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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
0-9551880-1-6
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

Pond creation & management

Creating and Managing Ponds for Amphibians

by Will Watson (November 2003)

There is a direct correlation between the decline in amphibian populations with pond loss and habitat deterioration in Herefordshire as elsewhere in the UK. Smooth, palmate and great crested newts have all declined in the countryside. However, the growth in the popularity of garden ponds and demand for fishing pools has helped to compensate for these deficiencies, allowing for a small increase in the frog population, whilst smooth newt numbers have remained at a stable level.

This guide outlines the methods by which both keen amateur and professional managers of the countryside can help to increase local amphibian populations by creating new ponds and modifying and maintaining existing ponds and their associated habitats. The methods are mainly directed towards encouraging amphibians. However they are also complementary towards other aquatic flora and fauna.

POND DESIGN +

Pond shape and dimensions

An amphibian pond should have the following basic characteristics.

  • They should have shallow sloping sides for the growth of marginal vegetation. Preferably at least two different depths of shelving should be created to cater for the varying requirements of emergent aquatic vegetation and to allow for variations in rainfall patterns (see photo above).
  • There should be a deeper area in the centre of the pond which will retain water during periods of drought. The ideal depth for an amphibian pond is about 2 metres. However, a pond depth of a metre may be sufficient to retain water throughout an average year. If you want to create a smaller shallower pond, bear in mind that evaporation will occur more rapidly. If a pond dries up in the breeding season any remaining tadpoles that have failed to develop into metamorphs will die. You can compensate for this by filling up the pond with tap water or by providing some form of regular inflow. There is no great benefit in constructing very deep ponds because amphibians, with the exception of our common toad Bufo bufo, tend to confine themselves to the vegetated margins.
  • Studies have revealed that the optimum breeding site size for palmate and smooth newts is 100 m2, great crested newt frequently thrive in ponds between 250 m2 and 400 m2 but may found in larger ponds.

You must decide on what size the pond should be, whether the pond should be lined and if so what material should be used. If you can rely upon the natural geology to hold water then that will be the preferable option, both from the cost point of view and for the amphibians. Natural clay is common in many regions of the UK, but make sure you get down to natural levels. Digging a pond by hand is very laborious work and serious consideration should be given to hiring a small mechanical excavator. Always bear in mind your water source and how you are going to conserve water.

Pond restoration

A biological survey should be conducted before you undertake any restoration work to find out what amphibians are present and in what numbers. The survey work should be carried out by a suitably qualified person. HART members can undertake amphibians surveys on your behalf, but they will usually request travel expenses or Additional expenses may be charged when giving advice on pond management or creation.

It may be necessary to modify your management practices according to what is found in your pond. For example, ponds containing the specially protected great crested newt which are silted should have management priority over ponds where no amphibians were recorded. If protected species are present do seek further advice (see Protected Species Advice section below). Restoration work should be carried out in amphibian dormant season although work can commence in summer if the pond is totally dry. It is also important to establish whether any other key aquatic species are present and adapt the management to benefit rare or protected species. It is normally advisable to de-silt half the pond one year and complete the task the following year as this assists natural re-colonization by existing pond flora and fauna. In poorly vegetated ephemeral ponds this practice may not be necessary.

Planning Permission

Ponds excavated for agricultural purposes do not require planning permission. However ponds excavated for other purposes, such as wildlife conservation, may require permission, even if they are to be located on agricultural land. Local planning offices will be able to advice, and should always be contacted prior to pond construction. It may also be necessary to consult planning offices regarding disposal of spoil.

Before undertaking construction or restoration you are advised to consult some of the pond literature. There are some free leaflets and information is also given on how to obtain these publications (see Book List below)..

CREATING THE RIGHT CONDITIONS +

Plants

A healthy zonation of plants in and around a pond is important for amphibians as plants provide the right habitat for invertebrate prey, cater for oviposition and provide the necessary cover for protection and the means to ambush prey. The choice of plants is partly dependent upon the size of the pond.

In the submerged zone you should establish native plants such as hornwort Ceratophyllum demersum, water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) and water-starwort Callitriche stagnalis. In semi-natural ponds these plants always seem to provide niches for a myriad of invertebrates and should be selected in preference to curly water-weed (Lagarosiphon major) or Canadian pondweed (Elodea canadensis) because these latter species quickly produce dense growths of vegetation that will require frequent thinning out.

On the shallow shelves you should establish plants for oviposition by newts. Newts will select specific species of plants in preference to others; the most popular plants used by great crested newts are float-grass (Glyceria fluitans) and water forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides. Watercress Nasturium officinale, Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) and great hairy willow-herb Epilobium hirsutum are also commonly selected. In small ponds (less than 10m x 15m) avoid using aggressive colonizers such as reedmace Typha latifolia, reed sweet-grass Glyceria maxima and common reed Phragmites australis, as they are easy to establish but hard to control. If you want create a floral screen to your pond it is recommended that you plant Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) which is less aggressive and also provides welcome colour.

