The NHBS Guide to UK Amphibian Identification

The UK is home to seven native species of amphibian. Over the winter, these frogs, toads and newts have all been hibernating, but it will soon be time for them to venture out to their breeding ponds and pools. If you’re lucky, you will be able to spot them when you’re out and about.

In this blogpost we will provide you with some of the key characteristics of each species which will help you to identify exactly what you’re looking at. For those of you who are keen to find out more, we have also provided a list of field and identification guides at the bottom of the page.


Newts are members of the salamander family and have a lizard-like body shape. They are semi-aquatic, spending part of the year on land, returning to the water in spring to breed. Eggs are laid in the water where they hatch into tadpoles and then proceed to develop front and back legs, along with gills for breathing. They leave the water in late summer once their gills have been lost.

The three species of newt which are native to the UK are the Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), the Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus) and the Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus).

Smooth Newt:

Image by gailhampshire via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Look for the pale spotted throat. Image by gailhampshire.

• Size: Grows to around 10-11cm in length.
• Colour: Males brown/olive; females light brown. Belly is usually yellowy orange with black spots. The throat is pale with darker spots.
• Skin Texture: Smooth
• Habitat: Spring to early summer in ponds and pools (frequently found in garden ponds). Late summer under logs and stones near to water.
• Other notes: The male has a wavy back crest during the breeding season.

Palmate Newt:

Image by Laurent Lebois via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Look for the pale throat without spots and a dark stripe through the eye – this can help you to distinguish it from the smooth newt. Image by Laurent Lebois.

• Size: Grows to around 7-11cm; slightly smaller than the smooth newt.
• Colour: Males olive brown; females yellowish brown. The throat is white/pale pink and does not have spots or speckling. The eye has a dark stripe running horizontally through it.
• Skin Texture: Smooth
• Habitat: During the breeding season (early March to late May) in shallow ponds, often in heathland bogs. During summer in woodland, ditches and gardens near to water.
• Other notes: During the breeding season, the male palmate newt has a ridge running along its back and a tail which ends in a filament. Its back feet are also webbed.

Great Crested Newt

Much larger than the smooth or palmate newt, the male has a large crest which is broken where the tail meets the body. Image by Chris H.

• Size: Up to 15cm in length. Females may be even larger than this.
• Colour: Dark brown or black with white/silver dots on sides. Underside is orange with black spots. Pale throat.
• Skin Texture: Warty
• Habitat: March to May in deep ponds with vegetation. Great crested newts often range further than smooth or palmate newts during the summer and can be found in gardens, ditches and woodland.
• Other notes: The male has a very distinctive crest during the breeding season which is broken at the point where the tail meets the body. The crest also has a silver stripe.


Frogs are short-bodied, tailless amphibians that largely lay their eggs in water. These eggs hatch into aquatic larvae, known as tadpoles, before metamorphosing into froglets and then adults.

There are two native species of frog in the UK: the Common Frog (Rana temporaria) and the Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae).

Common Frog

Keep an eye out for dark patches behind the eyes and dark barring on the back legs. Image by Erik Paterson.

• Size: Adults grow to 6-9cm in length.
• Colour: Olive green to yellow-brown. Usually spotty or stripy with dark patches behind the eyes and darker barring on hind legs.
• Skin Texture: Smooth and moist.
• Habitat: From late February to early October in all sorts of ponds and pools. Common in gardens.
• Other notes: Moves by hopping. Common frogspawn is gelatinous with black embryos and tadpoles are initially black but turn speckled brown. (This is a useful way of distinguishing them from toad tadpoles, which remain dark until development).

Pool Frog

• Size: Adults grow to 6-9cm in length.
• Colour: Usually brown with dark spots. Light yellow back stripe.
• Skin Texture: Smooth and moist.
• Habitat: Currently only present in localised spots in East Anglia.
• Other notes: Males have prominent vocal sacks on the side of the mouth.


Toads are characterised by dry-looking, warty skin and short legs. They usually move via a lumbering walk, as opposed to the hopping motion used by frogs. As with frogs, most toads lay their eggs in water. These hatch into tadpoles before growing legs and metamorphosing into the adult form.

Within the UK there are two native species of toad: the Common Toad (Bufo bufo) and the Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita).

Common Toad

The common toad moves with a lumbering walk and has distinctive bulges on the back of its head. Image by stanze.

• Size: Females grow up to 13cm whilst males are smaller and usually reach only 8cm.
• Colour: Brown to grey-green. Paler on the underside.
• Skin Texture: Dry-looking and warty.
• Habitat: From late February in damp, shady spots near to breeding ponds. During the summer in woodlands, gardens and fields.
• Other notes: The common toad has amber eyes with a horizontal pupil. Moves with a lumbering walk or small hop. Eggs are laid in strings in a double row. Upon hatching the tadpoles are dark and, unlike frog tadpoles, remain so until they develop. 

Natterjack Toad

The natterjack toad has a yellow stripe down the spine. Image by Bernard Dupont.

• Size: Females grow up to 8cm whilst males are slightly smaller.
• Colour: Pale brown/green, often with brightly coloured red or yellow warts. Yellow stripe down the spine.
• Skin Texture: Dry-looking and warty.
• Habitat: Coastal dunes and lowland heath, often in open, unshaded habitats. The natterjack toad is very rare in the UK.
• Other notes: The natterjack toad has amber eyes with a horizontal pupil. Moves with a running motion, rather than hopping. Lays strings of eggs in a single row.

Further reading:


Amphibians and Reptiles

Amphibians and Reptiles
A comprehensive guide to the native and non-native species of amphibian and reptile found in the British Isles. Professor Trevor Beebee covers the biology, ecology, conservation and identification of the British herpetofauna, and provides keys for the identification of adult and immature specimens as well as eggs, larvae and metamorphs.



Britain’s Reptiles and Amphibians
This detailed guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands has been produced with the aim of inspiring an increased level of interest in these exciting and fascinating animals. It is designed to help anyone who finds a lizard, snake, turtle, tortoise, terrapin, frog, toad or newt to identify it with confidence.


FSC Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians

A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Ireland
This laminated pamphlet is produced by the Field Studies Council and covers the 13 species of non-marine reptile and amphibian which breed in Britain, as well as the five species which breed in Ireland. These include frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.


Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe
This excellent field guide covers a total of 219 species, with a focus on identification and geographical variation. The species text also covers distribution, habitat and behaviour. Superb colour illustrations by talented artist Ilian Velikov depict every species.


The Amphibians and Reptiles of ScotlandThe Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland
This book is designed to be an interesting and informative guide to the amphibians and reptiles that are found in the wild in Scotland. The authors have focused on those species native to Scotland, plus those which are non-native but are breeding in the wild.

The NHBS Guide to UK Reptile Identification

Slow worm image by Smudge 9000 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The UK is home to six native species of reptile – three snakes (adder, grass snake and smooth snake) and three lizards (common lizard, sand lizard and slow worm). In early spring, snakes and lizards begin to emerge from hibernation – if you are lucky you may catch a glimpse of one in your garden or when out walking in the countryside. (Interesting note: adders have now been recorded as being active during every month of the year in the UK, a behavioural change which is thought to be linked to overall warmer weather).  

This article aims to provide you with some of the key characteristics of each species which will help you to identify what you’re looking at. You will also find a list of field and identification guides at the bottom of the page which will give you lots more information about each species and help you with your ID.


