Learn about Amphibians and Reptiles
Help to conserve them and their habitats.
Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team (HART) is dedicated to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles in Herefordshire. We aim to encourage people to learn about, protect and conserve these animals and their habitats. Our activities include recording the distribution and population size of amphibians and reptiles throughout Herefordshire, conservation work such as pond restoration, workshops and training days, talks and visits, providing advice on pond and habitat conservation and identifying threats to local habitats.
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Ponds and Newts Heritage Network Project
A HART and Herefordshire Nature Trust Project
From June 2012, the Ponds & Newts Heritage Network Project planned to discover, map and survey the network of ponds throughout the north-east section of Herefordshire, including 25 parishes from Colwall and Ledbury, through to Bromyard and Brockhampton. Before the project ends in March 2014 we hope to be able to identify key areas where future pond creation and restoration would be particularly beneficial in providing a good network of habitats.
The project also provided training in surveying ponds and school educational visits within the survey area. The County Council Archeological Department and Herefordshire Biological Records Centre (HBRC) have played a key part in mapping and collating data of project pond records.
In the early stage of the project, public mapping consultation evenings were held in Bromyard, Ledbury, Bishops Frome, Cradley and Colwall. These were useful in helping to locate areas to focus further survey work and to recruit new surveyors. The HBRC produced large scale maps illustrating the historical and surviving ponds within the project area and these maps were taken to the events. The public provided information on ponds they knew about in their area or put forward ponds for survey by studying the maps.
What has the project achieved?
To begin with, a series of 5 Pond Survey Training Days were organized covering areas of Ledbury, Bromyard, Mathon, and Ashperton, with a total of 55 people trained as surveyors. The Wildplay team also took part in a pond survey training day and ran pond celebration days at schools and family events at Bringsty Common and Bromyard.
Thirty two people surveyed 50 ponds, including wildlife, stockwatering and dewponds, and even reed bed systems, within grand country estates, on commons, fields or gardens. The most common ponds surveyed were ornamental followed by stockwatering and then wildlife.
Surveyors provided over 860 records from their pond visits and I am impressed and grateful for the dedication and enthusiasm of their efforts.
Ponds were evaluated as to their condition with categories ranging from excellent, where mayfly larva and caddis were present (indicators of clean water conditions), to poor where only midge larva and sludge worms were the species noted. 80% were considered to be in moderate condition with species such as water beetles, damselfly nymphs, backswimmers and amphibians present. 14% were in poor condition, 4% in excellent condition and 2% in very poor condition.
41 ponds out of the 50 had amphibians. The European protected Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) was found in 22% of the ponds with definite breeding evidence in 14% for this species.
One of the best areas, with a good local distribution for great crested newt, was Ashperton, where it was found in five out of six ponds surveyed, and in all three ponds of Ashburton School. The children at the school are extremely passionate about wildlife on the site and thoroughly enjoy pond education days. Great crested newts were also recorded in Bromyard, Ledbury and Aylton. Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) was also recorded in 22% of ponds and newt larva of smooth (Lissotriton vulgaris) or palmate in 16% of ponds.
• 54% of ponds had 1 species of amphibian present
• 22% of ponds had 2 species present.
• 6% of ponds had 3 species present
• 2% ponds had 4 species present
Seven Common toad (Bufo bufo) breeding locations were identified and five of these had not been recorded before.
One species I am particularly keen to have seen recorded was the grass snake (Natrix natrix) and 2 of these elusive reptiles were actually seen on surveys and one was swimming in the survey pond. On the survey there was evidence of four further sites with breeding grass snake and one site had 100 eggs in an old horse manure pile. This is our most aquatic UK snake and will locate its prey within the pond environment.
Freshwater eels (Anguillia anguillia) were seen in two ponds, one moving up a ditch into a pond in Munsley and another in an old wheel washing pond at Stretton Grandison.
A species I have rarely seen since I was a child is the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), but this was found in 12% of ponds in the areas of Ledbury, Colwall, Stretton Grandison, and Bromyard.
Many of the ponds surveyed are in need of de-silting or restoration work. 10 ponds were 100 years or over, some dating back to the 1600s. Many of these older ponds were in poor condition and all were associated with estates or period buildings.
After experiencing one of the wettest winters in recorded history with areas of the south west flooded since Christmas and the potential for further wet spells in the future, this excess rainwater is running off our intensively grazed and agriculturalised hillside landscape, only to cause problems in low lying areas. In the past all villages had ponds, there were also stockwatering ponds in many fields and roadside drover or wheel washing ponds. Many of these were ephemeral, drying in the hot summers and filling over the wetter winters and early spring, taking up all the excess water. Looking at the maps from this project illustrates a 75% pond loss, largely within the farmland environment. This is shocking as we think of Herefordshire as one of the more rural of counties and less likely to have suffered heavy change like other areas, but ponds have been frequently filled in, replaced by piped water troughs in nearly every field or just neglected leading to a successional damp shady area of willows on the field boundary.
We can reinstate old field ponds or other waterbodies as new ponds. Many wildlife projects are short-lived and do not provide great help, but pond building would be a great legacy. A new project to restore lost ponds and improve connectivity of waterbodies is needed. More ponds are needed to take up future winter rainfall, a simple solution with the added bonus of improving wildlife diversity. Herefordshire clay soils are ideal for digging and puddling, a technique that could be widely taught again.
Hopefully we can further this project by initiating conservation work to increase local pond networks, reducing potential flood issues and providing further valuable habitat.
I would like to finish with a thank you to Francesca Griffith, who oversaw my project, along with two others at the same time. She was instrumental in helping to develop and steer four successful project partnerships between the Trust and Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team over the years.
We have already successfully completed three other major projects in the last eight years:
the Herefordshire Ponds and Newts Project, the Pond Celebration and Restoration Project and the What's That Snake Project.
Leaflets for each of the ponds restored in the Pond Restoration Project can be downloaded from the Project page.
Click here for reptile leaflets and a reptile resource pack from the What's That Snake? Project.
Amphibians and Reptiles of Herefordshire
In 2006 HART produced a full colour guide to the amphibians and reptiles of the county and their status, based on the results of the three year Ponds and Newts Project and other surveys for reptiles and amphibians.
As well as the species accounts and distribution maps it includes background to the geology of the county, history of ponds and recording in the county, and conservation tips.