visit Skye and Lochalsh on the hunt for palmate newts

The London NERC DTP is a partnership of eight prestigious research organisations across London, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. It helps students attain new standards of excellence in environmental science research training, and deliver a transformative inter-disciplinary experience for London based PhD students.

Part of the Doctoral Training Programme is student-led with an activities team who organised a field trip to Skye and Lochalsh, West Highlands, that ran from the 16th - 26th March 2022. The team, were tasked with coming up with identifying some teaching and learning activities that fall within the remit of their DTP (PhD projects spanning from conservation biology to geology). Rachel Hester, part of the activities team and embarking on a PhD in the invasion history of the alpine newt, contacted the SSAAR project to organise a morning of amphibian and reptile surveying and monitoring for her cohort of 25 fellow students.

NERC DTP students at Balmacara Square by Janet Ullman

The date was set for Saturday, 19th March. I gained land owner permissions for three ponds to be surveyed, one on Skye and two in Lochalsh. All three ponds had been known to support breeding populations of palmate newts. It had been understood that the majority of students were very excited at the prospect of seeing these northern specialist species, who may be common to us here in Scotland but are quite the rarity south of the border.

The 19th March dawned bright, clear and warm. At 9am I welcomed the students to the first pond on Skye, where I knew palmate newts were to be found after an earlier survey in the week. In my first lucky net sweep I caught the first female palmate which had ever been seen by many of the group, which was then followed by males with their mitten like back feet, fragile tail filament and unfussy back crest. Their golden eyes viewed their captors through the Perspex of the holding tank as their delicate features were carefully viewed.

The group moved to the second pond on the Lochalsh side of the Skye Bridge, the National Trust for Scotland’s pond at Balmacara Square. Here I, with the help of the groups herpetology students, introduced the Habitat Suitability Index and demonstrated the best procedures for surveying for newts with nets. Soon every tray held not only adult newts but newt larvae, efts, which had failed to metamorphose fully before the end of summer, but survived the winter in this larval form. The variety of invertebrate life was surveyed with the help of Zoology student Jason to gauge the ponds water quality index, which was pleasingly good.

Example palmate newt by Chris Dresh

Mating frogs were in evidence even in the midday sun and frog spawn mats stretched across the pond’s edges. Evidence of otters favouring a tasty frog was on show, Emily one of the herpetology students, found the remains of a female frog’s reproductive organs and spawn, otters disliking the taste of oviduct and peeling them out much as we would an apple core.

The last pond overlooked where the mouth of Loch Carron meets the sea and the isle of Raasay dominates the sky line. The students were introduced to a private wildlife area, restored to heath and wetlands by the owner. Freed of years of rhododendron growth the site promises much as an ideal site for common lizards and slow-worms. The pond had been created from an area of bog land, where a small burn now runs into the pond from the heights of the sandstone crags above. In a quick survey, palmate newt was again found, much to everyone’s delight. For more information on NERC DTP please go to

To find out more about chances to go out with me on surveying and monitoring workshops in Scotland please email me on [email protected]

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my very busy few weeks! Don’t worry if you’ve missed out on our SSAAR events so far, there are more coming up very soon. Keep an eye on the Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles project page and ARC events page for details.

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.


Banner image: Common toad from Holmshills by Nicole Digruber