RAUK - Archived Forum - Advice please

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Robert V
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Posted: 27 Mar 2007

Hi all,

i wonder if you would all consider this seriously and let me have your suggestions as to wording.

I'm considering writing an open letter to the local paper critisising the work of the conservators of Epping Forest, but, I don;t want to go overboard or be blatantly rude, but, something has to be said.

This year, is the first time in 19 years (yes 19 years of drought and flood) that I have not made one single sighting of a Grass Snake on any of the plains in EF.

Now i'm not going to speculate as to the reasons but one thing I do know, whatever cover there had been on the plains for emerging adults or newly hatched youngsters, have been decimated by the "long horn experiments" through out the forest.

I wrote to the Conservation Officer in 2004 warning of the situation and the decline in GS numbers even then, but he just wrote back the same old spiel about needing to promote Heather growth and reduce Birch and Purple Moor Grass.

In my eyes (and I'm trying hard not to be unduly critical given the aims) the whole thing has been a disaster. Yes, there are some minor crops of Heather (about 12mm tall) in odd aptches, but generally, the trampled mess is cropped, sh*t all over and fit for no reptile. Obviously, some still survive in Glades and nooks and crannies, but, I cannot see any way back for GS when every year they rope off several areas and smash it all to bits. I'm sorry to go on, but, it rankles that an area that was almost legendary since the days of Malenoir can be treated with such ignorance.

The really ironic thing is that two years ago, two of the so called wardens wanted to arrest me for bagging, weighing, measuring and photographing newly emerged Adders.

Wow, I'm fuming.....Help.


RobV
armata
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Posted: 28 Mar 2007
As I recall the corporation has long horn at Burnham Beeches as well, but maybe notso many, and they appear to have fenced off senistive area keeping the cattle off. They have done rather well there with regard to adder; it was almost extinct at one time.
Do they take advice from NE?
'I get my kicks on Route 62'
David Bird
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Posted: 28 Mar 2007
Several N.London and Essex BHS members have been moaning for many years about the decline and now lack of reptiles in the grazing areas to no avail. For some reason Natural England local offices cannot understand the importance or Molinia tussocks to invertebrates, small mammals and reptiles even when you tell them and have a list of species and numbers present, it is a lot easier to tick a box for grazing and write down the number per hectare of bloody cattle or horses than care about the effect they are having. There appears to be no published work on how important a habitat the Molinia tussocks are in Epping forest, S.Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset to name just the areas that I know are affected.
British Herpetological Society Librarian and member of B.H.S Conservation Committee. Self employed Herpetological Consultant and Field Worker.
Vicar
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Joined: 02 Sep 2004
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Posted: 28 Mar 2007
Robert,

I do understand your frustration.

I would suggest that the first thing to do would be to have a darn good think as to what other reasons might have caused the proven (you have records!) decline. Then you can set about 'testing' each theory to see if it stands up.

It seems to me that they are unlikely to just accept blame, and are more likely to point to some other factor. This is where a well thought out plan of action will expose any knee-jerk diversionary tactics, if any are employed.

I find it hard to comment as I don't know the site nor the situation. Either way, it sounds as though the animals have already suffered.

So sorry mate

Steve

Steve Langham - Chairman    
Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group (SARG).
armata
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Posted: 28 Mar 2007
David is right even if they are taking advice from NE; then they are pro grazing anyway. I don't suppose Jim would like to comment. With this current habitat manual going to press surely the importance of such as molinia must be recognised!!!!

What with goats at Studland the worlds gone mad, MAD I say - and I thought I would be lessed stressed here with regard to UK herps-great forum my link to home BUT.......
'I get my kicks on Route 62'
GemmaJF
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Joined: 25 Jan 2003
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Posted: 28 Mar 2007

If I could help I would Rob. My experience with any challenge to management is that very often it doesn't get beyond a load of generic responses - the classic being that reptiles benefit from 'open' habitat - totally missing the point that reptiles require three dimensional habitats with a mixture of cover and more open basking areas. Seems we all have the same experience, frustrating isn't the word for it when your on the ground and can see the damage done.