Snakes are part of the suborder Serpentes and, though they vary greatly in size and colour, their limbless, elongated bodies make their overall form very distinct (although some legless lizards, such as the slow worm, may often be mistaken for a snake). The skin of a snake is covered in scales and is a smooth, dry texture – this skin is shed periodically throughout the snake’s life. All snakes are carnivorous and many species have specialised skulls with extra joints enabling them to swallow prey much larger than their heads. Most species are non-venomous and either swallow their prey alive or kill it by constriction. 

All three snake species in the UK reproduce by producing eggs. However, both the adder and smooth snake incubate eggs internally whereas the grass snake lays them in rotting vegetation such as compost heaps. 

Adder (Vipera berus)

Adder image by Jo Garbutt via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

• Size: 60-80cm in length.
• Colour: Greyish with a dark and very distinctive zig-zag pattern down its back. Red eye.
• Habitat: Prefers woodland, heathland and moorland but may also be found in grassland or on the coast.
• Interesting fact: The adder is the only venomous snake in the UK. However, bites are very rare as adders are reclusive and would prefer to retreat than confront a human. 

Grass snake (Natrix helvetica)

Grass snake image by Bernard Dupont via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

• Size: 90-150cm in length.
• Colour: Usually greenish in colour, with a yellow and black collar, pale belly and dark markings down the sides.
• Habitat: Favours wetland habitats but can also be found in grassland and gardens, especially those with a pond.
• Interesting fact: The grass snake is the longest snake found in the UK.

Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca)

Smooth snake image by Odd Wellies via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

• Size: 50-70cm in length.
• Colour: Usually dark grey or brown in colour. Similar to an adder but with a more slender body and without the zig-zag pattern along its back.
• Habitat: Very rare. Mainly found on a few sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, although a couple of reintroduced populations exist in West Sussex and Devon.
• Interesting fact: The smooth snake is a constrictor, coiling around its prey to subdue it and crush it to death.


Most lizards have four legs and run with a side-to-side motion. However, some, such as the slow worm, are legless. Lizards are mainly carnivorous and often employ a ‘sit-and-wait’ approach to catching prey. In the UK, lizards feed primarily on insects, molluscs and spiders.

Although all three species of UK lizard lay eggs, both the common lizard and slow worm incubate these internally, ‘giving birth’ in the late summer. Sand lizards lay shelled eggs that are buried in the sand where they are kept warm by the sun. 

Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara)

Common lizard image by Gail Hampshire via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

• Size: 10-15cm in length.
• Colour: Variable, but most commonly a brownish-grey, with rows of darker spots or stripes down the back and sides. Males have bright yellow or orange undersides with spots, while females have paler, plain bellies.
• Habitat: Heathland, moorland and grassland.
• Interesting fact: If threatened by a predator, the common lizard will shed its tail which continues to move – the lizard uses this distraction to make its escape. Although able to regrow its tail, the new one is usually shorter than the original.

Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)

Sand lizard image by xulescu-g via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

• Size: Up to 20cm.
• Colour: Female sand lizards are a sandy-brown colour, with rows of dark blotches along the back. Males have green flanks that are at their brightest during the breeding season, making them easy to spot.
• Habitat: The sand lizard is very rare and can only be found on a few sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey with a few reintroduced populations in the south east, south west and Wales.
• Interesting fact: Sand lizards dig burrows for overnight refuge and hibernation. 

Slow worm (Anguis fragilis)

Slow worm image by Oliver Haines

• Size: 40-50cm.
• Colour: Smooth, golden-grey skin. The males are paler in colour and occasionally have blue spots. The females tend to be larger with dark sides and some have a dark line down their back.
• Habitat: Slow worms live in most of Great Britain apart from Northern Ireland and are also present on most of the islands in Scotland and the Channel Isles.
• Interesting fact: Although similar in appearance to a snake, the slow worm has eyelids (which snakes do not) and can drop its tail when threatened by a predator.

In addition to the six native reptiles, several species of non-native reptile can be found in the UK – these include the wall lizard, green lizard, aesculapian snake, European pond terrapin and the red-eared slider.

Recommended reading:

Amphibians and Reptiles
A comprehensive guide to the native and non-native species of amphibian and reptile found in the British Isles. Professor Trevor Beebee covers the biology, ecology, conservation and identification of the British herpetofauna, and provides keys for the identification of adult and immature specimens as well as eggs, larvae and metamorphs.

Britain’s Reptiles and Amphibians
This detailed guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands has been produced with the aim of inspiring an increased level of interest in these exciting and fascinating animals. It is designed to help anyone who finds a lizard, snake, turtle, tortoise, terrapin, frog, toad or newt to identify it with confidence.


Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Ireland
This laminated pamphlet is produced by the Field Studies Council and covers the 13 species of non-marine reptile and amphibian which breed in Britain, as well as the five species which breed in Ireland. These include snakes, lizards, frogs, toads and newts.


Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Britain and Europe
This excellent field guide covers a total of 219 species, with a focus on identification and geographical variation. The species text also covers distribution, habitat and behaviour. Superb colour illustrations by talented artist Ilian Velikov depict every species.



The Amphibians and Reptiles of Scotland
This book is designed to be an interesting and informative guide to the amphibians and reptiles that are found in the wild in Scotland. The authors have focused on those species native to Scotland, plus those which are non-native but are breeding in the wild.

NHBS Guide to Newt Survey Equipment

Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) – CC Leonora (Ellie) Enking via Flickr

Great Crested Newts are the UK’s most strictly protected amphibian, requiring licensed ecological surveys if a development may affect them. As the first signs of spring emerge, ecologists are preparing for the start of this year’s newt survey season. Below, we have compiled a list of the most common newt survey methods and the equipment needed for each, so that you can ensure you have everything you need as the survey season approaches.

NHBS Traditional Amphibian Net

Netting for adult and larval newts can be a useful tool in both survey and relocation. Here at NHBS, we have designed an amphibian net specifically for the safe and efficient capture of newts. The net bag is attached by a wide velcro collar which prevents newts from becoming caught between the frame and the bag. The bag can also be removed from the frame to be disinfected between sites. The seams have been carefully placed so that they do not come into contact with the front edge of the net, and the material of the bag is a soft 2mm mesh. The net head is 300mm wide and comes with a sturdy, wooden 1.2m handle. We also sell a diamond-shaped amphibian net that comes in either standard depth or deep. Its shape is ideal for easy and safe capture for amphibians and is also available in a collapsible frame for easy transport between sites.

Dewsbury Trapping

The Dewsbury trap is an innovative design of newt refuge trap that is exclusive to NHBS. The clever design of this trap ensures that any trapped newts have access to both fresh air at the top of the trap and a thermally stable refuge at the bottom of the pond. They can be easily deployed from the edge of the pond meaning that not only is this trap safer for newts, but it is also safer and more convenient for surveyors too. In preliminary trials the Dewsbury trap was found to be more effective at catching newts than traditional bottle trapping methods and can be left unattended for up to 24 hours meaning night visits are not necessarily required.

Please note: we recommend that you contact your national licensing authority (Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, etc) before you purchase this trap. The Dewsbury Newt Trap is not included within either the Level 1 or Level 2 Natural England Class Survey Licence and a separate licence is required

Bottle Trapping

Bottle trapping is a popular method of surveying for both detecting and assessing populations. It can, however, become quite labour intensive, especially if you are looking to cut bottles into traps yourself. To save yourself some valuable time, we sell pre-cut bottle traps with the head inverted and ready to deploy. These can be bought in packs of 40 or 120 and are cut from 2L PET bottles with a 28mm neck diameter. Alternatively, we sell the whole bottles if you would rather cut the traps yourself.


