14 June 2012

Protecting the Dragons of London

Once upon a time, in a city not so far away, tiny dragons crawled through the undergrowth and swam through the ponds, away from the hustle and bustle of the city streets...

London is home to 5 species of native amphibians and 4 species of reptiles listed as UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP), including frogs, newts and lizards and there is currently a severe lack of records on these animals. Now, a £472,500 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will enable Froglife to launch a new project to help people find, identify and map these tiny dragons in London. The four and half year Dragon Finder scheme will involve thousands of local people and see volunteers recording newts, lizards and snakes in the city, improving habitats for them and celebrating these secretive animals.

Great crested and Smooth newts are some of the 'Dragons' that can be spotted in London
  Building on Froglife's previous work highlighting the need to care for urban ponds to benefit newt populations as well as our Big Newt Count featured on this year's Springwatch, the ground breaking new project will run training, habitat creation and fun family events in 32 London Boroughs.

The project will focus on reptile and amphibian species in their natural pond habitats. It is estimated that a third of all amphibian species are threatened worldwide, with the main threats being habitat loss and disease. Over the past 50 years, one third of ponds have disappeared, and a recent report published by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Pond Conservation (Feb 2010) shows that 80% of ponds in England & Wales and in a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ condition.

"Amphibians and reptiles are gorgeous little animals and they're an important part of our natural heritage," explains our charity's Patron Mike Dilger. "Dragon Finder is going to use some really clever ideas to explain the lifecycles and characters of the creatures to new audiences. Hopefully we'll see a new generation of dragon-lovers looking after amphibians and reptiles in the city!"

Sue Bowers, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for London said: “10 out of 14 amphibian and reptile species are protected under the Species Action Plan. Out of these, 6 species including the common toad, great crested newt, adder, grass snake, slow-worm and common lizard are all found in London. We look forward to seeing the results of this project which will address the need to properly map and record these mini dragons whilst providing many opportunities for people of all ages across the city to get involved in the process.”

We will be creating our Life Under the Surface art installations across London to demonstrate the biodiversity of ponds
Starting in October 2012, Dragon Finder events will include our award-winning ‘Life Under the Surface’ art installations, ‘Swimming with Dragons’ events in swimming pools, training for allotment holders, pond creation and habitat management in parks and ‘Dragon Days’ for schools, families and youth groups. An online Living Atlas will also be created so that people can find out more about the animals and where they are, featuring a free mobile phone app for people to identify the animal, add their sightings to the Atlas, and contribute to the much needed record for these animals in the UK.

Watch this space for more news about this exciting project.

Photos: Dave Kilbey and Sam Taylor