ARC’s Education Officer for Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR), Janet Ullman tell us about the projects busy summer with pond dipping, an Adder Week and Open Day

It has been a rollercoaster of a summer with the Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles Project (SSAAR). With the assistance of SSAAR volunteer Pete Anderson, I have been touring the west of the Central Belt with pond nets, trays and outdoor games. Pete and I were lucky enough to be invited to run activities for community groups in and around community green spaces, such as within the beautiful wild wood and twisting burn of Castlemilk Park, a classic emerald-like jewel on the map of Glasgow.  With the support of the Cassiltoun Housing Association, we introduced kick sampling to the Indigo Childcare Youth Group.  Another day saw us on a quick train journey with pond nets and trays, up to Dalmuir to work with West-Dunbartonshire Ranger Service at their family Fun Day at Auchnacraig Woodland Park, where even the community police stopped to join in with families busy pond dippeing and paddling around looking for toadlets.

In the Highlands, I embarked on an ‘Adder Week’ starting with adder survey training with the NTS Balmacara Estate manager and rangers in Lochalsh.

Across the bridge to Skye, I gave an Adder Talk with Q&A, open to the general public hosted by the Clan Donald Estate at Armadale Castle Gardens. The Clan Donald Estate are currently one of the survey sites in the NatureScot-funded Scotland National Adder Survey and have been enthusiastic supporters throughout the year. The next day, the Estate hosted a SSAAR Family Fun Day at the castle museum. Families were able to pond dip and make adder puppets with artist Robyn Sands. Despite the rain, everyone was fascinated by the many palmate newt larvae that were swimming in the trays.

The end of the SSAAR summer was marked by the SSAAR Open Day on the 3rd September at the beautiful Glasgow Botanic Gardens. A programme of art activities, minibeast hunts, storytelling and a training workshop with Dr John Wilkinson were advertised across Glasgow. The event brought together artists, SAAR volunteers and staff for the first time, celebrating a year of engagement and activities since our Scottish project started in September last year!

The Glasgow Botanic Garden had kindly given over the palatial Kibble Palace Glasshouse, where the SSAAR information and welcome table was staffed by myself, our SSAAR Project Officer, Dr Rachael Cooper-Bohannon and Dr John Wilkinson. A trio of art workshops dominated the walkway into the lofty interior of the glasshouse. Artists Robyn Sands, Ramona Verallo and Isabel Blackburn worked with over 90 children in the making of amphibian and reptile themed masks, collages, puppets and face painting. The artists, experienced in connecting natural history themes to community workshops, inspired the children’s art by laying out a touch table of materials. There were sequin cloths to simulate scales of snake skin, velvet and felt for newts on land, lamé as frog skin and bead clay to simulate the warts of a toads back. Children and adults alike gathered around the tables enthusiastically, taking inspiration from all the ARC posters and asking lots of questions about colours, shapes and textures of amphibians and reptiles. By mid afternoon the artists were surrounded by a mass of people and the face painting had a queue going up the main gangway.

The mid-day training workshop with John took place in the Botanic Garden’s Library and was enthusiastically received by all who attended, stimulating a lot of conversation afterwards. The star of the session however was a hybrid palmate/smooth newt, found earlier in the day by Pete around the Garden’s pond. In the afternoon there was also a Celtic storytelling session where magical frog related stories were told to a rapt audience. There was a minibeast hunt with me and SSAAR volunteers Pete and Cally Ullman-Smith. Those who braved the driving rain during the activity were rewarded by a magnificent frog and a lot of slugs.

Over 300 people attended the open day, all of whom came out on a grey rainy day in Glasgow. We are very grateful for all the support the SSAAR project received from all the staff at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens and of course our volunteers, artists and the people of Glasgow and beyond who made the day possible.

If you’d like to find out more about the Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR) project and how to get involved please visit the project page. If you would like to support our work in Scotland please visit 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.