27 July 2012

Hedgehogs, Toads and Adders...

Froglife’s Communications Coordinator Sam Taylor has been chatting to author Hugh Warwick about his new book, and the idea of love in relation to animals and the natural world.

"At Froglife’s Tuppence a Toad evening with ZSL in October 2011, I was introduced to a bristly man with twinkly eyes and a tattoo of a hedgehog on his leg. As he was talking about his latest book, it slowly dawned on me who he was, and I interrupted him to blurt out ‘You’re Hedgehog Hugh!’ I promptly dragged him to meet my parents, who embraced him instantly as a member of the family.

It’s not that we have a soft spot for all men with beards and tattoos - we had recently read Hedgehog Hugh Warwick’s ‘A Prickly Affair’, a great piece of nature writing that is humorous, warm, personal and philosophical as well as factual and scientific. The book details Hugh’s love affair with hedgehogs, through his research and campaigning, and explores the lives of these bristly, bright-eyed animals.
Hedgehog Hugh Warwick meets a Toad
Hugh was decorated with a hedgehog tattoo (his “first and last tattoo”) as part of the ExtInked project, recruiting ambassadors to stand up for species at risk of extinction. Hugh and I were chatting at the toad event about a new quest he had undertaken – following declarations of love from other animal specialists, experts and enthusiasts, he embarked on a journey to meet the animal worthy of being his “second and last” tattoo. Last week, I was lucky enough to spend some time interviewing Hugh for the next edition of Natterchat, and hearing him talk about his new book at an event in Blackwells in Oxford.

'The Beauty in the Beast' details Hugh’s meetings with 15 wildlife obsessives, introducing him to the beauty, drama and daily lives of 15 British wildlife species. Having encountered bats, otters, water voles, badgers, dolphins and dragonflies, Hugh also meets Adders with expert Bernard Dawson and Common toads with educator Gordon MacLellan. The human characters are brought to life as vividly as the animals they introduce to Hugh. Sadly, the Badger Man Gareth Morgan passed away last week, and anyone who reads the book will mourn the loss of this passionate wildlife lover.

The book raises interesting questions about human relationships with other animals, and what makes someone switch on to the beauty of the natural world. Hugh’s search is for the wildlife equivalent of ‘the boy or girl next door’, someone you get to know and fall in love with rather than an out-of-reach, 'celebrity' animal like a lion or a polar bear.  Quoting Stephen Jay Gould, the book examines love or empathy for wildlife as a motivator for conservation action, exploring the idea that we will save the things we love and we love the things that we get close to.

I won’t give the end away - it’s a brilliant read, and really brings home the diversity of weird and wonderful creatures (and people!) we still have in the UK. It also resonates with Froglife’s work, helping new people come face-to-face with amphibians and reptiles with the aim of engaging them in saving these incredible animals and their habitats."

Photo: Hugh Warwick

23 July 2012

Another Great Leap for Amphibians in Glasgow!

Froglife has recently been awarded £74,000 of funding from Glasgow City Council’s Landfill Community Fund to continue our important work creating and restoring ponds across the city. This is excellent news for the city’s amphibian residents as it will allow us to continue the tremendous work of the Living Water Project, and turn 6 more green-space sites into havens for amphibians.

Froglife's Living Waters Project has been resoring and creating beautiful ponds across Glasgow and North Lanarkshire

The Living Water project previously created 20 new ponds and restored a further 27 across Glasgow. Project staff are now looking forward to getting stuck into the new sites, but as always will be looking for volunteers to lend a hand.

“This is another great step towards improving the city for amphibians and it has been brilliant to see people’s enthusiasm for what we are trying to achieve," says James Stead, Living Water Field Worker.  "The new sites are a really nice mix of urban parks, allotments, and local nature reserves and will offer plenty of opportunities for volunteers to help with building and surveying new ponds. We hope that by inspiring others about the work we do and the species we work with, this will create a lasting enthusiasm to protect and sustain the habitats which amphibians and reptiles depend upon.”

Volunteering your time not only benefits habitats and species, but enriches a community and brings us closer together

The pond plans for the 6 new sites (Queens Park, Festival Park, Bellahouston Walled Garden, Mansewood Park Allotments, Bishops Loch and Hurlet Hill) involve not just pond creation, but also creating toad ramps from a formal boating pond, relining ponds on allotments, and creating winter hibernation sites.

