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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!).


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


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. 

Toad Ladder Updates

You may have heard on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, read in the Cambridge Independent or perhaps even read our previous blog but we’ve recently installed some toad ladders into some gully pots in central Cambridge. These were timed too late to catch the initial migration (due to dispatch problems) but they were well timed for the summer migration and the dispersal of this years young. Adults and young alike used the ladders when they fell into gully pots as they dispersed into the surrounding area to forage and prepare for the forthcoming winter ahead.


Toad ladder in a local gully pot with a high level of debris build up

The ladders installed for a short trial period to see how effective they are at preventing toads from drowning within the bottom of gullies. This time was also used to test how they affected the drainage of the gullies, thankfully they had a minimal effect. They proved quite effective at saving toads and we’re happy to say that once they have undergone some light maintenance, they will be reinstalled in the gully pots ready for the toad migration next February. If you’d like to get involved with the monitoring of toads and our toad ladders then please get in touch by emailing


Aunald removes a toad ladder from a gully pot, next to him are a stack removed from other gullies

Thanks must be paid to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Biodiversity Partnership for helping to fund this ongoing project.

Images © Steven Allain

Successful slow worm surveys

Some of you may be aware that we are currently running a project to monitor a population of slow worms (Anguis fragilis) at Wandlebury Country Park. We conducted a number of regular surveys from late spring until early summer during which time we came across only a small number of slow worms. Surveys were then started again this week in the hope of finding this summer’s young. We were blown away by the number of slow worms encountered on our most recent survey and we hope to find just as many in subsequent surveys. When the project is complete we intend to produce an indepth report on our findings. Thank you to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Biodiversity Partnership for funding our work!


A young slow worm from one of our surveys