Amphibians and Reptiles of Herefordshire

In 2006 HART produced a full colour guide to the amphibians and reptiles of the county and their status, based on the results of the three year Ponds and Newts Project and other surveys for reptiles and amphibians.

by Nigel Hand, Will Watson, Phyl King
Foreword by Mark O’Shea
Published by Herefordshire Biological Records Centre
ISBN 978-0-9551880-1-5
Price £6.99

A book for all who love wildlife and want to know more about Herefordshire’s amphibians and reptiles and their habitats.


  • Detailed descriptions and photographs
  • Illustrations to aid identification
  • Distribution maps
  • Ponds in Herefordshire and their history
  • Tips on how to help amphibians and reptiles

The book is available from local bookshops in Herefordshire, and from Amazon.

Read Mark O'Shea's foreword+

I spend a great deal of my time travelling to tropical countries in order to study their rich and diverse herpetofaunas but it has not always been that way. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s my idea of a great day out was to scour a local mineworkings in the Midlands for grass snakes or venture onto Kinver Edge to find adders, or Dorset for smooth snakes and sand lizards. I was not taking away, I was observing, counting, honing my photography skills, enjoying the encounter.

Circumstances have now taken me to over thirty countries, most of them tropical, and introduced me to hundreds of species of exotic reptiles and amphibians, but I have not forgotten my roots, the wonder of sighting an alert, coiled British snake in the early morning sun, or of finding great crested newts in terrestrial garb under debris around the edge of a forgotten village pond. These are childhood and adolescent memories that I treasure and ones that I would hope generations to come will be able to appreciate for themselves.

But they won’t if the continued rate of habitat loss, fragmentation and alteration continues. The adder in particular, is in trouble in the Midlands and adder-bashing may not be entirely to blame. This is a snake with very specific habitat and prey requirements. Change the surroundings and you may make its survival untenable. Neither does it deserve such treatment, one dozen fatal bites in the entire 20th century,  come on, horses, dogs and bees kill many more people but we do not demonise them. We absolutely must protect our small but very special island herpetofauna.

This is why a publication like the one you hold in your hands, Amphibians and Reptiles of Herefordshire, is so important. National and regional field guides are all very good but conservation begins at the grass roots level and that means much more locally, by county or shire, even parish. And to conserve anything you first need to know what you have got and how many. Now, for Herefordshire, that information is available, painstakingly compiled by three dedicated authors with a passion for their home-grown snakes, lizards, frogs and newts.

This book concerns itself with five of Britain’s native amphibians and four of its reptiles, but it also includes reports for three introduced species. Because the species numbers are not high the authors are able to devote a great deal more space to each species, providing much more information to enable the reader, not only to identify the frog, lizard of snake, but to understand it, what makes it tick, how it lives, to appreciate it as a wild animal. The excellent photographs included illustrate many aspects of the subject’s life-histories.

Finally, for me one of the most important aspects of this book are the maps. I confess to being a bit of a cartophile (a map lover) so distribution maps are particular favourites since they combine two of my passions. The spot-marked distribution maps in this book are precise and detailed. Those for the amphibians look fairly healthy but unfortunately the reptile maps tell a different story and one that perfectly emphasises the urgent need for a local guide such as Amphibians and Reptiles of Herefordshire.

Read a review by Roger Beck, Chairman of Herefordshire Nature Trust +

HBRC have now followed up their first publication in 2005 (on the county’s dragonflies) with this new volume featuring Herefordshire’s amphibians and reptiles. The authors of this book are founder members of HART (Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team), who helped set up the Herefordshire Ponds and Newts Project . The objectives of this 3-year Project were to assess the health of the county’s ponds, and map the distribution of the county’s five amphibian species.  Over 150 people took part in the training and recording programme completed in 2006, generating more than 550 amphibian records. To this database were added reptile records from Nigel Hand and from historical sources. This book is the culmination and celebration of all this original research.

The species accounts form the core of the book and its particular strength. Adults of each of the nine species are described in detail, stressing key identification features. Other sections provide information on the life cycle and habitat, together with useful coverage of current status, threats to survival and any existing legal protection. The final section on national and local distribution is what sets this book apart from other herpetofauna guides. The records from the HPN project are plotted on county distribution maps, showing those pre-2000, and HART records for 2000-2006. Each species account is copiously illustrated with excellent colour photographs and attractive drawings which greatly enhance the text. Even introduced species are not forgotten, with brief details of three species which may or may not justify a place on the Herefordshire check-list.

With less than ten species to cover, the authors have wisely, in my view, decided to set the species accounts into a wider context. Thus, a summarised history of Herefordshire ponds is placed within a description of the county’s geology and landscape features. The chapter on conservation explains the widespread loss of ponds and other key habitats in the latter part of the 20th. century; describes what is being done by national and local organisations to arrest habitat loss; makes a plea for people to dig more ponds; and describes how to achieve a more amphibian/reptile friendly garden. Also included is an interesting summary of what is known about amphibian/reptile recording in Herefordshire over the past 150 years.

It is to the credit of all involved with this book that I could find very little to criticise. The choice of red and green dots on the distribution maps is unfortunate if, like this reviewer, you happen to be partially red/green colour-blind! But these are minor niggles which do not detract from an excellent publication, painstakingly produced from a wealth of new information. Both the research scientist and interested amateur naturalist can gain from its pages. Herefordshire is indeed fortunate to have had such dedicated enthusiasts wanting to record and write about its fascinating herpetofauna.

Roger Beck, Chairman of Herefordshire Nature Trust

Read a review by Dr Susan Clark & David Green +

This book is a real gem. We would heartily recommend this to anyone with even a passing interest in amphibians and reptiles, whether they live in Herefordshire or not.

The concise, well-written species descriptions with clear distribution maps, together with pictures and photographs of all life cycle stages, are a great deal better than in many expensive field guides. The sections on history and landscape were most interesting, giving context to the species and their distributions within the county.

The whole book is packed with high quality photographs of the animals and their habitats making it a pleasure to read. This is a most useful publication, well-produced and at an affordable price.

Dr Susan Clark & David Green, Wessex Environmental Associates