Predation

Fish predation has a great impact upon amphibian populations. Under most circumstances, introduction of fish into a newt pond will eventually lead to the elimination of the newts. It is the newt tadpoles that fall easy victim to fish. The presence of fish imposes a critical limitation on the ability of newts to exploit larger water bodies and restricts newts to smaller water bodies. So, if you want to establish a thriving population of amphibians make sure that there are no fish present! On the other hand, toads are not particularly affected by fish predation because their skin contains distasteful toxins and as a consequence large populations can coexist with fish. Fish management and control is complicated and governed by several laws. For further advice please refer to the Countryside Council for Wales contract services report 476.

Herons feed on amphibians usually in an opportunistic manner, some birds may develop a preference for newt tadpoles; includes those of great crested newts. Ducks directly affect amphibian populations by preying on eggs and tadpoles. They also have an indirect effect; their dabbling uproots plants on which eggs are laid, prevents plant re-growth and disturbs water sediments. On small ponds you would be advised not to encourage ducks; on larger ponds numbers should monitored and, if necessary, regulated. It is possible to discourage herons and ducks by erecting cane and strands of string around the edge of the pond. See the RSPB guide to discouraging herons.

Adult great crested newts frequently prey upon tadpoles and will readily make a meal out of their own tadpoles. Invertebrate predation is also common although it is not normally at the level which would cause a serious decline in a population. Great diving beetles and dragonfly nymphs are the most significant in this respect.

Food Availability

Most aquatic invertebrates are good colonizers of new sites, so if you have created a well-balanced pond with a good range of aquatic flora they’ll find it. It does take time, though, for new ponds to settle. It may take two years or more before invertebrate levels approach a similar density to those in established ponds. However, there are various ways in which invertebrate populations may be encouraged to establish more rapidly. Inoculation of pond silt, containing invertebrate eggs and larvae will help provide the right micro-environmental conditions for invertebrate development. Removal of silt should occur in the dormant season (from September to January). Ideally silt should be taken from an existing amphibian site. Make sure that the pond that you take the silt from does not contain fish. Even if you ensure no adult fish are present you may inadvertently be introducing fish eggs. Dragonfly nymphs over-winter in silty mud, if they are known to be present in the donor pond extra care will have to be taken as odonata populations can be damaged during this type of operation.

After hatching newt tadpoles are thought to feed on protozoa (single celled animals) whilst frog and toad tadpoles in their early stages of development show a greater preference for algae. Daphnia and Cyclops are important dietary constituents for tadpoles of all species in their mid-stages of development. Adult frogs and toads are relatively catholic in their diet. All three species of newt show similar dietary requirements with certain populations developing preferences for selected invertebrate prey. The following invertebrates regularly fall victim to newts; water snail, water hoglouse, and various aquatic fly larvae; blood worm and the like.

Whilst on land newts forage for worms, slugs, snails and other invertebrates. Smooth and palmate newt will take relative small prey items whilst great crested newts will tackle larger items. Many of the larger invertebrate prey items can be specifically selected for translocation. Water snails are easy to establish in new ponds and will not only benefit newts as a food source but also keep the water in good conditions by removing surface algae and unwanted plant remains.

Hibernation sites

Most species of amphibian spend the majority of their lives on land. This is certainly the case with our native amphibians. However the palmate newt is more aquatic, and may spend much of the spring and summer in water. In the case of the great crested newt its dormancy may start from June and last until March; strictly speaking they aestivate from June to October. All amphibians in the United Kingdom hibernate during the winter. They normally seek frost-free conditions. Ease of access to suitable conditions is an important factor. Newts are known to select holes by the bases of live and dead trees, light loamy soil, and rubble and rocks with plenty of voids . It is also normal for newts to move around within hibernacula in response to changes in temperature. The lack of availability of adequate hibernacula may restrict the expansion of amphibian populations. On sites which have poor terrestrial habitat structure, it is therefore well worth providing artificial hibernacula. The specifications below have been devised to replicate these semi-natural conditions.

Hibernacula specifications

Sunken hibernacula are more likely to protect newts from frost penetration. Ideally you should aim to contract a trench about 40cm in depth by 1 metre wide; the length depends on the size of your pond. It is recommended that the hibernacula are situated parallel to the pond to intercept amphibians when leaving the water. (In particularly boggy conditions with a high water table it will be necessary to construct a raised hibernacula).

The hibernacula trench should be filled with 10 sheets of correx fluted board (plastic estate agent board) approximately 0.75m². Old slates or large tiles of similar dimensions could also be used. Pea gravel should be liberally distributed one layer thick, between each of the sheets to provide a consistent depth of 3 to 4mm. Additional infill should consist of loose loam, soil conditioner and sand, whose proportions should vary between the different layers. Stacks of 10 correx sheets 0.75m² can be placed in line. However it is important that a gap is left between the stacks to create the access voids. The gap should be 10cm wide between the correx sheets and also the vertical cut of the excavation. The gaps should be filled with a combination of clean hard-core, wood and soil, which will provide voids to enable the newts to reach the layers. The presence of such layers provides the newts with protection from predators whilst enabling them to move within the hibernacula and locate the right micro-environmental conditions. Finally the hibernacula should be capped with stone. Large stones can be used for maximum visual attraction. A minimum stone diameter of about 100 mm should provide adequate voids for access.