Torching is a less invasive and effective method of counting/observing newts without the need for capturing them. Torches are recommended to be between 500,000 and one million candlepower and need to ideally last several hours at a time. The Cluson CB2 range is very popular among ecologists and provides 1 million candlepower with long lasting battery life and an easy-to-use pistol type grip. 

Drift Fencing

Fencing can either be used to temporarily exclude or contain newts in mitigation projects. It can also be used to aid the capture of newts for relocation and is typically a short barrier with the base buried underground. Our Tristar Newt Fencing comes in rolls of 100m, is made of UV stabilised polythene sheeting and tinted green. It is designed to resist weather damage and has a life expectancy of 5 years, making it ideal for temporary mitigation projects during development works. It is easy and simple to put up and can be fixed into place with our soft wood stakes.

Pitfall Traps

Often, pitfall traps are used alongside drift fencing in order to trap and translocate newts in relocation projects. They consist of a container that is buried underground often flush with the edge of drift fencing. Both rectangular buckets and round buckets have been shown to be effective and we supply several options depending on your preferences.

Recommended Accessories

Light & Dry Micro First Aid Kit

Bamboo Canes

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper

Snowbee Granite PVC Thigh Waders

Snowbee Lightweight Neoprene Gloves

Replacement Amphibian Net Bag

Broad Spectrum Disinfectant Tablets

Breaksafe Thermometer

A note on licensing

Please note that Great Crested Newts and its habitat are protected by law. Any Great Crested Newt survey work must be undertaken by a licensed ecologist. Different levels of license are required for different survey and mitigation methods. For more information, please visit

Author interview with Arnold Cooke: Tadpole Hunter

In Tadpole Hunter, author and conservationist Arnold Cooke provides us with a personal and unique insight into the history of amphibian conservation and monitoring within Britain. As well as telling the story of amphibian natural history since the 1960s, it also provides a very human perspective on how we got to where we are today and how our knowledge of amphibian populations and dynamics has progressed over the second half of the 20th century. Packed with wonderful photographs along with charts and tables representing monitoring data, this accessible book will appeal to anyone interested in amphibians and the history of conservation in Britain.

Arnold Cooke was a researcher and advisor for the the Nature Conservancy and Natural Conservation Council for 30 years. Since leaving English Nature in the late 1990s he has continued to pursue his interests in amphibians, birds and deer and has published widely on subjects as diverse as the status of Britain’s amphibians and reptiles, pollutants in birds and the environmental impacts of introduced species of deer. His previous book, Muntjac and Water Deer, was published in 2019.

In this Q&A we chat with Arnold about his work with amphibians in the UK, the changes he has seen during his years working in conservation, and his hopes for the future of amphibian populations.

Although working with amphibians and their conservation has been a key part of your career, you have also dedicated a lot of your free time to recording and monitoring them and adding to the general body of knowledge regarding their populations. What is it about amphibians that you find so fascinating?

Amphibians have always appealed to me particularly because they can be relatively easy to catch – at least for vertebrates. However, they could be quite scarce where I grew up, and as a boy I was more interested in birds, flowers and invertebrates. When, in 1968, I joined the Nature Conservancy team studying the impacts of pesticides on wildlife, there were indications that frogs had declined, possibly because of pesticide use. An attraction of such a project was that there were significant gaps in knowledge about the natural history of frogs and other amphibians. This meant I had a fairly blank canvas at the beginning and I needed to undertake basic studies to try to understand what made frog populations tick, as well as doing pesticide studies. Later, I joined the Nature Conservancy Council, and became involved with conserving amphibian species nationally. By then I had started studying amphibians in a personal capacity, and was able to adapt or start local projects to inform issues of national interest, such as developing monitoring methods and investigating population stability and responses to impacts of various kinds. As information from these studies became available, it could be fed back into the system to conserve amphibians – and so helped me do my job more effectively. Once started, I became increasingly hooked and often found it difficult to stop the various strands of work.

You mention how, early in your career, you were faced with the challenge of discovering how populations of amphibians had changed in the distant and recent past and that, given the lack of empirical field data, sending questionnaires to suitable candidates was the best way to gather information about this. Do you think that conservation initiatives for amphibians are still limited by accurate population/distribution data?

When I started to work on the common frog more than 50 years ago, there was no hard information on how the national population had changed, but several well-informed individuals considered that declines had occurred. I felt I needed to be sure that there was a problem before doing too much work on pesticides and should find out whether, where and when decreases might have occurred. I targeted those people in the British Isles who had observed frogs (and common toads) in their local ponds and this resulted in information from several hundred sites. To increase cover I asked biology teachers in schools about changes in their local populations. The consensus was that there had been widespread decreases for both species during the 1950s and 1960s. This technique had obvious flaws, but its overall conclusion seems broadly accepted. However, it is wise to acknowledge the drawbacks of the method and not to place too much credence on the resulting information, especially on reasons that might be offered for change. Where ponds were destroyed (or created) in an area, then there are tangible reasons for change. However, this is often not true for suggested contributions such as from collection, road mortality or, indeed, pesticides. Because of the population dynamics of amphibians, substantial changes occur naturally and loss of some individuals does not necessarily translate into population decline.

During later decades of the twentieth century, several similar studies were undertaken, but since the turn of the century an attempt has been made to set up a statistically sound monitoring system for the widespread amphibians and reptiles. Unfortunately, number of sites covered initially was insufficient to provide a completely satisfactory basis for the scheme to go forward in that form. Consequently some modifications and compromises were needed, and a new approach has now started. Progress is being made employing novel field, laboratory and computer methods. And I am hopeful that herpetologists can continue to tap into citizen science projects on other animal groups, particularly birds, where huge numbers of competent individuals might be organised to gather additional data on amphibians.

I should also say that knowledge of the much rarer natterjack toad is exceptionally good. All known colonies are recorded regularly, and some have been monitored continuously for 50 years. This has allowed fine tuning of conservation action at specific sites and more broadly. And the very rare pool frog receives constant attention at its introduction sites.

As someone that worked at the forefront of conservation for many decades and has seen a huge number of changes, both in the natural world and in the human organisations and councils that are charged with protecting them, are you broadly hopeful for the future of British wildlife?

Thank you for the compliment, but I’m not sure how long I’ve spent at the ‘forefront of conservation’ – especially during the last 25 years when I’ve deliberately busied and buried myself in the detail of my own interests. Throughout my life, I’ve worked as a specialist in a range of disparate areas, rather than as a rounded generalist, so I’ve tended to focus on specific issues within the broad spectrum of wildlife conservation.

It’s true, however, that I’ve seen huge changes over the last 55 years. Some changes are of great concern – no one 50 years ago saw global warming coming. I remember there was talk about 40 years ago of the possibility of another ice age being just round the corner. The changes in biodiversity over that time have of course mainly been losses. On the other hand, there have been other types of change providing hope that British wildlife does have a reasonable future. I am thinking, for instance, of the numbers of professional people and volunteers now involved in conservation, the knowledge that has accrued, the conservation methods that have been shown to work and the legislation that has been passed. I’m aware that successive governments haven’t necessarily dealt kindly with environmental issues (or conservationists), but many peoples’ attitudes have changed markedly and younger generations are especially concerned about the environment. Just as conservationists in the past achieved more than might be expected because of their dedication, so should conservationists of the future – and there will be many more of them.

