Newt crossings made visible!

Some of you may have read a piece published in the Herpetological Bulletin in 2016 written by CPARG’s very own Steven Allain and Liam Smith. The piece of research reported on the mortality of smooth newts on a cycle path along the River Cam where newts were being struck by cyclists on their annual migration to their breeding ponds. Unfortunately the mitigation we planned to implement was impossible due to access rights and getting the right land owner permission. Instead we’ve taken a different approach to address the problem at Riverside Bridge. We’ve installed a small number of signs to let cyclists and other members of the public know that newts are crossing in the area (see below). We’re hoping that this will help to reduce the number of deaths and we will be monitoring the effectiveness of this measure over the next couple of months to see if this intervention is working or not. If you’d like to get involved with the monitoring then please get in touch!

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One of the newt signs in-situ – Photo: Mark Goodman

If you want to read the original research you can by searching for the publication online:

Allain, S. J. R. & Smith, L. T. (2016). Newt mortalities on an urban cycle path. Herpetological Bulletin, 138, 27-28.

 

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Over 30 local residents have come together to help the plight of the Common toad

Volunteers are poised to help the once common toad to their breeding pond in east Cambridge. Last year, over 85,000 toads were saved across the country from the dangers of rush hour traffic and gritted roads.

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A pair of common toads that were safely returned to their breeding pond last year

 Armed with torches and buckets, volunteers are set to wait a little while longer to scoop up the toads from the roads as they make their way from surrounding gardens and public areas to the very pond they were born in. With a freezing Artic blast forecast next week sending temperatures below zero, it is more than likely the toads will continue to put off their migration until temperatures rise again above 5 degrees Celsius. Something, I’m sure volunteers and toads alike will be looking forward to!

 To join the east Cambridge toad patrol, email camtoadpatrol@gmail.com for more details or follow us on twitter at @camtoadpatrol . Listen again to our BBC Radio Cambridgeshire interview at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05x0b1f

Guest blog by Robert Day – Coordinator of the Cambridge Toad Patrol

Cambridgeshire’s amphibians are active!

You may remember last week’s post regarding the fact that newts were active at Cambridge City Crematorium despite the cold weather. Due to the relatively warm weather and rain that we’ve been having we felt it was a good idea to check whether or not other amphibians from the other sites we monitor are also awake from their winter slumber. Four sites were checked on the evening of Valentine’s Day in the hope that some amphibians were well on their way to amplexus. Unfortunately some frogs were found but not in great numbers but it still shows that amphibians are starting to move towards their breeding ponds. It would seem we’ve managed to catch things just before the explosion of frogs, toads and newts that appear out of no where in order to breed. Please remember to take care when out at night near ponds not to disturb them and if you do see any, don’t forget to submit sighting reports via RecordPool.

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One of the common frogs seen whilst checking the breeding ponds

The newts are active!

A couple of nights ago myself and a couple of our volunteers made a quick preliminary survey of the ponds at Cambridge City Crematorium. As you may remember they have recently been worked on and the two ponds we stripped out have now been relined. They have also full up with pond water and been fitted with some native vegetation that should start growing when the weather warms up. Something else you’ve probably realised is that the weather hasn’t been the most productive for amphibians but we decided to check the ponds anyway as amphibians have been active and have even started breeding in certain areas of the UK. It was -1°C when we visited the ponds (one of them was even frozen over) but despite this the newts were active!

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Great crested newts in one of the ponds

You’ll have to excuse me for the poor mobile quality photos but it really isn’t what we were expecting. Over 30 smooth newts and 15 great crested newts were seen in the two untouched ponds, with most of them being male. Two two newly renovated ponds had no amphibians present but were slowly being colonised by other pond life. It’s likely that these will be used by frogs and toads to breed in this year due to the lack of predators such as newts (if the newts don’t gradually move in). We’ll keep you updated on future surveys and what we find as well as ways that you can help by getting involved.

Images © Steven Allain

CPARG’s Research at the JSM 2017

On the 2nd December, CPARG Chairman Steven Allain presented a talked titled ‘Investigating the presence of the amphibian chytrid fungus in a non-native species’ at the Joint Scientific Meeting. This was held at the Bournemouth Natural Science Society museum and organised by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) and the British Herpetological Society (BHS). The event is always a very popular one day conference with science and research based presentations from the UK and overseas. Steven presented data from the Cambridge midwife toad project from the past two years including the origins of the project. The talk was very well received and there were a number of questions asked afterwards regarding the future of the project.