Other Terrestrial Requirements

Frogs and toads regularly forage on land. Newts make periodic sorties on land, foraging for worms and other invertebrates. Great crested newts regularly wander 250 metres away from the water in search of food. Frogs and toads wander considerably further. Ideally a buffer zone should be created around the pond to provide for the amphibians terrestrial requirements. On leaving the water adult newts and emerging metamorphs readily seek out any available flat refuges around the pond as these provide protection and contain prey. You can provide these sites by strategically placing items such as planks of wood, old carpet, brick and rocks around the edge of the pond, for greatest effectiveness they should be placed close to water’s edge where ground level conditions are permanently moist. It may be possible to utilize discarded rubbish scattered for this purpose. Strategically placed wood piles are a useful addition to pond habitat. Wood piles attract many invertebrates and amphibians will readily exploit these situations. They also provide opportunities for amphibians to aestivate. Ideally these should be situated in damp locations but above draw-down zone. Amphibians are prone to getting trampled underfoot around the pond edge. If visitor pressure or human interference is posing problems then it is worth establishing areas of non-intervention. It may be necessary to erect a fence to deter access from sensitive areas. You can also anchor flat refuges such as planks of wood with a metal brace attached to plank and driven into ground, but ensure that there are still gaps underneath. The best terrestrial habitats have been shown to contain some long grass, bushes and shrubs and plenty of damp areas, so aim to maintain the site in an informal method.

Water quality

Great crested newts and smooth newts prefer ponds to be slightly eutrophic (rich in nutrients) and slightly basic. Frogs and toads also show preference for slightly eutrophic water, although the frog is tolerant of a wide range of conditions and, like the palmate newt, are quite at home within oligiotrophic water bodies that are low in nutrients. However, since these conditions support fewer invertebrates population densities are lower. Small amounts of tap water can be used to top up ponds with no adverse effect upon amphibians. Undiluted chlorinated tap water irritates amphibians, therefore it is wise to leave chlorinated water to stand for 24 hours which allows the majority of chlorine to evaporate. Ponds that are regularly disturbed by ducks or other wildfowl or people and dogs will be cloudy with sediment. Such activity will restrict feeding and courtship during daylight hours. As prey items are also disadvantaged by the turbidity it is not normally a serious problem provided water remains opaque. However, if water is constantly very cloudy this will restrict amphibian ability to catch prey, limit courtship behaviour and restrict or eliminate submerged aquatics plants. Ideally ponds should be left settle after disturbance.

Shading & Leaf litter

Shading by trees casts shadows which restricts the growth of aquatic plants. Most aquatic plants require a lot of light and even moderate shading will frequently result in partial elimination of aquatic flora. Leaves contribute to the silting-up of ponds and as they decompose they release substances that are maybe toxic to amphibians. Oak and willow leaves are more detrimental in this respect. You can reduce the effects leaf deposition by systematically removing leaves and silt each winter. On small garden ponds the placement of netting; obtainable from garden centres can be quite effective at catching leaves. Shading has a greater effect on smaller ponds even ponds up to 400 square metres can almost completely be cast in shade. Plants are particularly vulnerable from shading from the south.

On the plus side in large ponds a certain amount of shading can be useful as a means of controlling excessive vegetation and thereby maintaining some areas of open-water for amphibians. On large water bodies surrounding trees act as windbreaks limiting the effects of temperature loss. However, in smaller ponds such shading causes a reduction in temperature due to the lack of sunlight penetration. As a general rule the level of shading around a pond should not be allowed to increase to 50%, anything less than that is fine.

PROTECTED SPECIES ADVICE - AMPHIBIANS & THE LAW +

All UK native amphibians are listed under schedule V of the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act. The great crested newt and the natterjack toad Bufo calamita are given greater protection under Section 9 (1) such that it is an offence intentionally kill, injure, catch, possess or handle these species. The smooth newt, palmate newt, frog and common toad are only protected with respect to their sale.

It is necessary to obtain a licence from Natural England if you intend to handle or disturb great crested newts. If you want to carry out management work to an existing great crested newt pond you should refer to the advice given by Natural England on conservation licences for pond management (see link).

For any other guidance about the law please check out the Natural England website or contact the Herefordshire, Warwickshire & Worcestershire Team on 01905 763355.