The wildlife communities and their distribution will, though, probably look very different in the future. I have lived for 55 years on the edge of the Cambridgeshire Fens. That area doesn’t sound very promising for wildlife, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover in 1968 that there were several nature reserves within easy reach including three important National Nature Reserves. However, I soon realised that reserves were like currants in a cake, there being very little of interest between them. When my wife and I drove to Norfolk to visit three other NNRs, we only managed to find one of them, despite knowing their grid references – and we had to negotiate a barbed wire fence to get into that. A permit was required for access in those days. The situation is of course very different now: visitors are generally welcomed. And reserves are increasingly being connected up, as is occurring in my area with two of the NNRs. I don’t doubt that much of our biodiversity will in future be experienced inside landscape-sized areas. I just hope it works. I regret that kids today don’t have the freedom that I had to explore and find things out for myself. Presumably, however, accessibility of knowledge will continue to increase. No need for children to learn and remember much, just use the phone app. Not wishing to be too cynical, surely enough youngsters will be captivated to become the dedicated conservationists of the future?

As regards amphibians, I believe we have more or less stopped the declines of the twentieth century and recoveries have started for some species. The future is uncertain but there are reasons to be hopeful.

Your working life has been incredibly fascinating and varied. Are there any parts of it that you remember with particular fondness or that stand out in your memory?

I’ve been very lucky with what I’ve been allowed or managed to do during my working life of more than 60 years – that’s using the word ‘working’ very loosely. I still have a reasonably good grasp of what I did and when I did it because I’ve usually written up (but not necessarily published) my observations and thoughts in some form or other. When I’ve been able to study wildlife, there has been very little that I haven’t enjoyed. There have been stand-out moments such as: in 1962 when I found my observations demonstrated that birds in suburbia were more approachable than those in the countryside; in 1982 when I watched breeding newts by torchlight for the first time; and in 1994 when I realised I could put out tempting vegetation for muntjac in a wood and find it had been consumed by the following morning. Each of these moments led to the development of field monitoring techniques.

Then there have also been periods that have been memorable for different reasons. The five years 1968-1973 with the old Nature Conservancy at Monks Wood were marked by an extraordinary level of interest in our work shown by the public, politicians and even royalty. In contrast, the last couple of decades have been spent quietly at home pottering around doing as much fieldwork as possible and sorting out what results meant. My qualifications are in chemistry and biochemistry and, had things turned out differently, I might have been more of a lab worker. But working outside has always been my preference. When working for English Nature in the 1990s, we were required to fill in risk assessment forms when away from the office, including when working outside normal office hours. Some years, I filled in nearly 200 such forms, revealing how much fieldwork I did as well as providing an illustration of why I was glad to leave behind modern management methods in the late 1990s.

What would be the main message you would give to the conservationists and ecologists that are following in your footsteps?

Because of my rather blinkered working experience during the current century, I think the most appropriate message is simply to say, ‘good luck and thank you’. Everyone needs some luck in order to have a satisfying career and I genuinely appreciate what present and future generations are doing and will continue to do to help understand and conserve wildlife.

Finally, what is occupying your time at the moment? Do you have plans for further books?

My main task this year has probably been seeing Tadpole Hunter to fruition, so it’s good to have it published at last. I’d wanted to review some of the topics in the book for many years, but they’ve only appeared in book form because of the Covid pandemic. My wife and I needed to shield during the lockdowns, so I started to review a couple of subject areas in March 2020. Later that summer, I realised that I had the basis for a book, so roughed it out and continued writing. I don’t intend writing another book, in part because of the time commitment. While writing Tadpole Hunter, I published several items on deer and have vague plans for other articles once the dust has settled from the book.

I have occasionally tinkered with bird behaviour in a very simple way and may revisit data collected in the 1980s. Earlier this year, I was surprised and very pleased to be invited to contribute my historic data to a global database of avian ‘flight initiation distances’, which precipitated a dive into material I hadn’t looked at for many years. Another line I might pursue concerns citizen science. I’ve participated in a number of such projects over the years, recording birds in particular, but also mammals and trees. At the moment, I’m interested in what an individual participant could get out of it? If repeated annually, it can provide useful monitoring information on species at your location. In some instances, I have carried on recording for long after the citizen science project finished.

Although I’m now doing very little fieldwork, I still have ideas to explore, but I’m sure there won’t be another book unless……….

Tadpole Hunter: A Personal History of Amphibian Conservation and Research was published by Pelagic Publishing in August 2023 and is available from

Author interview with C. Philip Wheater and Helen Read: Animals Under Logs and Stones

Logs, stones and the like provide an interesting interface between the damp depths of the soil and the drier open ground surface, offering refuges for a fascinating array of animals. The communities of organisms that live beneath them are little noticed and even less studied, yet the potential for ecological work here is great. Animals Under Logs and Stones is number 22 in the popular Naturalists’ Handbook series and is a greatly expanded and updated version of the first edition which was published 27 years ago. It provides comprehensive information about these unique habitats and includes a range of easy-to-use and illustrated identification keys to help both amateur and experienced naturalists identify their findings.

Philip Wheater is Professor Emeritus of the School of Science and the Environment, at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include ecology and management of human-influenced environments, especially urban systems; invertebrate conservation and management; access to, provision and assessment of environmental education; environmental monitoring, especially fieldwork and the use of statistics.

Helen Read is a Conservation Officer for the City of London Corporation based at Burnham Beeches, a post held for over 30 years. She has written numerous books and papers on a variety of subjects, the majority being on the management of veteran trees and topics relating to invertebrates. She has also been an active committee member in various invertebrate societies.

With the upcoming publication of Animals Under Logs and Stones, we were fortunate to chat with Philip and Helen about the book and about the importance of these unique habitats in supporting a range of invertebrates and larger animals through various stages of their life histories.

The first edition of Animals Under Logs and Stones was published 27 years ago. What inspired you to write the second edition, and what do you think are the key things that have changed during this time in terms of our knowledge and research techniques?

There have been many changes in taxonomy over the last few decades, not least because of major advances due to the use of molecular techniques more recently. Also, more information is now available on the distribution of many species that are found under logs and stones. Because of increased interest in many of the groups found under logs and stones, it is now possible to expand the range of the book from the original 17 identification keys to 25 in the new edition. With modern publishing techniques we are now able to include many photographs to illustrate both the species and habitats covered by the book.

What benefits do the cryptozoan communities living under logs and stones bestow on their surrounding ecosystems?

Soil and leaf litter dwelling communities are important in decomposition, nutrient cycling, and soil formation and maintenance. In addition to logs and stones being microhabitats where some species live, others that can be found in soil and leaf litter use them as refuges. And it is possible to find many of these animals more easily than it would be by searching within the soil and leaf litter layers.

As children we’re fascinated by turning over rocks and seeing what’s underneath. Then, for the most part, we grow up and become increasingly distracted by other pursuits. Why do you think it is important that we value these often-overlooked microhabitats and ensure that they are explored and studied.

Even though many of the animals found under logs and stones are rather small and may not be quite as showy as butterflies or dragonflies, they are fascinating in their own right. Many of these animals may be found at times of the year when other invertebrates (especially flying insects) are not present. They are also not restricted to special sites; a wide range of species can be found in anyone’s back garden and observed without the need for specialist equipment. In addition, their ecology and life histories are generally less well known to the general public and can be very interesting to study.