So much of our work couldn’t be completed without the dedication of volunteers and we hope you will join us again to help make a difference!

- The volunteer sessions are a great way to learn new skills, meet new people, get fit and have fun!
- All upcoming events are advertised on Froglife’s website here
- If you want to find out a bit more, or register your interest, you can email Iain.Maclean@froglife.org or call 07772 318950
- You could also come and meet the Froglife team at the Mansewood Park Allotment open day on 12th August 12:00-16:00, where we will be running a ‘Pond Doctor’ session to answer people’s pond questions.  Get in touch with Iain to find out more

16 July 2012

Ambassadors Revamp Museum Garden

Froglife’s Wildlife Ambassadors project has been transforming green spaces all over Peterborough, with help from volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. The project aims to introduce new audiences to wildlife, conservation and gardening and help improve people’s mental health and options in life.  It is funded by Access to Nature.

The latest group have been working their magic on the garden space behind the City’s revamped museum, creating medicinal herb gardens with plants from different periods in history.
The Museum garden before...

The Museum garden after 6 weeks of hard work
“The whole Ambassadors team has been swatting up on herbs and native plants!” explains Project Officer Laura Brady. “We have worked really hard creating raised beds and an accessible path from scratch, as well as a developing a wildlife-friendly corner. Seeing their impact on this previously neglected area has really boosted the group’s confidence and skills.”

A big thank you to all the Ambassadors and volunteers involved in the project!

You can come along and see the final results of the team’s hard work at special open days at the Museum, where the Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, early 20th Century and Dig for Victory gardens will be visited by a Tudor housewife and a Victorian doctor!

Join Froglife at Peterborough Museum’s free garden events:

Wednesday 25th July—1:30 till 4:30pm
Thursday 26th July—1:30 till 4:30pm
Peterborough Museum, Priestgate, Peterborough, PE1 1LF

Photos: Laura Brady

13 July 2012

Dragons on the Move

Following the fantastic news that Froglife’s London Dragon Finder Project has successfully received funding from HLF, we are delighted to announce plans to develop a Scottish version of the exciting project.
Reptiles like the Common lizard are amongst the animals set to benefit from the new Scottish project
“Since starting Froglife’s first Scottish project in 2009, people from all over Scotland have been asking Froglife if projects will be rolled out into their local area so we knew there was a demand for raising awareness of amphibians, reptiles and their habitats,” explains Eilidh Spence from Froglife. “Recording of these species is poor in some rural areas in Scotland so this is also something we are keen to improve - more information leads to improved conservation.”

“Froglife will be tailoring the Dragon Finder project to reach out to the diverse areas of Scotland and planning future learning and conservation activities,” adds Kathy Wormald, Froglife’s CEO. “We will be looking for new partnerships and areas to work in throughout mainland Scotland. It’s a really exciting opportunity for us and for future conservation of amphibians and reptiles.”

The development phase will last until March 2013 when an application will be submitted to HLF for a main grant. If successful, Froglife aims to start delivery of this four and a half year project towards the end of 2013. Some of the exciting new activities that will be developed include:

• Urban Tails exhibitions created by local primary schools and community groups demonstrating what amphibians and reptiles you could find in your local area
• Dragons on the Move road shows travelling around mainland Scotland to deliver fun sessions on how to identify and record different ‘dragons’
• Dragons in the Hills events with outdoor pursuit enthusiasts to improve recording in more remote areas of the country
• Habitat creation and restoration work
• Creation of a Living Atlas, mapping sightings and stories about amphibians and reptiles.

For more information on the Dragon Finder Project in London click here

If your organisation or group would be interested in being involved with future Scottish Dragon Finder activities please contact Froglife’s CEO Kathy Wormald Kathy.wormald@froglife.org.

11 July 2012

Dragon of the Month: Slow-worm

Froglife is featuring a different 'dragon' every month in 2012 to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dragon.  This month, Living Water Officer Iain Maclean has been investigating an often misunderstood repltile, the Slow-worm. 

"Having a look into the reputation of the Slow-worm in the past, it is surprising to learn that it was once considered a venomous and evil creature to be killed and cut up when encountered. Also called the blind worm, it pops up in Shakespeare’s Macbeth where the ‘blind worm’s sting’ is a potent ingredient of the witches cauldron. Another old name of the Slow-worm is ‘deaf adder’ which may be a biblical reference to a venomous snake so wicked it could not be charmed or tamed. As well as this in some fairytales the Slow-worm is said to be forever searching and seeking vengeance for the nightingale after losing its legendary single eye to the bird, hence the reason the nightingale must stay alert all night in song.