BOOK LIST and REFERENCES +

  • Anon (1981). The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. The Stationery Office.
  • Anon (1992) Dig a Pond for Dragonflies. British Dragonfly Society.
  • Arnold, E.N. & Ovenden, D.W. (2002) Reptiles & Amphibians of Britain & Europe. Collins Field Guide. ISBN 0-00-2199645
  • Arnold, H. R. Atlas of amphibians and reptiles in Britain (1995). ITE research publication no. 10. HMSO Publications ISBN 0 11 70182 4.
  • Bardsley, L (2003), The Wildlife Pond Handbook. New Holland ISBN 1 84330 11 3
  • Beebee, T.J.C. (1985). Frogs and Toads. Whittett Books, Oxford. ISBN 0 905483 38 3
  • Boothby, J. (ed.) (1997). British pond Landscapes. Action for protection and enhancement. Proceedings of the UK conference of the Pond Life Project, Chester, Liverpool John Moores University.
  • Bray, R. & Gent, T. (1997) Opportunities for amphibians and reptiles in the designed landscape. English Nature Science Series No. 30. English Nature. ISBN 1 85716 265 X.
  • Brian, A. & Harding, B. (1996). A Survey of the Herefordshire Ponds and their value for Wildlife 1987-1991. Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Club. Vol. XLVIII, Part 3.
  • Brooks, A. Agate, E. (1981) Waterways and Wetlands. British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. Oxford.
  • Drake, M. et al. (1998) Managing ponds for wildlife. English Nature. ISBN 1 85716 25 3. Available free from English Nature at Peterborough
  • Fitter, R. Manuel, R. (1986) Collins Guide to Freshwater Life. Collins. ISBN 0 00 219143 1
  • Gent, A.H., & Gibson, S.D., editors (1998). Herpetofauna workers’ manual. Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Peterborough.
  • Great Crested Newt Species Action Plan Steering Group (1998). Great Crested Newt Biodiversity Action Plan Work Programme (1998-2002) Version 1.1 Froglife, Halesworth.
  • Hilton-Brown, D. & Oldham, R.S. (1991) The Status of the widespread Amphibians and Reptiles in Britain, 1990, and changes during the 1990’s. Nature Conservancy Council. Available from English Nature, Northminster House, Peterborough.
  • Hine, A. (Ed.) (1994). Woodland Pond Management. The Corporation of London. ISBN 0 95016438 0
  • Kabisch, K. & Hemmerling, J. (1984) Ponds and Pools. Croom Helm.
  • Langton, T.E.S., Beckett, C.L., and Foster, J.P. (2001), Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook. Froglife, Halesworth. Available free from Froglife – but usually given out to great crested newt pond owners or those people recording the species.
  • Olsen, L.H., Sunesen, J. & Pederson, B.V. (2001) Small Freshwater Creatures. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0 19 850798 4
  • Probert, C. (1989) Pearls in the Landscape The Conservation and Management of Ponds. Farming Press. Ipswich. ISBN 0 85236 198 X
  • Sansom, A. (1997). Ponds and Conservation, a guide to pond restoration, creation and management. Environment Agency.
  • Slater, F. (1992) The Common Toad. Shire Natural History. ISBN 0 7478 0161 4
  • Thompson, Bernard & Coldry. (1985) The Pond. Collins
  • Watson, W., Datlen, R., & Hollis D. (2000) Aqua Vitae 21. A Best Practice guide for Pond Restoration. Worcestershire County Council, Countryside Service, Worcester.
  • Watson, W.R.C. (2002). Review of Fish Control Methods for the Great Crested Newt species action plan. CCW contract Science Report 476. On the CCW website as a pdf file
  • Whitehurst, J. Great Crested Newt mitigation guidelines. (2001). English Nature. ISBN 1 85716 568 3.
  • Williams et al. (2000). The Pond Book. A guide to the management and creation of ponds. The Ponds Conservation Trust, Oxford.
  • Wisniewski, P.J. (1989) Newts of the British Isles. Shire Natural History. ISBN 0 7478 0029 4

Habitat management for reptiles

Good reptile habitat consists of a varied vegetation structure and south or south-easterly aspect. Preferred sites include hillsides, banks, slopes and wet areas or semi permanent ponds with tussocky grassland, bramble, bracken, gorse or, occasionally in Herefordshire, heather. Small groups of young trees such as silver birch, elder, or juniper reduce wind chill and create a microclimate.

Early in the spring collapsed dead bracken stands and bramble provide cover and thermo regulation sites for newly emerged species such as adder and viviparous lizard. Without a good height of sward reptiles are vulnerable to predation from birds and mammals. Hibernacula on hills or slopes will be situated out of the damp and frost, under thick bramble, in mammal burrows, root systems, or earthworks.  These are essential to the wellbeing of a reptile population; especially the grass snake and adder who tend to use the same hibernacula each year.  Their loss, either intentionally or accidentally, will result in population decline.  Therefore, before any management for reptiles is planned, it is of the utmost importance to locate the hibernacula or aggregation areas.