In our modern world where there is often the pressure to make everything social media-worthy and aesthetically pleasing, it is easy to become obsessed with tidiness, both in our gardens and in other wild spaces. How important do you think it is that management strategies recognise the benefits of dead wood and stones which might otherwise be seen as unnecessary debris?

Leaving logs and stones in situ is increasingly acknowledged as being important to provide a wider range of refuges for animals. These days this is even the case in quite formal parks and gardens. There is a wider understanding of the reasons for more natural approaches to the management for wildlife. Similar initiatives such as No Mow May are spreading the concept of naturalistic management to a wider audience. Environmental interpretation and education will be key to continuing to spread this message.

As with all the fantastic Naturalists’ Handbooks you provide lots of information on designing and undertaking research projects as well as analysing and presenting the final data. For any enthusiastic naturalists who are not currently in education or working in a research environment, is it still of benefit for them to record their findings? And how could their records add to the general body of knowledge about these animals and habitats?

All well thought out studies can provide useful and interesting information, especially where there is little current knowledge about particular species and their natural history. Anyone can contribute records through apps such as iRecord and iNaturalist. Even information about relatively common species can be useful in looking at changes in distribution due to environmental change such as climate change. Those with a particular interest in a specific group of species can find like-minded people who organise field days, collate information and publish (often on-line) records and ecological information. Often species recording schemes or wildlife trusts are a good place to start. Our book lists many places where people can get more information about such groups.

Finally, what’s next for both of you? Any more books in the pipeline?

We are currently working together again on a book, to be published by Pelagic, on the ecology and management of Burnham Beeches which is a National Nature Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation in South Bucks. This will cover the range of plants and animals found at this important nature reserve, together with background on the history and management of an area that was set up as one of the first “green lungs” of London to provide a public open space. Helen is also finishing an update to the Synopsis of the British Fauna on millipedes for the Linnean Society with her colleague, Paul Lee.

Animals Under Logs and Stones by C. Philip Wheater, Helen J. Read and Charlotte E. Wheater is published by Pelagic Publishing in July 2023 and is available from

Author Interview with Nicholas Milton: The Secret Life of the Adder: The Vanishing Viper

In 2019, the most comprehensive survey ever of adders was published. According to ‘Make the Adder Count’ the species will disappear from most of Britain in the next 15-20 years unless we take action now. But despite being a priority conservation species under the Biodiversity Action Plan, not a single nature reserve in Britain has been specifically designated to protect adders. The Secret Life of the Adder contains a 10-point action plan which, if implemented, could help to restore the adder to its former range across Britain. With a foreword by BBC’s Iolo Williams, this book is a story of our time, one which typifies the age of extinction through which we are all living and are all responsible.

Author Nicholas Milton recently took the time to discuss his new book with us, explaining the inspiration behind it, his opinion on current ecological guidelines and his advice to naturalists that might want to get involved in reptile monitoring.

Could you tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to write The Secret Life of the Adder: The Vanishing Viper?

I graduated with a degree in Environmental Science in 1989, and then worked in the environmental movement. My first job was with the RSPB and afterwards I worked for the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (now sadly defunct), The Wildlife Trusts and Greenpeace. I’ve been fascinated by adders since childhood and at the RSPB I was lucky enough to spend time with the late Ian Prestt. As well as being the Director of the RSPB, Ian was also a leading authority on adders (his M.Sc. was on vipers as he liked to call them). Every week we would go looking for adders and he taught me a lot about them. Sadly, Ian passed away in 1995 and since then the adder population has crashed. This was confirmed in 2019 when the most comprehensive survey ever of adders was published. ‘Make the Adder Count’ showed that the species will disappear from most of Britain in the next 15-20 years, so I decided that in Ian’s memory I had to do something about it. The book is my attempt to conserve the species using a 10-point adder action plan, and wake up the government, its nature conservation agencies, the media and the public to its plight before it is too late.

Credit: Nicholas Milton

As well as authoring this book, you work as a freelance journalist for a variety of publications. Among your work are articles promoting the conservation and public image of the adder. How have you found the reception of such pieces?

It’s not easy to make the case for a venomous snake in Britain because we live in a small and crowded island with increasingly little space for wildlife. Every year there are a plethora of completely irresponsible adder ‘horror’ stories in the media which reinforce the mistaken impression that the adder is a dangerous species. No one has died from an adder bite in over 40 years and these stories rarely, if ever, mention that the species is on the verge of extinction. In reality the adder is a shy and sensitive snake which will always avoid interaction with people unless it is molested.  The good news is attitudes towards adders are slowly changing, spearheaded by organisations like the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK and the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust who do fantastic work telling people about how wonderful adders are and conserving their remaining colonies.

There are many beautiful photographs in The Secret Lives of Adders, a notable majority of which have been taken in-situ. This is in contrast to images in many other herpetological titles. What were the reasons behind this decision?

I can’t claim credit for most of the images in the book which were taken by the photographer Roger McPhail. He very kindly donated them for free as he wanted to help conserve the species. By being taken in-situ the pictures really help to bring home how amazing adders really are.

Credit: Roger McPhail

In the first chapter, you give an overview of how our tumultuous relationship with reptiles and amphibians in the UK has changed over the last hundred years (and beyond). Do you feel that our native herpetofauna is sufficiently catered for in ecological guidelines today?

The history of the adder in Britain is sadly one of relentless persecution, from Biblical times to the point we have arrived at today where the species could be extinct across most of Britain in the next 15-20 years. There are a lot of good guides to our herpetofauna but not many address the difficult conservation issues facing our reptiles and amphibians, from climate change and persecution to the release of millions of non-native pheasants and uncontrolled dogs on nature reserves. I expect the book will prove quite controversial as it advocates a 10-point adder action plan which includes protecting in law all remaining adder sites, reporting sensational and negative news stories to the press regulator, banning dogs from sites where adders occur and making it illegal to release game birds within a mile of adder colonies.

Credit: Nicholas Milton

Over the course of your career you have written several books, including natural history titles and a historical biography. How does writing in two such different fields compare?

I love writing about history and wildlife – my first two books were ‘Neville Chamberlain’s Legacy’ which included his love of wildlife (his way of coping with Hitler was to go birdwatching in St. James’s Park) and the Role of Birds In World War Two (How Ornithology Helped To Win The War) which has just been published by Pen and Sword. History books require painstaking research and you are often working with a limited amount of material. In contrast with natural history books, you can access new research, talk to experts in the field and build in your own observations, allowing you to really write from the heart. What all the books have in common though is how important wildlife is to all of us in terms of our mental health and the solace it brings even in the most challenging times.

Chapter three – The Ecology of the Adder – gives a fascinating view into the lives of these enigmatic reptiles. What advice would you offer to naturalists who would like to proactively contribute to monitoring and/or conservation efforts, or just to observe them in the field?

Adders are truly amazing. They are our only venomous snake which means they hold a very special place in our wildlife – it would be a tragedy if they went extinct across most of Britain in our lifetime. While we know a lot about the secret life of adders from research, there is still much we need to learn about how our dwindling populations are reacting to new threats like climate change and the millions of pheasants we release into the countryside every year. So amateur naturalists can really help us by monitoring sites where they occur. Anyone who is interested in doing this should join the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust or the British Herpetological Society and submit any sightings to Make the Adder Count.

Credit: Nicholas Milton

In chapter five – Conserving Adders – you mention the importance of rewilding to the recovery of adders. We hear plenty about reintroductions of beavers and birds of prey, but the movement’s potential benefits to our more overlooked wildlife can often be forgotten. How can rewilding projects help our reptiles?