Steven presenting his talk – Photo credit: Darren Naish

Preparing crematorium ponds for new liners: Part II

You may have seen in an earlier post that we were recently involved with some restoration work of ponds at Cambridge City Crematorium. What I failed to mention before is that we didn’t just rock up and rip out the ponds, months of planning and preparation went into the hard work we did over that weekend. First of all, because the site is known to be home to a large population of great crested newts and because the chances of encountering them was quite high – we had to apply for a conservation licence from Natural England to allow us to disturb them when removing the ponds.

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The purpose built hibernaculum close-by to ponds

Another issue is where do you put amphibians if you find them? For that the team at Cambridge City Crematorium really outdid themselves. They built the hibernaculum pictured above, make from old paving slabs, turf and some top soil. It is the ideal location for amphibians to hunker down for the winter and hibernate. When we encountered amphibians whilst removing the ponds, if they were in their terrestrial phase they were relocated to this purpose built amphibian hotel. If they were found within the ponds we were working in, they were moved 10 metres to one of the other ponds.

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A common frog, which was relocated to one of the other ponds

We are hoping to start surveying again in the spring to see how long it takes the newts to recolonise the freshly lined ponds so keep an eye out for our updates!

Midwife toads and the CNHS

On the 23rd November, CPARG Chairman Steven Allain gave an interesting talk on the research CPARG has been doing in Cambridge in terms of investigating the presence of the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans). This was held in partnership with the Cambridge Natural History Society and held at the David Attenborough Building. To begin with, he spoke about the various amphibian infectious diseases that are currently having negative effects on amphibian populations world wide. This was then used to put the local midwife toad research into context, as audience was quite mixed the extra information allowed everyone to understand why the project was initiated and why which methods were used. There was a great turn out of 70 people or so, all of whom said that they really enjoyed the talk. After the talk, both the speaker and attendees retreated to The Hopbine for some food and a few drinks before further points were discussed.

 

Preparing crematorium ponds for new liners

Those of you that are well aware of the sites that CPARG actively surveys will know that one of these is Cambridge City Crematorium. This site is home to a large population of great crested newts (Triturus cristatus) as well as smooth newts (Lissotriton vulgaris), common frogs (Rana temporaria) and common toads (Bufo bufo). Unfortunately the ponds are a number of years old and maintaining their concrete lining was becoming too much for the crematorium management team. It was therefore decided under our supervision that that the ponds should be removed in their current form and relined before the spring comes around.

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One of the ponds before work began

There are four ornamental ponds present at the crematorium, it was decided that two of these would be renovated this season and the other two in a coming one (depending how successful the first two were). It took two days to remove both of the ponds and all of their contents, making sure to carefully remove any wildlife out of harms way (including great crested newts thanks to a conservation licence granted by Natural England). Some mechanical machines were brought in to help but progress was quickly made. Below are some photos outlining the steps taken by the team to prepare each pond for their new liners (coming soon!).

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Sifting through the leaf litter from the bottom of the ponds for wildlife

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Clearing gravel and sludge from the bottom of a pond after it being drained

Crowdfunding for chytrid

Some of you may be aware that we have been crowdfunding in order to help pay for the analysis of our chytrid swabs from the midwife toads. We reached our target over the weekend and since  we’ve still got over a week to go until the crowdfunder ends – we’ve added some ‘Stretch Targets’. People can still pledge money towards the project and our added targets include further costs that we didn’t initially think of such as postage and equipment such as gloves.

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Members of the team swabbing a midwife toad for the chytrid fungus

We have been blown away by the response and support we have received from everyone. I’d like to take this time to thank all of our backers for helping make this important work become a reality.

Stories from Singapore

On 22nd September, Noel Thomas from Singapore visited Cambridge to present a talk for CPARG members and interested members of the public. Noel’s talk was titled ‘The Herpetological Chronicles – Of Kings and Dragons’, which highlighted the herpetofauna of Singapore as well as some other locations in south-east Asia Noel has carried out research. The talk was well attended and quite informal meaning lots of questions were asked along the way.o 

Noel introduces his talk


We’re currently putting our winter talk program together so please keep an eye out for updates. We’d like to thank Anglia Ruskin University for hosting the event and to Noel for agreeing to present a talk for us.