Reptiles, and in particular adders, can be found in aggregations in spring on emergence, and in late summer/early autumn when preparing for winter hibernation. At these times any slopes and hillsides with a south facing aspect should not be cut with machinery. Work parties or the rotational cutting of small areas are preferable to the complete eradication of bracken, but some cutting is needed to prevent the bracken from taking over and shading a site in the late summer months.  Thick secondary tree growth and neglect on site also leads to shading out and results in diminishing reptile populations.  During winter the scrub can be cut and the brash turned into refugia piles. Placed in sunny areas these provide attractive refuge and basking areas for reptiles.  Also grass and vegetation cuttings can be turned into attractive heaps for grass snakes and slow-worms.

Grazing by horses, cattle or sheep is good for reptile sites, breaking up bracken, and opening areas to the sun, but high stock density is detrimental. Overgrazing will strip an area of reptile cover and the disturbance caused by large numbers of stock can lead to a rapid decline in reptile numbers.  The use of  “flying flocks” of sheep, which are brought on to a site to graze only when required,  prevents overgrazing.  Temporary exclusion fencing is another way of stopping damage to sensitive areas.

A recent publication, Status of the Adder Vipera berus, and the slow-worm Anguis fragilis, in England (English Nature 2004 publication No. 546 John Baker, James Suckling & Ruth Carey), states that habitat management is the factor most frequently impacting on adder and slow-worm populations. In spite of reports of individual sites being harmed, habitat management or creation was regarded as a positive factor at more than 40% of adder, and 50% of slow-worm sites. Most adder populations in the Midlands are relatively low. A third of adder and a quarter of slow-worm populations consist of fewer than ten adults, so any drastic habitat management could result in the loss or decline of fragile populations.

Herefordshire Ponds & Newts Project

2003 – 2006

The aim of the project was to assess the health of the ponds in Herefordshire, and the distribution of the great crested newt and other amphibians in the county. As the great crested newt is a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species we had the opportunity to apply for funds for the work.

The Herefordshire Rivers Leader+ programme funded a substantial percentage of the project, which was therefore restricted to the parts of Herefordshire for which Leader+ funds could be used, namely the 96 parishes that bordered or included the four main Herefordshire rivers: the Wye, Lugg, Frome and Arrow. The LEADER+ area covers 880 square kilometres, roughly a third of the county.

Over 250 ponds in this area were surveyed, generating an excellent record base for the county. The funding also allowed us to provide pond and amphibian training for well over 100 people, thus expanding the availability of these skills in the county.

 

Great Crested Newt distribution in Herefordshire before the start of the project

57 great crested newt sites had been identified within Herefordshire. Their distribution is shown on the map: some of the dots may represent several ponds. 40 of those sites occur within the Herefordshire Rivers area, shown in blue.

 

Great Crested Newt distribution in Herefordshire in 2006 at the end of the project

 

The Project Finishes Successfully +

The project has finished! So firstly some thanks:

To our funders: the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme, who provided the bulk of the money for the project, and continual encouragement and support as the project progressed. Also the SEED programme (was part of the National Lottery), the Environment Agency (Wales) and the Herefordshire Biodiversity Partnership. We also received support from Froglife and the HCT.

To the many pond owners who gave us permission to come on their land and survey the ponds.

To the key staff on the project: Project Consultant Will Watson and Survey Team Coordinators Jules Agate, Angela Charlton and Lydia Robbins.

To the volunteers:  We owe a big debt of gratitude to all the volunteers who worked so hard in many ways for the project – surveying, data entry at the HBRC, accounts, administration, training and project support and so on. Over 2000 hours were logged on the timesheets, with a value to the project of around £20,000, allowing us to claim £13,500 in real funds to held pay for the project. We stopped using timesheets in September 2005 because we had reached the budget limit on volunteer time payments, but we know a lot more volunteer hours were worked after that, not least by the authors of the atlas: Amphibians and Reptiles of Herefordshire.

The Atlas costs £6.99 and can be purchased from HART committee members, at HART meetings, from local bookshops, from the NHBS on the internet;  or from the Herefordshire Biological Records Centre, Tel: 01432 261538 E-mail: hbrc@herefordshire.gov.uk. Since the launch in December 2006 we have sold around 600 copies and the feedback we have had from people who have bought or seen it is how good it is with some fantastic photographs which clearly illustrate the text and aid identification.

Final Report and Ponds Assessment +

The end project report can be downloaded in full as a pdf: Ponds and Newts Project Final Report.

We are indebted to Stephen West who used our pond survey data as a basis for his MSc thesis about assessing pond suitability for great crested newt presence using a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) calculation (see below). The final results are based on the analysis Stephen has done.

The surveys have shown that 46% of all ponds have great crested newts, and 48% have smooth newts, but only 29% have palmate newts. 11% have all three, which is quite a high proportion by UK standards. So, in Herefordshire, while the great crested newt is the protected one, the palmate is the least common.