Rewilding targeted to the right places could help adders a lot. Rewilding tends to be associated with high profile species but it is also a way of helping all our wildlife. In the case of adders, Make the Adder Count showed that 90% of the sites where adders now occur in Britain have 10 or less adult snakes. This makes them very vulnerable to any catastrophic event, such as the destruction of their hibernaculum and also genetic defects due to inbreeding. As sites are often isolated from other colonies, joining together the small and scattered populations must now be a conservation priority, particularly in those areas where the species is on the verge of local extinction.

Credit: Roger McPhail

The Secret Life of the Adder: The Vanishing Viper
By: Nicholas Milton
Hardback | May 2022 | £21.50 £24.99  





All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

2022 Herpetofauna Workers Meeting: Part 1

Invasive non-native species cost the UK approximately £122 million per year and are a huge driver of biodiversity decline worldwide. There are a surprising number of non-native reptile and amphibian species in the UK, from non-breeding released pet terrapins to established populations of midwife toads, although the impact of some of these species on our native wildlife is not yet fully understood.

The first part of the 2022 Herpetofauna Workers Meeting included a number of talks that discussed the latest research on introduced reptile and amphibian species in the UK, including the Aesculapian Snake in Wales and the Alpine Newt in Northern Ireland. We were pleased to be able to attend and take part in this event again this year, and below is summary of some of the fascinating talks from what was an interesting and informative afternoon.

The Aesculapian Snake

The Aesculapian Snake Zamenis longissimus is a non-venomous species found across southern and central Europe, with relic populations in northern Europe. Although not native to the UK, there are two known introduced populations, one on the grounds of the Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay, Wales, and another along Regents Canal in London. There is also a possible third population in Bridgend in South Wales, but this is unconfirmed as of yet. Tom Major from the University of Bangor is using radio telemetry to study the population at Colwyn Bay to understand how this species is surviving, and he has gained some incredible insights into the ecology of the Aesculapian Snake over the past year.

Aesculapian snake by Mircea Nita via Flickr

While tracking nine adult individuals he found that on average the snakes travel the distance of approximately three and a half rugby pitches, and tend to visit one particular place where they stay for roughly four days before setting off again. This seemed to be anywhere that was warm and dry, from a chapel roof to a compost heap. By the end of the tracking period four individuals were still alive. Buzzards, stoats and cars were the reasons behind a few of the deaths, but one interesting cause was cannibalism – one tracked snake was recorded being eaten by another tracked individual, the first known occurrence of this behaviour in this species.

Turtle Tally

Reptiles and amphibians are becoming increasingly popular pets, but a lack of knowledge of their complicated care requirements or an unexpected change in an owner’s circumstances, amongst other reasons, can lead to the intentional release of these exotic animals into the wild. In order to gain an understanding of the distribution and impact of released pet terrapins in the UK in particular, Turtle Tally UK is a nationwide citizen science project that calls for the general public to submit their own terrapin sightings and photos. During her talk, Turtle Tally project lead Suzie Simpson shared some of the findings since the project began in 2019. Each year since has seen an increase in the number of sightings submitted, and hotspots have become apparent in London, Cardiff, Swansea and Liverpool. Yellow-bellied and Red-eared Slider were amongst the most frequently recorded species, and generally only one individual was recorded per sighting.

Red-Eared Slider by Jim, the Photographer via Flickr

When they are out of water, terrapins are usually spotted on logs, rocks and even litter – any raised platform in a water body that they can use for basking. This also includes the nests of waterbirds, but so far there has been no evidence that these terrapins show signs of aggression to waterbirds, or that they predate on chicks. Some species, such as snappers and soft shells, would be more of a concern, however, and the Turtle Tally UK project aims to continue to collect data to further our understanding about the impacts of released pet terrapins on native wildlife. Egg laying has been observed on occasion, but due to the UK’s cooler climate, reproduction is very rarely successful. However climate change could result in more suitable conditions for breeding in the future.

The Alpine Newt in Northern Ireland

The Smooth Newt is Ireland’s only native species of newt and, with its distinctive orange belly and spotted pattern, it is easily recognisable. In September 2020, a strange looking newt was found in Northern Ireland during a bat survey. With a similarly orange belly, but without the spotted markings on its underside and darker in colour, this particular individual did not match the description of a Smooth Newt. It was soon confirmed that this was an Alpine Newt, a species found in Europe but not native to the UK. The discovery of this species is a particular concern as the Alpine Newt is a known vector of chytrid fungus. Rob Gondola, Ryan Boyle and Éinne Ó Cathasaigh provided an update of the consequent Alpine Newt surveys that took place during the following summer in 2021. Thankfully, all the swabs that were taken to test for diseases have come back negative, and they were able to determine the presence of two established populations. Further surveys and testing are hoped to continue in 2022.

Alpine newt by stanze via Flickr
Our thoughts

There were a number of other talks throughout the conference, from the ongoing study of midwife toads in the UK (another non-native species that was introduced over 100 years ago) to the impact of climate change on UK herpetofauna. This was an enlightening and fascinating afternoon and we look forward to Part 2 of the 2022 Herpetofauna Workers Meeting later on in the year. The date and location of the event will be confirmed at a future date, but any details will be made available on the ARC or ARG UK website. A recording of Part 1 will also be made available – keep an eye on the ARC website for further details.

Gift Ideas That Support Wildlife

This festive season, why not consider giving a gift that will also support your local wildlife. Wildlife populations in the UK are facing serious threats and many species are in decline, however there are ways in which we can protect and help at-risk species by creating havens for wildlife in our own gardens. At NHBS we sell a range of products, from bird feeders to hedgehog houses, that can both bring joy to the recipient and benefit wildlife at the same time. We also sell a number of books that can help you create a wildlife friendly garden. We’ve put together a selection of some of our favourite items for you to browse below. 

Eco Hedgehog Hole Fence Plate


Hedgehog numbers have dramatically declined in recent years. Creating a hole in a garden wall or fence will allow your local hedgehogs to pass through from garden to garden safely.


NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box


Many bird species are struggling to find enough suitable natural nesting sites in the modern environment, but a bird box will provide a warm, sheltered substitute, with protection from most types of predators, helping to improve the chances of breeding success.


Froglio Frog and Toad House


The Frogilo Frog and Toad House provides a safe retreat for frogs and toads in any garden and is handmade in frost-resistant ceramic with a decorative glazed roof.


National Trust Apex Insect House


The National Trust Apex Insect House is an ideal addition to any wildlife friendly garden. With a variety of shelter types, it offers a perfect habitat for important invertebrates such as lacewings, ladybirds, and even some butterflies.


Bee Brick


Bee Bricks are made in Cornwall in England using the waste material from the Cornish China clay industry.  They provide much needed nesting space for solitary bee species such as red mason bees and leafcutter bees, both of which are non-aggressive.


Echoes Bird Bath


A large and beautifully coloured and glazed bird bath with a ‘ripple’ step design that is both visually attractive and functional by providing extra footing/grip for wild birds.


Defender Metal Seed Feeder


The Defender Feeder’s metal construction is tough, long lasting and offers excellent protection from squirrel damage.  The feeder is available with two, four or six feeding ports, each with a perching ring that allows birds to feed in a natural, forward facing position.



Hedgehog House


Hedgehog numbers are rapidly declining across the UK and providing a refuge in your garden with the Wildlife World Hedgehog House will help to protect hedgehogs from predators and disturbance.


