aSometimes things work out just fine if you leave them to the last minute; generally they do not. Today, however, was the former. I had my biggest ever NARRS reptile count - 87 common lizards and one slow-worm - in two hours walking round Redhill Common in Bournemouth, Dorset, at the very tail end of the season. Talk about leaving it late though...
I normally take part in NARRS every year – the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme coordinated by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. I only do the reptile part of it these days; involving survey of suitable habitat within a randomly-allocated 1km square. The ideal season for herpetofauna surveys is spring, although the autumn (and sometimes even the summer) can be effective for reptiles.
This year has been a hugely busy year for CGO Ecology, and we simply had too many big projects on during spring 2013. There was no time for voluntary NARRS surveys, and although I was allocated my 1km square are usual, I never visited it. It was a struggle even to keep up with my annual Make the Adder Count survey site; not to mention the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey square I do. (It was easy to squeeze in lots of Big Butterfly Counts at 15 mins each though).
So here we are in the autumn, and the reptile activity season is drawing to a close. How will I have enough time to complete the required several visits to my NARRS site, and ideally lay some artificial refugia beforehand? Well, it's 4th October, the temperature this afternoon was 18°C, the weather was sunny, and I reckoned on it being a good day for spotting reptiles.
And indeed it was a good day. I walked around Redhill Common – a Local Nature Reserve managed by Bournemouth Borough Council – slowly scanning heather, rough grass and gorse, looking for basking reptiles. Within minutes I had seen multiple neonate common lizards (this year's babies, born around July). Some adult common lizards were still out too, and I even saw one adult female slow-worm basking; difficult without refugia.
By the end of two hours, I had spotted 87 common lizards (mostly babies) and one slow-worm. One circular patch of heather surrounded by amenity grass produced 22 lizard sightings in a few minutes. I also laid a few felts, and one of them had a baby common lizard basking on it within ten minutes!
Not all of the two hours was good weather; it became too cloudy later on, and this meant most lizards took cover until tomorrow before I had finished walking the site. Overall though an excellent results, and one that shows that choosing the right time is key for reptile surveys.
Out of interest, common lizards and slow-worms may not be the only reptile species Redhill Common supports, but further survey would be needed to have a better understanding. The habitat certainly looks good enough to support adders, but adders typically under-occupy the habitat available too them, i.e. they have become extinct in many places; probably including this one. The site is also a little limited in extent for adders.
As for the rarities that southeast Dorset is lucky enough to have - sand lizards and smooth snakes - neither are likely to be present here. There's enough heather and other cover for sand lizards, but no bare sand for egg-laying; and the size of the site is rather small to support a population of sand lizards. Likewise, the small size of the site militates against smooth snake survival, although both species may have been present historically, especially before the surrounding housing was built.
Chris Gleed-Owen, Director & Principal Ecologist, CGO Ecology Ltd