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
Peter Vaughan
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Joined: 21 Mar 2005
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Posted: 28 Mar 2007

A bit worrying all this.  Increasingly it seems that grazing - in particular grazing by cattle - is seen as THE answer to heathland biodiversity management.   On one local reserve ponies are grazed - they haven't eliminated the reptiles and appear to be helping to re-generate the heather.   But there is a desire to replace them with cattle.  I am not entirely sure why - I think its because certain breeds of cattle will munch their way through a wider variety of invasive plant species.  That may further improve the variety etc of the flora but...

Peter


Peter Vaughan
Robert V
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Joined: 06 Aug 2004
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Posted: 29 Mar 2007

 

Mmmm, thanks all for your sentiments etc.

In a way, I think Steve's right, I should try to eliminate every other possibility but, as I'd already alerted the powers-that-be in '04 of the decline of one area the year after grazing started there, and others had warned as early as 1998 of the detrimental effects in other grazed areas, they would find it hard to deny the link between the two events.

BUT. Here is an part of what they told me and I quote....."None of the reptile species in the forest are faced with extinction in the forest, or in Essex, although their numbers have reduced markedly because of loss of suitable open habitats over the last century, and they should all benefit in the long term by an expansion of the more open heathy habitats and more edge habitat...."

It goes on to say the benefits to Heath Wood Rush, Creeping Willow and Black Sedge! Obviously much more important than any reptile huh?

Anyway, if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere, and though a few might chuckle when I mention trying to increase the protection for Grass Snakes as well as Adders, mark my words, if we don't, in twenty years, we'll be lucky to photograph either.

Of course, I could try and reverse the thinking altogether and any GS I find, I could transfer to a "safe site" in Kent maybe or even down in Somerset?! Now theres a thought....

R  


RobV
armata
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Posted: 29 Mar 2007
Now now, lets not get into translocations
'I get my kicks on Route 62'
armata
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Posted: 29 Mar 2007
I would add.

If you are positive with your data you could go public, newspaper/TV . But recall my experience couple of years back with Hartland. That cost me; and we were also gently reminded that such topics should not be discussed on an open forum. There is an obvious desire to keep such matters behind closed doors.
COMPLETELY OPEN HABITAT IS NOT A DESIRABLE HABITAT FOR REPTILES - IS THERE ANYBODY LISTENING???????
'I get my kicks on Route 62'
Vicar
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Posted: 29 Mar 2007
Just thought it worth a mention...

There are some of us on this forum, for whom herpetology is an amateur hobby, which we do for the joy of observing the animals, and our mortgage payments are in no way dependent upon national or regional conservation organisations.

What I'm saying is, if somebody has good evidence, but is shy of causing waves because their livelihood depends upon keeping certain organisations on side, there are some of us who do not need to tread so lightly.

Certainly feel free to PM me about any such issues in Surrey.
Vicar39170.6257407407
Steve Langham - Chairman    
Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group (SARG).
David Bird
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Posted: 29 Mar 2007
Tony,
please don't equate the long term disappearance of a particular habitat due to grazing with the single act of cutting several stands of very leggy gorse that happened at Hartland Moor. I can only see that a letter made public with details of the change in the habitat and the loss of reptiles would backfire if permission for the grazing had been given by the herpetologist who was complaining which was what happened at Hartland if your memory about the course of events leading to the damage that came out at the meeting we had at E.N.Slepe farm is as good as mine. That meeting was the most embarrassing meeting I have ever attended and ruined the chance of some of us complaining about another reserve which was a good reptile site where approximately 80% of the habitat had been bulldozed.

Dave
British Herpetological Society Librarian and member of B.H.S Conservation Committee. Self employed Herpetological Consultant and Field Worker.
armata
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Posted: 29 Mar 2007
Hope Dave you are not suggesting that I gave permissiom for grazing. Yes most of that gorse was legg, but not all and three thick stands in particular provided cover for communal hibernators. As I recall we did not discuss Hartland in isolation, but other sites, Furzebrook, East Creech come to mind. I think lack of consultation was a main thrust of the meeting. Hartland and other sites were just a series of errors due to lack of liaison. You recall the mowing of the sand lizard areas that you surveyed.
My problem as ever is looking at the animals at indivual level; maybe I'm wrong and should take the wider view, and perhaps most people would like to see 'Hardy's Heath restored.
'I get my kicks on Route 62'
David Bird
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Posted: 29 Mar 2007
Tony,
of course I am not saying you were responsible for grazing that had been going on well before that. I agree that the meeting was supposed to be a general meeting about timing of various management and liason to minimize damaging effects but ended up almost solely talking about just the Hartland Moor/Scotland Farm damage and subsequent publicity. You eventually admitted that you had been out on site previously in the year with National Trust and had agreed to the work and the timing of it being done. This disclosure made it almost impossible for us to continue with our complaint of almost total destruction by bulldozers of a much smaller site with a large reptile interest at Hardy's Cottage.