RHS The Little Book of Wild Gardening


This is a guide for anyone wanting to garden in a more sustainable, natural way. Working with nature benefits not just the garden, but also the gardener, wildlife and the wider environment.


Gardening for Bumblebees


This shows you how you can provide a refuge for bumblebees to feed, breed and thrive. No matter how large or small your space is, Dave Goulson shows you how you can make a pollinator-friendly haven.



The Wildlife Pond Book


This offers a fresh and unique perspective on ponds, encouraging readers of any budget to reach for the spade and do something positive to benefit their shared neighbourhood nature.


Wildlife Gardening


If you want to attract more bees, birds, frogs and hedgehogs into your garden, look no further than this. Kate Bradbury offers tips on feeding your local wildlife and explains how you can create the perfect habitats for species you’d like to welcome into your garden.

Discover more great gift ideas on our website. Plus, check out our two blogs on how to attract wildlife to your garden.

NHBS In the Field – Song Meter Micro

The Song Meter Micro is the latest in Wildlife Acoustics’ passive recorder range. Building on the success of the Song Meter Mini, Wildlife Acoustics have gone one step further and managed to again reduce the size and cost of their fantastic acoustic recorder. These handy pocket sized recorders are now even more accessible to anybody looking to record wildlife.

The Micro is certainly a technical achievement. It boasts many of the same excellent features available in the Song Meter Mini while coming in at around half the width, 100g lighter and just over half the price. It utilises the same Bluetooth configuration and, with a complement of three AA Alkaline or NiMH batteries, it can continuously record for up to 150 hours. A full comparison of the differences is available from the manufacturer’s website; however, beyond its much smaller dimensions there are a few key ones to note. Chiefly among these is that it has a single built-in microphone and is unable to take an additional microphone, meaning recordings will always be in mono. Another few considerations are that it utilises microSD cards to store recordings and it is recommended when deploying the detector to always include a small amount of fresh desiccant for humidity control within the casing.

We took a Song Meter Micro and deployed it for several nights in early April to gather some recordings and gauge its overall ease of use.

Setting Up

The Song Meter Micro utilises the exact same configuration system as the Song Meter Mini via the free “Mini Configurator” companion app. This app allows you to easily configure the detector’s recording settings before deployment as well as check the status of the detector while it’s in the field, as long as you’re within range.

When powered on, the Micro emits a constant Bluetooth beacon, and when you are within range of this beacon the Configurator app will automatically detect the recorder and display it in the recorders screen of the app. You can then press the status icon on the app and view the current status of the detector, including SD card capacity, battery life, recording mode and number of recordings taken.

For our tests, we decided to choose a preset recording schedule to capture the dawn chorus. This calculates the sunrise and sunset times using your phone’s location data and sets a schedule accordingly. For more information about setting up your Song Meter Micro, watch our set up video below.

What we found

The Micro was quick and simple to set up within the app and the included quickstart guide and tutorial videos on Wildlife Acoustics’ website were useful if we were unsure of anything. The unit itself doesn’t come with a strap, but has various slots and holes that a cable lock, trail camera strap, rope or screw could fit through. Once mounted, and with batteries/SD card inserted, we could check through the configuration on the app, read off the LEDs to check everything was armed and ready for recording, then snap the lid on and walk away.

Upon collecting the unit, very little battery had drained. Once back in the office, we removed the microSD card and loaded the recordings into Kaleidoscope to view the sonograms and listen to the recording quality.

Examples of our recordings can be heard or sonograms viewed below.

Gradual increase of the dawn chorus
Call patterns recorded at peak chorus
Geese flying overhead and calling over songbirds
Our opinion

The Song Meter Micro is an impressive single channel acoustic recorder for its size and price. It was easy to carry into the field in a rucksack – or even a pocket! The set up was simple using the configurator app and we found the array of scheduling options to be thorough. We especially liked the preset recording schedules which offer several commonly required options that are available at the tap of a button. It was useful to be able to see the status of the recorder using the LED lights within the unit itself, especially when we wanted to check the recorder was armed and ready to record still while our phone was out of charge.

The sound quality was impressive considering the tiny size of the in-built microphone. Bird calls were loud and clear and even the sound of the morning trains could be heard from the train line through the woodland over half a kilometre away. The sonograms above demonstrate the low noise of the recordings and the quality is good enough for both sound and visual analysis.

The Song Meter Micro is an excellent addition to the Song Meter range and is ideal for those looking to start recording or audio monitoring. It is particularly useful for researchers looking for a convenient unit that is suitable for wide-scale deployments in remote locations where size and weight are important factors to consider.

We really enjoyed recording the dawn chorus and hearing our local bird song, which is especially spectacular this time of year. With International Dawn Chorus Day (Sunday 2nd May) fast approaching, we would encourage everyone to set up a recorder or get out early to hear their local dawn chorus for themselves.

The Song Meter Micro is available on the NHBS website.
To view the full range of sound recorders, along with other survey equipment, visit If you have any questions or would like some advice on choosing the right product then please contact us via email at or phone on 01803 865913.



Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust: Q&A with Dr Tony Gent

Dr Tony Gent

The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust is a charity dedicated to conserving amphibians and reptiles and saving the disappearing habitats on which they depend.

Dr Tony Gent, CEO of the ARC Trust, recently took the time to talk to us about the challenges faced by amphibians and reptiles in the UK, some of the charity’s success stories, and ways in which you can get involved with amphibian and reptile conservation.

Firstly, could you give us a brief introduction to Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and the work that you do?

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) is a national conservation charity dedicated, as its name suggests, to conserving frogs, toads and newts, snakes and lizards. ARC manages a network of over 80 nature reserves in England and Wales that cover some 2,000 hectares. These include a significant suite of lowland heathland areas that are home to all six native reptile species. The trust is also custodian for nationally important habitats for natterjack toads and pool frogs, plus sites established specifically to support populations of great crested newts.

ARC leads on recovery programmes, especially for more threatened species, including managing reintroduction and captive breeding programmes, direct engagement through site management and running national monitoring schemes. We actively engage with advocacy in the UK and further afield, to ensure that amphibians and reptiles are considered via legislation, policy, and funding streams. We also support and undertake research and run education and training programmes to promote amphibian and reptile conservation. Though UK based, we also work with partner organisations across Europe and in the UK’s Overseas Territories.

Our team achieves this through a network of volunteers, partner organisations, Governmental agencies and engaging with the wider public.

As for most groups of animals in the current climate, the factors affecting their populations are obviously complex. However, what do you consider to be the greatest challenge faced by amphibians and reptiles in the UK?

A number of factors are impacting on our reptile and amphibian populations including disease, climate change, pollution, drought and wildfires. However I consider the biggest challenge is ensuring that there is enough suitable habitat available for these species to maintain their populations and distribution across the country, given the vast pressures for alternative land uses.

Of our seven species of amphibian, comprising of three newt, two frog and two toad species, some such as the common frog are widespread, while others such as the natterjack toad are found in a restricted number of habitats and endangered. Similarly, the three species of lizard and three species of snake that make up our reptile fauna include widespread species, such as the slow worm, and other species such as the smooth snake and sand lizard that have much more restricted ranges. All, however, need certain habitat features to survive; reptiles in particular need generally open habitats with a good ground cover, while amphibians need ponds for breeding.