In fact the Slow-worm is a benign and beautiful creature (with two eyes!), and presents no real danger to humans. It is more closely related to lizards than snakes, having lost its legs in an example of convergent evolution. Its smooth body allows it to glide through vegetation and catch small soft bodied insects such as slugs; and it can therefore be a welcome predator of pests in the gardens it frequently inhabits. Although Slow-worms may try and sting with the horny tip of their tail when handled, the sting is not venomous and unable to pierce the skin, and in fact when frightened they are just as likely to shed their tail in order to escape.

The name Slow-worm itself is also misleading, as they can move very fast when prompted. Some sources claim the name actually originates from the Anglo Saxon word slay (or slaw) as in a worm which kills (or perhaps a slayer of worms!) or as a slow ‘wrym’ (snake like creature) in comparison to snake species. However the origins of the name and of alternative names such as blind worm are far from clear.

Whatever may be in a name, the Slow-worm is a fascinating creature, and one frequently found in close proximity to humans. It can be the reptile people are most likely to encounter in their daily lives, and can therefore be seen as perhaps our best chance to appreciate the beauty of reptilian beings."

Dragon Factfile: Slow-worm
(Anguis fragilis)

Juvenile and female Slow-worms have a darker stripe along their backs

• The slow worm gives birth to live young (ovovivipary); eggs are hatched within the female’s body.
• Slow-worms can live for decades; the record is a Slow-worm in Copenhagen zoo who lived for 54 years! Although they are expected to live for much less in the wild.
• Slow-worms are vulnerable to predation by cats. The level of predation can have an important effect on local distribution.

Slow-worms have unique head markings and, unlike snakes, they have eyelids 

• Slow-worms range in colour from grey to brown to bronze
• Males are grey-brown, sometimes with blue flecks
• Females are golden brown with a darker underbelly and sides
• Females and juveniles often have a darker stripe along their back
• They can be 4-45cm in length 

Male Slow-worms are grey-brown and sometimes have blue flecks amongst their markings
Differences between Slow-worms and snakes
• Eyes which blink (snakes cannot blink)
• Broad flat tongue with notched tip (snakes have a flickering forked tongue)
• Blunt tail tip (snake tails taper to a fine point)
• Skin with smooth scales, skin appears shiny and polished (snakes have rougher, clearly defined scales).

Photos: Jules Howard and Sivi Sivanesan

9 July 2012

What YOU Can Do for Wildlife: Part 7

As we have shown through the list of our 12 favourite ideas for actions to help amphibians and reptiles in 2012, there are all sorts of indoor and outdoor things you can do to get involved. One of the key things that the conservation sector needs more of in general is funding, and this is something you can help with too.

Idea Number 7. Fundraising

Every penny donated helps support Froglife's conservation and education work
Froglife exists thanks to a range of funders – Froglife Friends who support us with annual donations, people and organisations who give one off donations, grant makers who fund projects and people who pay us to undertake conservation work for them. Every penny helps us to continue or work conserving animals and habitats, and introducing new audiences to conservation.

The whole team gets involved in fundraising, whether it’s developing a new project and writing a bid, or something more personal. Staff and volunteers have undertake swims and runs, and Froglifer Laura Brady ran a half marathon for us in 2011. “I chose to do it for the challenge,” says Laura. “I’d do more challenges in the future as it’s something that really benefits you and wildlife. You finally push yourself to do something you’ve always wanted to, for a purpose more than just yourself!”

We really appreciate everything that people can do, directly and indirectly, to help us raise funds. A big thank you goes to all of our Facebook fans who recently helped us to win a £1,500 donation by voting for us in a competition by pet insurance company Animal Friends.

Here are some ideas if you fancy getting involved in helping support amphibians, reptiles and habitats, many of which can be fun too!