Dave
British Herpetological Society Librarian and member of B.H.S Conservation Committee. Self employed Herpetological Consultant and Field Worker.
armata
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Posted: 29 Mar 2007
Yes I did liaise with NT but did not agree to the scale of the work, and I did point out the sensitive areas.
It would have helped if I was called on the day to oversee but that never happened.
'I get my kicks on Route 62'
Robert V
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Joined: 06 Aug 2004
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Posted: 31 Mar 2007

 

Wow,

I'm glad (in a way) that I'm not the only one with 'issues'.

Again, I think Steve is right; some of us are 'just' herp amateur enthusiasts and only have an ineterest in one or two sites, but, an intimate knowledge of such sites surely can be useful for understanding herp needs nationally?

It seems to me that there are major differences of opinion as to what "reptile/herp/snake needs" are as is evidenced by above in Dave and Tony's debate and if such differences exist in such things as what constitutes a perfect reptile environment, then how can land owners or organisations like the conservators of EF know exactly what to do and what NOT to do???

For what its worth (and I realise few are listening) I think that Nn perfect habitat is not the same as Vb perfect habitat and to a certain extent, thats where EF suffers through total lack of understanding of each as they're just treated as snakes in the grass and expected to survive upheaval.

So, like Tony down at Hartland, I'm on a hiding to nothing and no wonder you went over to SA Tony, where I imagine wild, still looks a bit like wild.

I'm going over there again in a about an hour...... Glutton for punishment i suppose. The trouble is that....... I can never stop being interested!


RobV
David Bird
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Posted: 31 Mar 2007
I agree with what you say Robert regarding the different habitats and this does not concern just the habitats of Viper & Grass Snake. I doubt if there are many plants or animals that require exactly the same conditions as other species and any management is going to be beneficial to some species but detrimental to others. I have always believed that almost every site has to be looked at individually for the best result as they will all differ in topography, climate , soil, hydrology etc. which will result in the different rates of growth of vegetation which can also differ from year to year. This is why local detailed knowledge and understanding can be so important for the finer and optimal aspects of management on the site.

There has been very little written on the overall optimum habitat for the various reptile or amphibian species and how this can be achieved by management especially if an area has been left to decline or has been mismanaged. I hope that the new book that is being produced will help to fill this gap and also help to change some of the long held views on some aspects that have held proper management back for many years. Any book can only give a framework of the techniques and the end point that one is hoping to achieve and it is the way one reaches this end point that will differ for each site and how one maintains it in the long term.

The most important aspect for all workers, amateur or professional, is to let the owners, managers, labourers of any site know every year of your records and your thoughts on important areas and your reasons why they are important. Do not be afraid of suggesting what management you think needs to be carried out and the timing and scale of the operation, do not forget you probably know the site and its herpetofauna better than they do if it is one of ôyourö sites that your visit regularly and care about. This is more than often not done and it is then difficult to moan afterwards if the work destroys an area that you have kept to yourself with no map or records passed on. Unless you know and trust the contacts very well always put the request in writing with detailed maps or sketches so there is no confusion and offer to mark out the no go areas with tiger tape or flags, the work may be carried out by an unskilled worker or at least someone who does not have the experience and knowledge that you have. Bulldozer or digger drivers cannot see banks that are only inches high from their cab especially if they are in a jungle of gorse, please try to put yourself in their position and use your brain.

Most of the upsets that have occurred in Dorset have been when large areas of habitat have been left for many years to scrub completely over or become vast stands of 3 m high leggy gorse which are not that suitable for herpetofauna being dark and cold with no ground vegetation in the centre, these can be very large and 100 m x 50 m is quite common. I personally would have had a moan about the conditions like this a lot earlier if
it was on one of my sites and would have offered my assistance to manually break the area up into islands and then gradually reduce these by rotational management. Total removal is the worst option but not quite as bad as leaving them alone to get worse. Sometimes removing a stand like this in a much larger area is in fact producing these islands.