Smooth Snake – by Chris Dresh

The loss and degradation of the habitats on which these rare amphibians and reptiles depend has been a major factor contributing to their decline. Pond numbers in England and Wales decreased dramatically from an estimated 800,000 in the late 19th century to around 200,000 in the 1980s; this in turn has impacted on amphibian populations. Heathland, the only habitat occupied by all six of our native reptile species, has declined by over 85% since the late 18th century. The heaths that remain are highly fragmented, meaning that some patches are too small to sustain characteristic native reptile species.

As well as ensuring that areas are not lost to competing land uses, such as development or intensive agriculture, it is important that these areas sustain the features within them that allow amphibians and reptiles to survive. Having comparatively low mobility, we also need to ensure there are linkages between these areas to prevent populations becoming isolated and to allow for recolonisation if for any reason they become locally extirpated.

Our work securing areas as protected nature reserves can help address this, but we need to see action over a much wider area. ARC both undertakes and provides advice on habitat management on behalf of landowners, who are often steered by government directives. We therefore also lobby for more robust land use policies and funding mechanisms that encourage sympathetic land management. Agri-environment schemes, for example, protect land from the impacts of development, or at least fully mitigate any unavoidable damage that will occur. Underpinning this is the need for a greater awareness and regard towards the conservation of these animals, so that they are considered positively in decision making.

Within the UK, reptiles and amphibians are notoriously elusive – do you think that this affects the extent to which people are aware of them and the conservation issues that they are facing?

The elusive nature of these species makes it difficult for people to see them and therefore often misunderstand them.

In appearance they are neither feathered nor furry and lack the inherent universal appeal of some other animals. This has contributed to their negative profile in tradition and folklore which are often associated with evil, witchcraft and common ailments such as warts. Indeed, even Carolus Linnaeus, the great biologist and ‘father of modern taxonomy’, described reptiles and amphibians in his book The System of Nature as ‘These foul and loathsome animals are abhorrent because of their cold body, pale colour, cartilaginous skeleton, filthy skin, fierce aspect, calculating eye, offensive smell, harsh voice, squalid habitation, and terrible venom.’

This matters because people’s appreciation and negative perceptions of amphibians and reptiles are echoed in the low importance placed on their conservation, leading to their needs being often just not considered. This can range from direct persecution to simply over-looking their habitat needs, for example in tree planting programmes.

It is hard to appreciate something you cannot see; indeed many people are not aware that we even have reptiles in UK. However, once appreciated they then become important to preserve. That’s why at ARC we place great importance in getting people to see and to learn about the amphibians and reptiles in their area, and to learn how and when they can be seen.

The sight of frogspawn in the garden pond followed by tadpoles and the unmistakable sound of croaking frogs can offer a close-up experience of wildlife and, for some people, this has been the start of a lifelong interest in nature. We are also seeing an increasing fascination with our native ‘dragons’ and recognition of their cultural significance.

This past year has been unbelievably hard for charities. How has 2020 (and 2021 so far) differed for the ARC Trust and how have you dealt with the difficulties that Covid has created?

Covid shut the door on many of our activities, and especially face to face meetings with people including many educational training events and group activities. This has had a number of different impacts, including the amount of habitat managed, opportunities for us to show people reptiles and amphibians and our volunteer engagement. However we maintained work across all of the different areas of our activity – it just meant we had to do these in different ways and have gained from doing so.

As we saw home working and ‘Zoom meetings’ become the norm we were in a position to move many of our education and training events online swiftly. Over the year of restrictions we have developed free ‘bite sized training courses’ and have made some of our sites accessible virtually through virtual reserve walks, drone tours, Q and A panel sessions, quizzes, activities and classroom lessons for children. As lockdown continued, people became more aware of their immediate environments and we offered an opportunity for the public to undertake a home-based survey through our online Garden Dragon Watch survey in addition to our reserves remaining open throughout.

Our two major annual events, the scientific meeting that we co-host with the British Herpetological Society and the Herpetofauna Workers Meeting run jointly with ARG-UK, went online. We explored different platforms for these meetings and, while we couldn’t meet face to face, these meetings attracted larger audiences than we could have hosted through physical meetings, reduced costs and gave a voice to people who had not previously joined in before. This not only significantly reduced the carbon footprint of these events but actively engaged a wider range of delegates, networks and researchers. We will be looking at how we can integrate some of these positive outcomes into future outreach.

What would you consider to be your greatest success story so far?

Ultimately we aim to improve the conservation status of all 13 native species of amphibians and reptiles in the UK. Securing 80 sites into active conservation management, 25 of which we own, is something that we would not have imagined possible when the foundations for forming the charity were being laid in the late 1980s. In terms of conservation impact, our translocation work has truly brought species back from (and in one case beyond) the brink of extinction in Britain.

Sand lizards suffered significant declines across their range during the mid to late 20th Century, disappearing from Wales, seeing a huge reduction in the Merseyside populations and loss from huge swathes of Surrey, Hampshire and Kent. We have led conservation efforts for this species in Britain and in 2019 we released our 10,000th sand lizard as part of our long-term reintroduction programme which has restored sand lizards to 70 sites, restoring much of their former range. Similarly, the range of the natterjack toad dwindled over a similar time period and down to a single surviving heathland population south of the River Thames. We have been involved in reintroducing natterjack toads to 17 sites across the UK.

Perhaps our greatest species success story is the pool frog which was formerly considered to be non-native and went extinct from the UK in the 1990s. We worked in partnership to assemble evidence to indicate that they were in fact native and, through our reintroduction programme, we sourced pool frogs from Scandinavia and successfully reintroduced them to Norfolk, bringing the species back from extinction in the UK. Our latest Green Recovery Challenge government funded project will explore how we can restore the species range in East Anglia, by trailing outdoor enclosures.

Natterjack – by Chris Dresh

Our greatest success overall is the combination of seeing the status of wildlife improve and the benefits that come to people because of what we do. In the course of working towards our primary mission of conserving amphibians and reptiles, we benefit many other species that share their habitats, such as birds, butterflies and dragonflies. We also provide benefits directly to our volunteers and the public who enjoy our reserves that tell us they benefit in terms of their physical and mental health, social lives, enjoyment, education and career development.

How can people get involved with amphibian and reptile conservation, particularly if they are inexperienced in terms of identification and/or field survey?

Reptiles and amphibians occur throughout the country, but the species that you may encounter will vary in different locations and habitats. There are a variety of ways you can get involved through ARC, and whatever your background, we welcome your support.

If you live close to one of our nature reserves or local projects you might like to join a habitat activity day. We run programmes of habitat management designed for teams of volunteers mainly through the winter months – It’s a great way to keep fit, make friends and get a personal insight into looking after your local nature reserve. ARC also offers opportunities to learn more about amphibians and reptiles through training, including online, field and class-based courses and events run in partnership with the Field Studies Council. We are keen to have more people joining in with our national programme of species and habitat surveys, which has various options for people with different levels of knowledge and available time. There is also an opportunity to take part in our Garden Dragon Watch (recording amphibians and reptiles in your garden), or if you have more time sign up to monitor species at a location near you, though the spring and summer months. The information volunteer surveyors supply is valuable in helping ARC to keep track of where amphibians and reptiles are found and how populations are faring.

ARC also runs a members’ scheme for people who wish to support the work we do, stay up to date with the ecology and conservation of amphibians and reptiles, gain discounts to events and conferences and claim a welcome pack containing an array of species identification resources.

You can find out more about the ARC Trust from their website and by following them on Facebook and Twitter.