Gareth took part in a Challenge to swim The Channel, between September and December. This year we are giving a donation to Aspire, who provide practical help to people who have been paralysed by Spinal Cord Injury; it can happen to anyone at any time and no one is prepared for how it will change their life. Aspire exists because there is currently no cure. The Challenge took 13 hours 10 minutes to swim 35km, across 31 days. Try an Autumn Channel Swim yourself starting mid-September, a great cardio-vascular exercise, fantastic for the back and flexibility. Season's greetings for 2017.
In Summer 2016 Merton Borough Council were granted a Great Crested Newt (GCN) development license at Morden Park, in relation to a Leisure Centre re-development (June 2015 News Archive), which included restoration works completed by November, at two historic ponds within the Park. The current GCN pond was cleared of encroaching trees with a 0.5m deep sump dug-out in the middle (see Photos), allowing some retention of water (it was dry in June 2015). A second nearby pond, where GCN were not recorded breeding in 2015 was cleared of leaf litter and trees shading the southern banks (see newspaper article).
October temperatures remained mild, with many animals that normally hibernate still active. Reptiles were seen in good numbers during October, with 25 slow-worms observed at a survey site in Berkshire (during early-October) and an adult female slow-worm found on top of a compost bin at a receptor site in London (late-October). At the end of October when dormice should be about to enter hibernation, we had two unusual sightings in Surrey, with one found by Ian Ranger feeding on laurel cherries in Grayswood village (see photo) and another using a bird box within dense laurel in the suburbs of Haslemere.
Habitat creation was completed, following a slow-worm translocation in Wrecclesham, for Sentinel Housing (January 2012 News Archive). As part of a felling-license GPM Ecology made annual inspections of the site. On 26th September 2016 we were able to confirm that most of the saplings in all Areas of the site (see Photos) had become well-established. Later in November four trees were planted to replace dead / diseased trees, including three willows and one crab apple. During the September visit 2 reptiles were observed, including an adult melanistic female slow-worm (see Photo). Further site checks are scheduled for 2017 and 2018.
During 2015 we conducted botanical and reptiles surveys of a property due for demolition and re-development on the Sussex-Hampshire border. On 24th August 2016 an area of botanically diverse rush-pasture was translocated by turf. The photo below shows the existing location, which requires fill material and the receptor site about 15m away, adjacent the woodland edge. In total 30 slow-worms, two lizards, 18 toads and two frogs were relocated from 0.03ha lake margin, the location of the new property. No grass snakes were observed, likely to have been discouraged following the removal of ornamental alder scrub, earlier in winter 2016.
A survey update of a large housing development allocation in Oxfordshire, brought-up some surprising findings. Common Lizards were located in July 2016 within an area of calcareous grass-turf translocated in 2014 onto an area of arable, with proposals to form part of a Country Park. The Common Lizards are likely to have been translocated within the grassland turf. In addition a pair of Corn Buntings were seen displaying and feeding over this chalk-grassland. This farmland bird species has suffered a fall in population by 89% between 1970 and 2003, now totalling 11,000 territories! See attached for Info on Corn Buntings.
In June 2016 Gareth Matthes became one of 80 registered Low Impact Licence Holders (LICL), providing a new way of licensing low and temporary impact works affecting great crested newts (GCN). The LICL allows Natural England to determine applications that meet 'low impact' criteria more efficiently, reducing paper work and costs, but still ensuring GCN populations are protected from development impacts. Only Registered Consultants who qualify for a licence, determined by experience, attend a workshop and pass an online test can register a LICL on behalf of a developer (the Licensee). See attached Class Licence: WML-CL33 file for more info.
In May we conducted two eDNA GCN surveys, with samples from two sites on the Chichester Plain, Sussex (GCN confirmed in farm pond near RSPB Medmerry, another near Itchenor had no eDNA recorded). Care is needed not to take eDNA-samples too early in the season! Meanwhile at Morden Park, London we surveyed a remnant GCN population, the only known ponds supporting GCN in Merton Borough. A dog-soiled pond had a count of 8 GCN, while another only supported smooth newts. An amphibian net (pictured here), with a mesh size of 2mm, can give an idea of egg size and species.
In April Gareth arranged two workshops, for the Reigate Probus Club on 4th April concerning the Reptiles and Amphibians of Surrey on behalf of SARG and a second on The Adders of Hounslow Heath on behalf of CIEEM on 15th April. The adder workshop included, a talk on Adders in London (by Will Atkins of LEHART), Management of Hounslow Heath (by Chris Slack formerly of Carillion plc), and the Adder Translocation at Hounslow Heath (by GPM Ecology, as highlighted). We then took delegates onto the heath to look for Adders. Similar training days can be arranged for your company staff.
During 2014 and 2015 GPM Ecology assisted the National Trust to assess the usage of a toad tunnel and status of toads at Lower Pond, Petworth Park, with a mammal-cam set-up at the exit of the tunnel. No toads were observed using the tunnel during 2014, but toads were still breeding in Lower Pond. In 2016 a monitoring programme of the pond was set-up providing an event for local cub-scout troops. In total four cub troops assisted the 'Scouting for Toads' monitoring during February to March 2016, which included a 30 minute night-hike and assistance with counting the Parks amphibians.
In November 2012 we discovered Dormice at a woodland site in Hampshire. January 2015 news reported that the site access required safety site line management due to the number of deliveries to the Barfoots Anaerobic Digester. Dormice monitoring will include surveys of boxes set-up within the verge during February 2016 and fixed photo-monitoring (as shown in photos below). In total 28% of boxes had dormice activity in 2012, rising to 40% in 2013, but dropping again to 28% in 2014 and 2015. Road safety works could help rejuvenate over-shaded hazel coppice (15+ years old), a possible reason for Dormice decline.
During an Amphibian and Reptile conference in early 2016 SARG purchased a rigid, metal Enkamat (rubberised flexible sheet that amphibians can grip, see March 2015 news and accompanying photo). The ladder is positioned down a gully-pot to enable toads and newts trapped within the conventional drainage chambers to climb-out. It is planned to position this ladder at a toad-crossing in Cobham, Surrey where gully-pots were entrapping toads and newts. This is, however only part of the solution, as new drainage systems should be designed to incorporate Sustainable Urban Drainage System, dispensing of the need for storm-water drains and amphibian traps!