I am hoping that the new book will help all managers of land that holds herpetofauna to make better decisions.

David

British Herpetological Society Librarian and member of B.H.S Conservation Committee. Self employed Herpetological Consultant and Field Worker.
David Bird
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Posted: 03 Apr 2007
Just had a reply from Paul Edgar who I was checking some information with as I always like to check everything somewhwere before I post and he was present at the Slepe Fsrm E.N. meeting a few years back. Paul has probably the most experience with grazing that has worked for reptiles, mostly in N.Hampshire,and also one of the few herpetologists who has been in charge of management on numerous sites including Eelmooor Marsh. It is a pity that we don't have similar people in all counties as grazing if used at the correct density , with the correct animals for the correct end result can be beneficial for a variety of species including reptiles.
Dave

"Hi Dave, thanks for that. An interesting RAUK post. I noticed that Tony mentioned the grazing at Burnham Beeches. One of the reasons the reptiles aren't being decimated here is because this is one of the few sites in the country where anyone has bothered to properly implement the Grazing Impact Assessment for heathland invertebrates and reptiles that we produced a few years back (English Nature Research Report No. 497). This method might seem a little complicated at first but for good reason - any habitat management that is too simplified and formulaic is bound to be a disaster for something (usually the poor bloody reptiles) - and we know it works well when it's used correctly. So there has been advice available on heathland grazing out there for a while now, it's just that few people seem to follow it, or even find out about it.

That's why Jim Foster and I are now writing the Reptile Habitat Management Handbook, which will be a joint Natural England and HCT publication. We don't have the money for a really detailed version but it will still cover all British reptiles, all reptile habitats, reptile habitat requirements, management principles for reptiles and all the main management techniques. Hopefully by including lots of pretty pictures we will get the message across better than boring text alone can. Could you please thank all the RAUK people who've sent me photos already, by the way, sorry I haven't had time to reply to everyone yet. Anyway, we've concentrated on making positive suggestions about how to avoid damaging reptile populations, rather than just saying grazing is bad, burning is bad, cutting is bad, etc. The latter approach simply cuts no ice with site managers who have to consider huge numbers of other species (many of which are extremely rare) that absolutely do need these management techniques to survive. Hopefully then this handbook will be useful to site managers and herpetologists alike and will start to make a difference. Of course, the revised and much more severe Conservation Regulations will also help wherever the European protected species occur! Management advice is also being put on the HCT website, for both amphibians and reptiles, with much more to be added later. In addition, Jim and I will be writing an article on this whole subject for British Wildlife magazine later in the year - assuming I haven't brained myself by hitting my head on a brick wall by then. The sooner everyone in conservation realises we're all supposed to be on the same side the better.

Cheers, Paul"
British Herpetological Society Librarian and member of B.H.S Conservation Committee. Self employed Herpetological Consultant and Field Worker.
Vicar
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Posted: 03 Apr 2007
Eelmoor marsh appears well managed for reptiles, with good densities of Nn, Af and Vb, although fewer Zv than expected.

To give an idea of the grazing intensity at the site, I think there are about six Przewalski horses, and a similar number of cattle over 79 hectares.

By all accounts, the flora of the site has benefited greatly.

I've heard that the number of cattle may double soon.

Steve Langham - Chairman    
Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group (SARG).
herpetologic2
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Posted: 03 Apr 2007

Basically your stuffed when it comes to reptiles in the Forest Rob, though ask for the crested newt records from the conservators......

Overgrazing an area which is important for this species is a criminal offence hence the police should be involved.....wait a minute

The Epping Forest SSSI citation states that there are excellent populations of all the amphibian & reptile species found in Essex - if features of a SSSI are being damaged by works (grazing) which are being used to help restore other features of the SSSI then they have to review this and mitigate for this damage - reptile numbers going down due to reduction of vegetation structure

I would suggest that the open letter may back fire....... though I cannot stop you from doing that

The one thing I would like to have is your records over your time studying the reptiles at Epping Forest - we need to collate all the available data together I have some data, Roy has some and if we put all this together I would be willing to write a report for the conservators and Natural England......

 

Let me know

 

Jon


Vice Chair of ARG UK - self employed consultant -
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