• Undertake a sponsored challenge like Laura and fundraise through Virgin Money Giving
Contact us for a Froglife fundraising jar
• Hold a non uniform day at school
• Organise a bake or crafts sale asking for donations for homemade goodies
• Go to a car boot sale to get rid of some of your clutter
• Organise a music event like Froglifer Jodie Coomber, who combined her love of rock music with fundraising at our Reptiles Rock event last year - thanks to the band Cobra who donated ticket sales and donations from the night!
• Open your garden and ask for donations
Take part in Bridge PR's Pinterest competition and pin your bridge pictures
• Set up a legacy donation for Froglife in your will, or have a memorial collection rather than flowers
Shop with us online
Sign up and shop through Every Click, and online stores will donate on your behalf
Enter our Great Crafted Newt competition
Make an online donation at Ploink
Sponsor a project at The Big Give
Download the Froglife song
Sign up as a Froglife Friend
Make an online donation

How did you get on? Have you got any top tips for others having a go at fundraising? Please do share your tips and stories with us.

Photo: Laura Brady

4 July 2012

Drains Causing Problems for Amphibians

Froglife's Public Engagement Officer Sivi Sivanesan has been finding out more about some research into protecting amphibians from falling down drainage pots at the side of roads.

“Roadside gullypots can act as pitfall traps when animals fall through the grid at road level.  ... Once trapped it is unlikely that the animals will be able to escape or survive for any length of time.”  - Perth and Kinross Council, 2012

“Perth & Kinross Council Countryside Ranger Service have been conducting a study since 2010 to quantify the effect of roadside drainage gullypots on amphibians. Here’s a quick summary of their interesting results:

• In 2010 69% of the 322 gullypots checked contained wildlife - 641 amphibians, 56 mammals and 1 bird
• In 2011 63% of the 636 gullypots checked contained wildlife –1087 amphibians and 114 mammals
• Common toads formed the largest proportion of the trapped animals in both years
• Surprisingly the majority of animals were found in August and September rather than the breeding migrations of spring.

A possible way forward
The study has continued into 2012. The Ranger service obtained ACO wildlife kerbs via funding from the SITA Trust. These kerbs have a recess which allows wildlife to bypass the entrance to the gullypot.
A wildilfe kerb in place by a gullypot
If the wildlife kerbs are shown to be successful in the current study (as they have in other locations), Perth and Kinross Council Roads Section is interested in using them in suitable locations. This Council could set a precedent to help save toads at significantly important crossings by replacing old kerb stones with wildlife ones.

One way to help if you are concerned about wildlife and drains in your area is through joining your Toad Patrol, sending in your data for toad crossings and also making notes on where the gullypots are affecting amphibians and the number of animals you help remove from them.  Do let me know about any issues in your local area."

•  More information about the study is available here
•  The 2010 survey report can be found here and the 2011 report here 
•  More information about Toads on Roads can be found at the Froglife website here

2 July 2012

Wildlife Gardening Tips

Rebecca Neal is running Froglife's Green Pathways project.  As she tackles her reputation as World's Worst Gardener, she's discovering the things we can all do to help amphibians, reptiles and other wildlife at home...
"Its not that I don’t like gardens or that I underestimate their importance (gardens are one of the few habitats that are actually increasing) I am just a bit rubbish at gardening! However, in my job, there is a need for me to learn more and help young people create wildlife gardens in their local area.  So I have been swotting up to find these top tips:
1.     Stop mowing! Or at least do less of it. You could mow your whole grassy area less often or even better, leave wilder bits around the edges. Areas of longer grass are great for invertebrates and therefore anything that eats them, like newts. 
2.     Provide water. A pond would be brilliant and provides habitat for lots of stuff. If a traditional pond is out of the question, you could use anything in your garden to hold water; an old sink or just a plastic window box. As long as you provide a way for things like newts  to get in and out like a pile of stones. You could collect rain water to top up your pond. Or you could just put out a dish of water for birds to drink or wash in.
Honeysuckle is great for bees
3.     Grow nectar and berries. Native is best. Try to plant a variety so that there is always something in flower. Ivy is good because its late flowering and provides late berries and my absolute favourite plant, honeysuckle, is also favoured  by lots of things.
4.     Create hiding places. This could be anything from a log to a bug hotel, a pile of leaves or a rockery. Planting a native hedge provides all sorts of hidey holes. Try hawthorn or blackthorn which have beautiful early blossom and berries.
5.     Make a compost heap. Retiles love it!"

Rebecca will be sharing more tips as she practices her wildlife gardening.  In the meantime, here are some good places to look for further advice on gardening with wildlife in mind: