RAUK - Archived Forum - Reptile survey

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Reptile survey :

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GemmaJF
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Posted: 13 Oct 2010
I'm just wondering how many people would agree that the ideal situation regarding reptile mitigation would be an entire seasons worth of survey followed by a second season of mitigation?

I can see for and against.

For example, I've surveyed sites in the spring window, carried out population estimates and started mitigations early summer finishing in the Autumn. Completing site clearance comfortably within the projected window and removing all gravid animals from the site before it was too late. In a similar way I've surveyed from late summer to autumn, identified all species onsite and formed population estimates ready for an early start in the spring. The results were perfectly accurate and reflected capture effort required.

I'm not sure many clients would wear a two year delay on a project when in the past reptiles seemed to be low on the list and often a last minute consideration.

I'm just wondering what others views are on the subject and particularly for and against a whole seasons survey followed by a whole season of mitigation.


Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
GemmaJF
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Posted: 13 Oct 2010
Just to add some meat to the discussion (open to corrections if people have other data) The below is sourced from Beebee and Griffiths and Smith and seems about right.


Birth of young for widespread species:

Slow worm - mid-August to mid September

Common Lizard - Late June to end of August

Adder - Late July to mid September (Peak births from late August to mid September)

Grass snake (egg laying) June and July, hatching Late August to mid September

It would be good if this thread became a resource for each argument put backed by data and logic. It seems pretty clear from the above if Nn are present we need to start capture works early in the year to avoid clutches of eggs onsite (assuming there were any likely egg laying sites involved rather than just foraging areas). Whereas starting a slow worm only mitigation in July wouldn't be bad  practice, there is still 6 weeks to get the gravid animals off the site.

GemmaJF40464.1618518519
Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
sussexecology
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Posted: 13 Oct 2010

Gemma

Thank you for starting an interesting topic.

Robert and I have different vewpoints on this topic but I would usually recommend undertaking the survey over a whole season with more concentrated effort in the peak months (April, May, September).  This has the advantage of giving you more time to estimate population levels and fully assess the site.

If widespread species were found to be present, and assuming that this is a development site, I would then carry out the mitigation the following year and undertake over a whole season, although I would prefer more than one season for removing animals.

Hetty


GemmaJF
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Posted: 13 Oct 2010
My big drive with this thread is it the same for all species of reptiles though? They tend to get lumped together.

For example:

Large industrial complex, survey (field & desktop) reveals high density Common Lizard populations and transient Grass Snake population. High confidence of adder and slow worm being absent, perhaps based on previous local mitigation results or in several real life examples for me, adder present but not in the mitigation areas.

A 3 month survey in the spring using onduline will soon reveal if we have 'lots and lots', 'lots', 'not very many' lizards. This would be a case for me where I would be happy to survey and mitigate in one season. I would think it totally unnecessary to extend the survey period and simply repeat the same results for a whole season when the mitigation could be started and completed with a high degree of confidence.

Throw adder or slow worm in the mix though and things change depending on what sort of density the populations are. Particularly for adder what are they using the habitat for?

I would like to see us all work toward common sense approaches with a lot more open debate on these subjects. All too often I have to battle a client who is working to what 'others have got away with' and at the same time with an NE team who insist I should jump a new hoop that I never had to before to satisfy myself on a point I already covered. Which does nothing but make the client twitchy. We need a situation where clients realise for example by allowing data to go to the right sources it helps to formulate better and more streamlined mitigation strategies and on the other hand we are given some credit for our knowledge and common sense to assess what we are dealing with.

The big argument against the later is there will be a tendency for some to work to the bare mimimum others have without the needed knowledge to achieve success.

One more point regarding extended surveys. Can leaving ACO onsite for a year actually increase the viability of the habitat and attract more reptiles to a potential mitigation area than were there at the start? I've avoided this in the past by placing the ACO at high density outside the intended mitigation areas and small numbers inside when possible during initial survey.

Taking that even further, is there an argument for careful habitat manipulation at sites where in-situ translocation is intended over a couple of seasons to reduce the viability of the mitgation area while increasing that of the surroundings rather than the usual bucket and exclusion fence approach? Though the time window is larger the effort required and hence cost could be considerably less.
GemmaJF40464.6493287037
Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
sussexecology
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Posted: 16 Oct 2010

[QUOTE=GemmaJF] My big drive with this thread is it the same for all species of reptiles though? They tend to get lumped together.

For example:

A 3 month survey in the spring using onduline will soon reveal if we have 'lots and lots', 'lots', 'not very many' lizards. This would be a case for me where I would be happy to survey and mitigate in one season. I would think it totally unnecessary to extend the survey period and simply repeat the same results for a whole season when the mitigation could be started and completed with a high degree of confidence.

[/QUOTE]

In this situation, I would be happy to start mitigation in the same year. 

If a job comes in, let's say in March, then I would spend between April and June doing a survey, with increased effort in April and May -the peak months for reptile activity. I would do a minimum of 20 surveys in the right weather conditions.

On the other hand, if you undertook a survey over a whole season (March-September) and started the mitigation the following spring - this is likely to create conflict between you and the developer.

At what point would I then start the mitigation process? Ideally, the sooner, the better.  Depends on the species and population level. For low populations of widespread species can be completed in the same season (excluding adder, grass snake). 

If I am dealing with a large densitiy of slow worms, then yes I would start the mitigation process in the same year and as early as possible. I agree with your earlier comment in another thread that moving animals before they've given birth should be a preferred option.

It's not always that simple though. I think developers, and maybe inexperienced surveyors, underestimate the amount of time it can take to have the mitigation/capture effort completed.

My preference would be to try and retain the reptiles on site, or at least encourage them to move into adjacent areas that have suitable habitat and erect reptile fencing. However, if you are not able to do this and translocation is the only option you have, this could change things. This is why I will always try to find out from the developers exactly what they are planning to do with the site, and if necessary locate a receptor as early as possible.

Bear in mind that developers can change their minds with regards to retaining habitats on the site. In this situation, the mitigation process may be delayed, and is just a headache.

Finding a suitable receptor site (if you have to do translocation) and one that is as close to the site as possible is not always as straightforward as you might like. If you are dealing with rare reptiles, it takes time to find a suitable receptor site, particularly sand lizard.

The level of effort required should never be compromised where the consultant is forced to jump loopholes. That's unfair on the consultant and on the reptile population. I can't believe that NE made someone go by the FrogLife guidance.

I think that the new guidelines should include different levels of effort required for mitigation - but it has to be common sense, realistic, based on solid survey data and is workable by everyone who is involved with reptile mitigation.

I will add some more comments later as I am meant to be off today!


herpetologic2
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Posted: 16 Oct 2010
I have worked with a consultancy in Norfolk where two
years of survey work was undertaken prior to mitigation
works and then the actual works beginning.

The main focus was the adder populations found along the
Norfolk Broads - the mitigation was outstanding (in my
opinion) - capture work started in March through to June
- emerged animals were released into local receptor
sites. One of these receptor sites were three specially
constructed 'hibernation' banks which were inclosed with
reptile fencing for the spring and into the early summer.

Extensive reptile fencing was not used as this was far
too expensive - the work areas were rendered unsuitable
and were re surveyed in August/September this year after
the bird nesting season - Sections of the work areas had
breeding cranes - a very sensitive issue.

The relocated adders managed to go through their normal
breeding cycle - combat, mating and mate guarding were
recorded from the release areas - eventually the male
adders were trying really hard to escape and so they were
allowed to disperse into the wider countryside.

Females I presume (have not got the results yet) have
stayed on the banks and I think will be dropping their
young on these new habitats thus relocating the
population.

Other measures included saving important habitat features
within the works areas so that when the work has finished
and has re-established natural vegetation there will be
habitats for animals to return to plus I suspect that
animals will survive in these areas despite the works
around them - this has happened on other similar projects
in Essex for example.

The most important aspect of a reptile mitigation project
has to be the follow up work - surveying and habitat
management. The work which is not a legal obligation -
though it should be

I think that the creation of reptile habitat resulting in
the net gain of local conservation status for reptiles in
a given area.

The best place to find receptor sites I would argue is
farmland - in environmental stewardship usually - there
is acres and acres of farmland which can be used for
releasing reptiles if this needs to be done.

Remember the seawall site in Peldon Gemma? well we have
carried on with the monitoring surveys - the
hibernation/habitat banks are working very nicely for all
the reptiles found on that site.

My last visit for the NARRS survey protocols resulted in
finding grass snakes, adders and slow-worms on the three
banks along the countryside stewardship margin.

For very little effort we have had a real success with
this project!

I hope to be out in Norfolk next spring to help with
further mitigation works - I can then revisit the release
sites and record how many adders had adopted the new
habitats as hibernation sites -

The release areas will be monitored and managed for the
next ten years.

I would definitely say that snakes need a different
approach to what is normally used for the lizards.

Any thoughts?

Also I hope my rambling above makes sense lol

J
Vice Chair of ARG UK - self employed consultant -
visit ARG UK & Alresford Wildlife
herpetologic2
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Posted: 16 Oct 2010
My view on reptile effort - if you have the time then
take it - this is important with large reptile
populations and complex development schemes.

I have a site in Surrey - a small site with a few lizards
and the odd grass snake. Now do I spend lots of money on
fencing - finding a receptor site, to capture the few
animals on site?

Or do I manage the site with habitat management push the
reptiles (small numbers) to the boundaries - the
development will have landscaping etc

I can then find local grass snake sites and install
several egg laying sites - with an agreed monitoring
survey for the next ten years?

The client is up for this and has also indicated that we
have plenty of time over the next year to really review
whether the site supports any significant populations of
lizard or grass snake -

Grass snakes to me do not need to be translocated on this
site - habitat manipulation would be fine to drive them
out and I suspect that the lizards have possibly died out
or have moved onto other external sites which are more
suitable.

I just feel that much more can be done by focussing on
creating new habitats for the species locally

J
Vice Chair of ARG UK - self employed consultant -
visit ARG UK & Alresford Wildlife
GemmaJF
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Posted: 17 Oct 2010
I think it's getting interesting. When looking at the cost/effort of a bucket and fence mitigation then look to alternatives - if the time window can be given it seems much better to follow habitat manipulation and with adder, what else can we reasonably do unless it is a small scale in-situ contract. The longterm approach also gives us a chance to create new habitat and give it long enough to mature.

Someone put to me a few years ago that one could use herbicides that were safe for animals to carryout staged vegetation clearance. I wasn't keen but wonder has anyone gone this route? I have also wondered about laying out huge sheets of horticultural polythene to block out sunlight and kill vegetation slowly. I'm sure no sun would be a great way of getting reptiles to move to surrounding improved habitats rather than catching them all. I could see it as a possible approach on grassland sites. Might even be a good way to reduce vegetation in strips rather then strimming on a more conventional mitigation. Though I guess one will have to weigh up if to start with the sheets would just act as a huge ACO.

Going back to points made above, inexperienced surveyors understimating time/effort involved is perhaps the number one reason mitigations go to the wall. I've seen cases where one worker is trying to cover a site that needed 5 people to complete the job in the time scheduled. This to me is the key to 'good' and 'bad' consultancy. Nobody who can't judge almost to the week how long it will take to carry out a mitigation and the human effort required to do so, should be doing it in my opinion. It's always been our own strength as a consultancy that we get it very exact indeed. It's only possible with well targetted survey and being able to manipulate the data generated. Early warning of an over-run is also important. To date we've only over-run a mitigation if we were not given access to the whole site when we wanted it. A classic example is on the ACO thread where 11,000 were deployed. That's an awful lot of capture effort involved for one person or even a team of 30 or more.


The other is that unless the developer knows exactly what they are doing, don't start. I'm not even keen to do an initial survey unless they have finalised the works area, access routes, spoils areas etc. It's just wasted too much of my time in the past working with a developer who seemed to be making it up as they went along. (or working with someone from 'middle management' who has little clue about reptiles or the developers needs for that matter).

Having a situation where one is onsite and asking them are they sure they'll be able to turn a GMK 3050 crane in the space allocated as the 'works area' and they haven't a clue makes me wonder if I should be doing their job too. (how about giving the contractor a ring and checking before we deploy 75K worth of reptile exclusion fencing ).

Unless they have it pretty much sewn up it's impossible to target a survey properly and even more impossible to come up with a workable mitigation proposal in my experience. I've had occassions when the developer provided a blank piece of paper and said, 'right we want you to get rid of the reptiles so we have a free hand to work with'. The best response is to request you are provided with a blank cheque to cover the costs - it usually then only takes them about a fortnight to come up with finalised plans. In the cases where they come back still with a blank piece of paper.. well that's when we end up with a 150K mitigation.

Just one more point regarding receptor sites - Geology - people don't alway realise species such as adder are often locally tied to particular soil types - a clay site just a few miles away may be totally unsuitable for example. This is a good example of when looking for a receptor site that has a target species absent - always think long and hard as to why. I think I too would be looking at farm land falling under stewardship but remember a lot of agricultural land in the SE is boulder clay or London clay and perhaps not the best bet for adder.
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Gemma Fairchild, Independent Ecological Consultant
Scale
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Posted: 14 Jan 2011
Example: an area of arable land has been identified as
potential replacement habitat for an adjacent relocation
program.The area is seeded/turfed with an (appropriate?)
mix of grass and herbs.

Does anyone have any comments about this approach or
examples of this having been successful? Is there a
minimum length of time required for suitable habitat
maturation (assuming unimproved/neutral grassland was the
aim)? At what stage have reptiles first been noted using
these habitats when encouraged to do so naturally and
what variations have people noted between reptile
species. Assuming that common and/or locally suitable
plant species are used has anyone noted a good species
composition, are there any typical herbs/grasses
particularly favourable to 'common' reptiles.

Example: Slow-worm, tussock forming grass species for
cover, high numbers of grass/herbs as suitable
food/nectar plants for common herbivorous gastropods,
Lepidoptera/Coleoptera larva etc

The reason I ask is that I have been thinking about
carrying out some experiments in a lawned area of my
garden, as peripherally it supports slow-worm. There
seems to be a lack of information on periods of required
habitat maturation suitable for in situ reptile
relocation (or does this exist somewhere?). I wonder do
animals survive this premature relocation or are certain
species more tolerant than others.

My experiment would begin and end with slow-worm and
based purely on its ability to occupy such a wide range
of common habitats I would hypothesise that this species
would adapt the most quickly and favourably. (I would
point out that I don't plan on relocating the animals
merely link controlled seeded/turfed plots to peripheral
habitat supporting Slow-worms. I wondered if this would
be a worthy endeavour or am I just repeating previous
experiments i.e. perhaps a German study!

Rob

- Reptile survey

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