Pond occupancy of amphibians

The Quality Assessment of Ponds bar chart shows that only around 40% of ponds were found to be of good or excellent quality. The theory suggests that great crested newts prefer good quality ponds, and results shown in the chart just about corroborate this, notably that very few ponds with great cresteds were rated Poor, while a significantly higher proportion of ponds without them were Poor. But there were almost as many excellent ponds without them as with. Great crested newts were found in 40% of poor and below average ponds which could suggest that these are populations hanging on in ponds of declining quality, which would benefit from restoration before the population dies out.

Quality assessment

Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) +

This index is based on 10 criteria including surrounding terrestrial habitat, pond size, pond quality/clarity, plant cover, tree cover, presence of fish and waterfowl, and so on, which were all recorded in the surveys for each pond. From the HSI values, the ponds are graded as poor, below average, average, good, excellent. This data assessment can help us to identify which ponds in which areas would most benefit from restoration and improvement work so that the great crested newt can thrive and expand its range.

Funding +

The Herefordshire Pond and Newts Project has been part funded by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ programme.

The project has also been part Lottery funded by the £15.3 million Social, Economic and Environmental Development (SEED) Programme. The SEED Programme, managed by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation (RSNC) and 11 consortium partners, distributes National Lottery money on behalf of the New Opportunities Fund, under its Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities funding programme.

Further funds have been received from English Nature and the Environment Agency, Wales.

What’s that snake?

An Inspirational Wildlife Project for Herefordshire (2008 – 2010)

Snakes can invoke fascination or fear and loathing, even amongst wildlife lovers. Many people have a problem identifying, understanding and appreciating snakes. Even the slow-worm, a legless lizard, is regularly mistaken for an adder. The public now have the opportunity to learn about and observe Herefordshire’s reptiles with this exciting wildlife initiative; “What’s that Snake?”.

What’s That Snake?” with nearly £50,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) was a collaboration of the Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team (HART) and Herefordshire Nature Trust and ran for two years. All of the County’s reptile species are now UK Priority Bio-Diversity Plan Action Species, necessary due to national declines of populations through habitat loss and mismanagement. The adder also has a local species action plan in Herefordshire.

The Amphibian and Reptile Atlas produced by HART in 2006 revealed a disturbing lack of reptile records particularly for adders and viviparous lizards. In the training courses on identification and surveying techniques volunteers were inspired to appreciate, locate and record these fascinating and secretive creatures. They surveyed at 10 locations throughout the county in the Malvern Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), Wye Valley AONB, Ross- on-Wye, Goodrich, Mortimer Forest Trail area and Kington, working in co-operation with Forestry Commission, National Trust, Malvern Hills Conservators, Commons and volunteer habitat management groups. Verified records were submitted to the Herefordshire Biological Records Centre.

The project visited 58 schools providing illustrated identification posters, worksheets and interactive DVDs to be used as educational tools, so creating wildlife interest in future generations. Community road shows, with dedicated advice and visual displays to further spread awareness, were also run.

Reptiles are very much indicators of the health of our countryside and “What’s That Snake?” gave us an idea of how these indicators were faring.

Resources

The following can be downloaded as pdfs:

What’s That Snake? project was a partnership between Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team (HART) and Herefordshire Nature Trust.

Funding

This project has been generously funded by grants from Malvern Hills AONB, Wye Valley AONB and Heritage Lottery Fund:

                

Ponds & Newts Heritage Network Project

A HART and Herefordshire Nature Trust Project

From June 2012, the Ponds & Newts Heritage Network Project planned to discover, map and survey the network of ponds throughout the north-east section of Herefordshire, including 25 parishes from Colwall and Ledbury, through to Bromyard and Brockhampton. Before the project ends in March 2014 we hope to be able to identify key areas where future pond creation and restoration would be particularly beneficial in providing a good network of habitats.

The project also provided training in surveying ponds and school educational visits within the survey area. The County Council Archeological Department and Herefordshire Biological Records Centre (HBRC) have played a key part in mapping and collating data of project pond records.

In the early stage of the project, public mapping consultation evenings were held in Bromyard, Ledbury, Bishops Frome, Cradley and Colwall. These were useful in helping to locate areas to focus further survey work and to recruit new surveyors. The HBRC produced large scale maps illustrating the historical and surviving ponds within the project area and these maps were taken to the events. The public provided information on ponds they knew about in their area or put forward ponds for survey by studying the maps.

 

What has the project achieved?

To begin with, a series of 5 Pond Survey Training Days were organized covering areas of Ledbury, Bromyard, Mathon, and Ashperton, with a total of 55 people trained as surveyors. The Wildplay team also took part in a pond survey training day and ran pond celebration days at schools and family events at Bringsty Common and Bromyard.

Thirty two people surveyed 50 ponds, including wildlife, stockwatering and dewponds, and even reed bed systems, within grand country estates, on commons, fields or gardens. The most common ponds surveyed were ornamental followed by stockwatering and then wildlife.

