The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust has released a landmark report compiling the first three years of results from its nationwide widespread species surveys. The results are worrying. Adders seem to be declining fast, and were recorded from only 7% of sites surveyed. Toads, newts, lizards, and in fact all species seem to be declining, except for palmate newt.
The "National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme" (NARRS) is the first ever attempt at a national monitoring scheme for UK herpetofauna. It involves a systematic survey of randomly-selected sites, and since its launch in 2007, volunteers have now gathered data from hundreds of squares. The report presents data from 2007-2009, around 300 one-kilometre squares. These form the first half of a six-year survey cycle from 2007-2012.
Each volunteer is trained and allocated a one-kilometre square within reach of their home. Using standardised methods and multiple visits, the volunteers survey their square and submit their results on NARRS reporting forms. These are converted into percentage occupancy rates, and form the basis for future comparisons and assessments of change.
The fact that the adder has been singled out as the species in most dire need of conservation assistance will be welcomed by many herpetologists. Widely believed to be in rapid decline, the adder has suffered from year-on-year declines in many places, and has become extinct in whole counties such as Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Hertfordshire.
As well as historic loss and fragmentation of habitat, adders may be facing genetic inbreeding effects in isolated populations. But perhaps surprisingly, one of the most dramatic problems is the crash of adder populations on many nature reserves. Unsympathetic management such as gorse removal, heavy grazing, or heavy plant use can destroy hibernacula and wipe out whole populations of adders. When land managers are faced with pressure to target efforts to a particular bird, mammal, butterfly or plant, adders are usually very low down on the list. Very rarely do they - or in fact any reptile - feature in the management plans of nature reserves.
See here to read the NARRS report 2007-2009.