Making Cambridge’s newt crossings more visible

One of the great things about CPARG is that we have some relatively long-term datasets for sites that we monitor around Cambridge. One of these in Chesterton, Cambridge was subject to a article published in the Herpetological Bulletin in 2016 written by CPARG’s very own Steven Allain and former member Liam Smith. The article reported on the mortality of smooth newts on a cycle path along the River Cam where newts were being run over by cyclists on their annual migration to their breeding ponds. You may remember a similar post from last year where we announced that we’d made the crossing more visible by erected some signs under the permission of the local council. This got a project student at Anglia Ruskin University interested and she’s been busy monitoring the crossing for us – the dry and cold weather hasn’t helped but we hope her results will be worth sharing!


One of the signs attached to a nearby post along the cycle path

If you’d like to get involved with the monitoring, or would like some similar signs of your own to erect in an area near you then please get in touch!


The 100th Conversazione!

Many of you will recognise that CPARG actively takes part in outreach across the county in a number of forms. One of these is the Cambridge Natural History Society Conversazione, which this year celebrated it 100th event! Of course these haven’t been consecutive because for a number of reasons including two world wars. For the 100th Conversazione (conversation in Italian) there were 100 exhibits including one from Sir David Attenborough himself, although he wasn’t in attendance. This year the event was held in the very familiar Elementary Labs on Friday 12th April and Saturday 13th April.

It has always made more sense to me for the event to be called the ‘conservazione’ which is Italian for conservation. It wasn’t until this event that I discovered the true meaning of the event’s name. The event is of course designed to get people to talk about their research and conservation projects to one another and the general public – so of course conversazione is the ideal name for such a gathering! Six members of CPARG were in attendance across the two days (five are pictured below) with many attendees visiting the stand to ask a whole host of questions and share their experiences. We’ve still got to follow some of these up but we are getting there!

If you’d like to help out at the next Conversazione or a similar event, please do get in touch!

From left to right: Terry Moore, Mark Goodman, Helen Moore, Mario Shimbov and Steven Allain.

Gearing up for slow worm surveys

With the days beginning to draw out and spring on our heels we made our first visit to Wandlebury Country Park on Saturday 16th March, to set up the felts for our new extended survey this year for slow worms. We’ve been surveying the slow worms at the site for a couple of years now and it’s time we expanded the survey area to learn more about the population. So far our surveys have been restricted to one particular area where intensive surveys have revealed the demographics of a snapshot of the population.


Some of the team lay out new refugia and mark their location using a  handheld GPS device

Overall, we put out another 50 tiles with the aim to seeing to what extent they occur within the site.  We also took the chance to replace some of the more worn felts within our existing study area, which we plan to continue surveying, as we have over the past three years.


A replacement felt being laid within the existing survey area

Once everything has had chance to bed-in, the vegetation grow and temperatures rise, we will start our surveys on Saturday 30th March and will continue throughout April and May.  So if you would like come along and get involved please get in touch!

Photos © Mario Shimbov

Herpy New Year!

The second Saturday of 2019 marked the beginning of our work parties in the New Year, designed to help improve habitats for local amphibians and reptiles. Ten enthusiastic volunteers joined our task at the Cherry Pond, Wandlebury Country Park. Members of CPARG and staff from Cambridge Past, Present & Future all came along to take part in a habitat management and pond restoration project. Our overall aim was to improve the habitat for the amphibians that breed in the pond by removing any plants which had become overgrown. We also worked to remove the invasive swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii) and thinned out other aquatic plants that grow in the pond.


The team hard at work at one corner of the pond

Other work was carried out to help clear the water from organic and inorganic debris and make the habitat suitable for reptiles such as the Grass snake (Natrix helvetica) by creating compost heaps and other refugia by the banks. Refugia are important for both amphibians and reptiles and by creating those the chances for the animals’ survival are higher. Along with this, the area surrounding the pond was intensively managed by removing ivy and reducing the coverage of brambles which had taken over the vegetation. This also had the bonus effect of opening up more space for monitoring the site during surveys in the new season.


Work was also carried out inside the pond to help remove overgrown and invasive vegetation


On the day, we saw a small number of smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris) in the pond, which whilst exciting is also worrying. If you’d like to get involved with the monitoring of the amphibians at Wandlebury – please do get in touch. Finally, I would like to take the chance and say thank you very much to all those who came along and helped make such an impact for local amphibians.

All photos © Mario Shimbov 2019

Slow worm winter works

On Saturday 1st December we reached the culmination of our slow worm monitoring at Wandlebury Country Park for 2018 when members of CPARG and staff from Cambridge Past, Present & Future (CPPF) carried out some habitat management to benefit the species at the site. For those of you that haven’t been following the project, over the past couple of years we have been monitoring an introduced population of slow worms at the site to investigate their population dynamics and ensure they are breeding. This involves regular surveys to count individuals but also to collect biometric data.