Surveyors provided over 860 records from their pond visits and I am impressed and grateful for the dedication and enthusiasm of their efforts.

Ponds were evaluated as to their condition with categories ranging from excellent, where mayfly larva and caddis were present (indicators of clean water conditions), to poor where only midge larva and sludge worms were the species noted. 80% were considered to be in moderate condition with species such as water beetles, damselfly nymphs, backswimmers and amphibians present. 14% were in poor condition, 4% in excellent condition and 2% in very poor condition.

41 ponds out of the 50 had amphibians. The European protected Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) was found in 22% of the ponds with definite breeding evidence in 14% for this species.

One of the best areas, with a good local distribution for great crested newt, was Ashperton, where it was found in five out of six ponds surveyed, and in all three ponds of Ashburton School. The children at the school are extremely passionate about wildlife on the site and thoroughly enjoy pond education days. Great crested newts were also recorded in Bromyard, Ledbury and Aylton. Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) was also recorded in 22% of ponds and newt larva of smooth (Lissotriton vulgaris) or palmate in 16% of ponds.

  • 54% of ponds had 1 species of amphibian present
  • 22% of ponds had 2 species present.
  • 6% of ponds had 3 species present
  • 2% ponds had 4 species present

Seven Common toad (Bufo bufo) breeding locations were identified and five of these had not been recorded before.

One species I am particularly keen to have seen recorded was the grass snake (Natrix natrix) and 2 of these elusive reptiles were actually seen on surveys and one was swimming in the survey pond. On the survey there was evidence of four further sites with breeding grass snake and one site had 100 eggs in an old horse manure pile. This is our most aquatic UK snake and will locate its prey within the pond environment.

Freshwater eels (Anguillia anguillia) were seen in two ponds, one moving up a ditch into a pond in Munsley and another in an old wheel washing pond at Stretton Grandison.

A species I have rarely seen since I was a child is the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), but this was found in 12% of ponds in the areas of Ledbury, Colwall, Stretton Grandison, and Bromyard.

Many of the ponds surveyed are in need of de-silting or restoration work. 10 ponds were 100 years or over, some dating back to the 1600s. Many of these older ponds were in poor condition and all were associated with estates or period buildings.

After experiencing one of the wettest winters in recorded history with areas of the south west flooded since Christmas and the potential for further wet spells in the future, this excess rainwater is running off our intensively grazed and agriculturalised hillside landscape, only to cause problems in low lying areas. In the past all villages had ponds, there were also stockwatering ponds in many fields and roadside drover or wheel washing ponds. Many of these were ephemeral, drying in the hot summers and filling over the wetter winters and early spring, taking up all the excess water. Looking at the maps from this project illustrates a 75% pond loss, largely within the farmland environment. This is shocking as we think of Herefordshire as one of the more rural of counties and less likely to have suffered heavy change like other areas, but ponds have been frequently filled in, replaced by piped water troughs in nearly every field or just neglected leading to a successional damp shady area of willows on the field boundary.

We can reinstate old field ponds or other waterbodies as new ponds. Many wildlife projects are short-lived and do not provide great help, but pond building would be a great legacy. A new project to restore lost ponds and improve connectivity of waterbodies is needed. More ponds are needed to take up future winter rainfall, a simple solution with the added bonus of improving wildlife diversity. Herefordshire clay soils are ideal for digging and puddling, a technique that could be widely taught again.

Hopefully we can further this project by initiating conservation work to increase local pond networks, reducing potential flood issues and providing further valuable habitat.

I would like to finish with a thank you to Francesca Griffith, who oversaw my project, along with two others at the same time. She was instrumental in helping to develop and steer four successful project partnerships between the Trust and Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team over the years.

Nigel Hand
Project Officer

2012 – 2014

HART in partnership with Herefordshire Nature Trust has been awarded a £43,000 grant by Your Heritage, part of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), to run a new Pond Project. Nigel Hand was appointed Project Officer and started on 11 June. The November 2013 Project Newsletter, reporting on progress so far, is available to be downloaded.

This project operates in 25 parishes in north-east Herefordshire between Colwall and the Malverns in the south and Bromyard in the north. First it aims to map where existing parish ponds are and, where possible, past ponds too. In order to gather information about existing and past ponds we’ll run events where we can meet parishioners to share their knowledge of the whereabouts of ponds, and for us to share the importance and value of these ponds in the landscape, and their flora and fauna. The Archaeology Department of Herefordshire Council will be producing a report on the ponds and their historical use in the area. Through all this we hope to inspire people to take an active part in the project.

The project has run four pond training days on how to identify pond species and do surveys; and information about general pond management. Through this, we aimed to promote good management and restoration of existing ponds and to encourage people to dig new ponds.

We are offering free surveys of ponds in the parishes. Any new and restored ponds would enhance the pond network between the two special wildlife areas: the Malvern Hills AONB and Bromyard Down. This is an important aim, as the project specifically will be producing a further new project proposal for creating or restoring up to 15 ponds in the region to enhance that pond network.

The project also has a school education focus with visits to local schools (about 14), engaging children and teachers about ponds, linking the visit with the national curriculum and by providing schools with an educational pack on ponds, covering science, art, history, play, ensuring generations of children are familiar with the outdoors and knowledgeable of the aquatic wonders in their local environment.

We plan to raise awareness and involve the public with up to four events with the HNT Wildplay team and with our stand at a number of major events in the summer such as the Herefordshire Country Fair. As we did for our other projects, we will create some colourful displays, an eye-catching 6 foot high banner with pond and pond life images, and a leaflet to publicise the project and ask for information and volunteers.

Volunteers

If you would like to volunteer or know more about this project, please contact Nigel Hand, Pond Project Officer at Herefordshire Nature Trust on 01432 356872 or 07974 121806, n.hand@herefordshirewt.co.uk.

 

Resources

The teachers pack can be downloaded as a pdf: Ponds & Newts Heritage Network Project Teachers Pack

The following leaflet can be downloaded as a pdf: Discover Your Local Ponds

Previous Project Newsletters are still available:

The Ponds and Newts Heritage Network Project is a partnership between Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team (HART) and Herefordshire Nature Trust.

 

This project has been generously funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Pond Restoration and Celebration Project

March to December 2007, run by HART and Herefordshire Nature Trust

Nearly 300 ponds were surveyed during the Ponds and Newts Project, of which almost 50% supported great crested newts, but a lot of habitat neglect was identified. In response HART was keen to raise the profile of ponds and to restore some with the help of local communities.

So the aims of the Pond Restoration and Celebration Project were to:

  1. restore five ponds that were accessible to the public with the help of local people
  2. set up community-based pond groups for each pond and provide training and support so that they could manage the pond beyond the life of the project
  3. run five awareness-raising pond celebration events at inspirational wildlife ponds

The five pond celebration days were held over the summer months with a large group of helpers and experts from HART, either stationed about the pond enthusing about wildlife, or manning the admin, tea and cakes, and making the events very enjoyable experiences.

The first was at Ashperton in June: a farm walk organised by and in partnership with FWAG to inspire the farming community, with HART volunteers dipping the ponds. Later visitors to Breinton Manor and Westonbury Mill Water Gardens braved the rain, while those at Woodlea and Kenchester Aquatic Centre were more lucky. Many thanks to the owners for all their preparation and for talking to people about the ponds’ creation and management. See photos of some of the events.

The five ponds to be restored were selected for the project prior to its start and had the support of landowners and members of the local community. All had permissive access or public rights of way nearby and were visited by local people. The ponds at Ross on Wye and Holme Lacy fell into the Wye Valley AONB area, and ponds at Madley, Honeymoor Common and Staunton-on-Wye fell into the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ area, thus permitting the funding of the project.

Click the title below for more information:

Madley Moat +

Madley Moat (near the tennis club) had major tree clearance using a combination of contractors and volunteers. The previously closed canopy was opened up so that the sun can get in, lots of debris was dragged out of the water and habitat piles built in different places for the benefit of reptiles and amphibians. It’s now possible to get a vista across open water and even see the shape of the moat, and the water quality looks better already. However the pond will need more hard work by volunteers to manage it for wildlife into the future.

▸ Follow the link for more information about the Restoration of Madley Moat.

Holme Lacy +

At Holme Lacy, the parkland pond has been dug back to its original banks. At the moment it is still separated from the existing pond, but once life has moved in and we are sure it will hold water, the division can be dug out to join the two together again.

Staunton-on-Wye +

At Staunton-on-Wye, the bulrush-choked pond was dug out completely and a shallow margin dug on the southeastern side to increase the draw-down zone and encourage water mint and other good egg-laying plants for newts.

Honeymoor Common +

At Honeymoor Common HART was unable to find a sustainable and affordable way of dealing with the pond that is thick with Crassula. To prevent this highly invasive weed spreading into other watercourses, the pond vegetation and silt needed to be disposed of off-site, but the cost of transporting it to composting or landfill plants was extortionate. However, in the other pond on the common Will Watson found bucket loads of great crested newts, plus a rare beetle and snail, so work was transferred to that one. Work involved digging a scrape in an old pond that was just marsh, cutting down marauding willow and creating habitat piles.

Alton Pond +

Finally, the Welsh Water pond at Ross-on-Wye was subjected to tree management, with pollarding, coppicing and the clearing of willow where it had established in the pond itself.

▸ Follow the link for more information about the Restoration of The Old Reservoir.

 

Thanks

We have had the support of 41 volunteers putting in a tremendous total of 602 hours! Many thanks to all the HART members who have spent time helping with celebration events, pond work and admin!

We are grateful to the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme, the SITA Trust, and the Wye Valley AONB for funding the Pond Restoration and Celebration Project.

    

 

This project was part-financed by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire LEADER+ Programme.