Some of the team taking a minute to appreciate the progress that they’ve made

The focus of our work was to reduce the coverage of brambles and create more scrub edges as well as beginning to control the spread of non-native plant species such as periwinkle and Chinese lantern. These had recently started to take over the site, along with large patches of brambles and mint which made it both hard to survey and reduced the habitat suitability for the slow worms. We aim to continue our monitoring in 2019 and extend our surveys across the park; so if you are interested in helping out look out for more details in the New Year. Finally, thanks to everyone who came and help get the site ready for the coming survey season.


One of the many areas that was opened up to facilitate monitoring next year

Guest blog post by Iain Bray

Where did the midwife toads come from?

Regular readers of this blog and those familiar with the projects we are currently involved will know that we are heavily involved with research into the midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans). We have been studying a population of the toads in central Cambridge since 2015 and have so far conducted population surveys and disease screening. We were also curious about where the toads originated, so last year we took some DNA samples from some of the toads (by using a cotton swab to remove loose cells from the mouths of the toads) for analysis. Using our CSI-like approach we were able to deduce that the toads originated in northern Spain, after comparing their DNA sequences with a online reference database.

This was a surprising result as it has long been assumed that all midwife toads in the UK have a French origin. After presenting the results at a couple of conferences, it got us thinking. How many independent introductions have there been of midwife toads in the UK and are they all the same species? Now we are involved in national monitoring program with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and the Herpetological Society of Ireland in order to answer these questions. We are currently crowdfunding the lab costs for this project, a link to our GoFundMe page can be found here. If you you could please share the link among your networks we would be very appreciative.

The project is only possible thanks to the cooperation and collaboration from other ARGs and interested individuals – so thank you.


One of the Cambridge midwife toads from which a DNA sample was taken

Midwife toad surveys resume!

As I’m sure many of you are aware, we are currently swabbing the Cambridge midwife toads for the presence of a deadly fungus. The results from our 2017 swabbing efforts have recently been published online and they can be found here. With the unusually cold start to the spring, the toads have only just started to become active. Luckily, on our first survey we found  toad and we will continue to survey them until the end of the survey season. Keep an eye out here for updates!

Toad 1

One of the toads swabbed so far during the 2018 season

Wandlebury Slow worm Surveys Continue!

This May saw members of CPARG returning to Wandlebury Country Park to continue the monitoring for a second year of an introduced slow worm population within a small area of the site.  Two surveys have been carried out so far and will continue throughout the summer and early autumn on a bi-weekly basis.

Already the results are up on numbers found last year, with a maximum count of 15 during the late May survey.  These were mostly juvenile reptiles; however, adults were also found, including a mating pair, which is positive sign for the continuation of the population found there.

In addition to the count we are also recording basic biometric information including weight and length (using photographs and ImageJ software) as well as keeping headshots of the adults to help build up a record of the individuals within the study area.

Slow Worm

Slow worm in a tupperware box

Guest CPARG Blog by Iain Bray

CPARG at the 99th Conversazione

I’m sure that many of our readers from around the Cambridge are will be aware of the annual event that the Cambridge Natural History Society (CNHS) puts on each year, called the Conversazione – the Italian word for conversation. CPARG has been in attendance for the past 3 years now and this year was our biggest and best year yet!


A view from one side of our stand

This year, on the final event before it’s centenary (or should that be centenario?), we had the highest number of engagements with members of the public. We also had the largest stand we’ve had at any event, that may have something to do with it – but my personal opinion is down to the moved timing of the event. Usually the Conversazione takes places in July, but this year it took place on the 6th and 7th of April. This is important to our success as this is about the time when people start to notice that amphibians and reptiles are active in their gardens. Hopefully we will have an even bigger stand next year and even more engagements!


The other side of our stand – it really was something!

If you’d like to help out a similar event then please do get in touch!

CPARG’s 2018 AGM

CPARG successfully held it’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Wednesday 4th April at All Saints Church, Milton. At the meeting a new Toads on Roads Officer and Secretary were elected, due to the previous position holders stepping down from these roles. Treasurer Helen Moore provided everyone in attendance with new’s of CPARG’s finances before Chairman Steven Allain gave a talk about the past 5 years in which CPARG has been active following it’s reformation in November 2012. The talk went down a treat and hopefully a number of new people will be getting involved with CPARG’s activities across the county in the coming year. If you’d like to get involved with any of our events or training then please get in touch!

AGM 2018

Chairman Steven Allain about to start his talk – Photo credit: Sarah Coulson