Wildlife conservation charity, Froglife has now completed a programme of work to create a wildlife area around an existing pond, with a £500 grant awarded by the WestRaven Big Local Community Grant at the WestRaven community garden in Ravensthorpe.
The creation of the wildlife area and pond area (additional larger pond is part of future work due to take place later this year) is a valuable asset to the community garden by providing an educational tool for local residents and other users of the garden including young people taking part in Froglife’s BBC Children in Need funded Green Pathways project. Froglife aims to teach as many people as possible about the extensive biodiversity and benefits of a simple garden pond and providing habitats for local wildlife.
Green Pathways is a youth project providing practical outdoor activities with young people aged 5-18 in Peterborough, Northamptonshire and the Fenland district. The project supports those with extra difficulties in their lives to improve green spaces for wildlife and people; and learn about and enjoy the environment.
By raising awareness of ponds and demonstrating what a great feature they are in a garden Froglife aims to inspire local people to create their own ponds at home. Froglife also hope to encourage people to get outside and become more active, as this has proven to reduce stress, improve mental health and enhance fitness. This project will benefit local residents as well as teaching good habits to the next generation for a healthier future.
The funds awarded have been used to buy materials to make wildlife homes, provide additional fencing, and enhance the existing fencing around the pond site. It has also been used to purchase two benches so people can sit and relax and enjoy this much improved area. The construction and painting of the wildlife homes, bench and the fencing has all been carried out by young people on the Green Pathways project.
“The children have really enjoyed assembling the benches, and changing them from plain brown to the multi-coloured eye-catching design they are now” said their teacher Adam Billitt
“We got to use a saw and a drill to make a bird box which was great and then we painted pictures on that we thought would attract the birds” said one of the young people
“It’s great to teach the young people new skills and make a huge difference to wildlife and a community at the same time” said Froglife’s Learning Officer
Alice recently spent two weeks volunteering full time with Froglife. Here she recounts her experiences.
Day 1 and 2
My two-week long placement at Froglife began with a general introduction to the charity and a tour of the Hampton Nature Reserve. While at Hampton I saw how the reserve was managed to protect threatened native species such as the Great Crested Newt and Bearded Stonewort.
Bearded Stonewort thrives in newly scraped ponds, I saw first-hand the progression of growth in a series of ponds that were created at different times. I also considered the challenges of creating and maintaining ponds in a large and rugged site.
While touring the site I noticed mats placed around the reserve which are used during reptile surveys. I also saw specially created basking pits for reptiles and strategically placed clearings, allowing reptiles to bask on the south bank.
Reserve design is a topic that I have covered extensively at university. The fragmentation of natural environments can isolate populations, which leads to inbreeding and a reduction in the fitness of a species. Hampton Nature Reserve is split by a road. Special tunnels have been built to allow reptiles and amphibians to migrate, and the success of the tunnels is monitored using camera devices. During my visit I was able to view these tunnels and while in the office I am going to be working with the camera data.
Hampton Reserve cannot be accessed by the public but there are still conflicts with the local community such as vandalism and littering. This caused me to reflect on a previous work experience at Walsall Countryside Rangers. In a publicly accessible reserve the local community fly tipped and burned waste causing extensive damage and resulting in an intervention by the fire service. Local community engagement is a complex task faced by any conservation organisation. Froglife is tackling this by increasing its use of social media, and inviting community groups onto the reserve to volunteer.
My time at Froglife will be divided between Hampton Nature Reserve, the main office and community events. While at the office I am going to be working with data from the tunnel cameras and from the long running Toads on Roads project. This project monitors common toads, which migrate along roads during the breeding season and are often harmed by vehicles. Signs and physical crossing assistance can be used to reduce toad fatality.
Today I was helping with the Dragon Finder fun day at Lyveden New Bield. This community engagement event involved making masks, pond dipping and a quiz trail. Around 130 people visited and many people asked for more information about upcoming events.
During pond dipping, local children caught and identified a variety of aquatic invertebrates. Particular highlights included a dragonfly larva, a duck leech and damselfly nymphs.
Yesterday I assisted with a reptile survey on Hampton nature reserve. This is the first time I have surveyed for reptiles, and I learnt a lot about reptile identification. During the day I saw slow worms, common lizards and grass snakes, at many different life stages. I also saw a wide variety of invertebrates, plants and a wood mouse.
The survey was conducted using a series of mats placed around the reserve. The mats were lifted and any reptiles found underneath were recorded. We also recorded any reptiles found in the immediate area. Any interesting species and potential dangers such as cats were also recorded.
Day 5 and 6
I have spent the previous two days of my placement in the office, familiarising myself with current literature on reptiles and amphibians. I read a particularly interesting paper about the effect of historical and current land use on amphibian populations. Environments with a long history of agriculture often have lower land quality, reducing the diversity of species present. Areas which have a history of local forest cover have a higher level of species diversity, and have more common toads. I also read a paper concerning the introduction of an invasive marsh plant that was destroying the breeding habitat of Fowler’s toads in Canada. There was sufficient adult habitat but the species declined as it was unable to breed successfully. These two papers showed the effects of habitat loss in human altered environments.
I have also increased my knowledge of UK conservation by finding contacts with ecology and herpetology backgrounds. This is to assist Froglife in finding others interested in collaborating with their camera trap research.
During my lunch break I also got the opportunity to visit Froglife’s allotment. Many different community groups work on this site, including young offenders and it has been improved recently by the addition of a new path. While here I have been able to see newly created ponds, and ponds at various stages of construction. This has enabled me to consider some of the challenges of setting up appropriate amphibian environments, such as selecting the right plant species and preventing algal blooms.
Day 7 and 8
Due to the rain yesterday, the butterfly survey was rearranged for today. The survey took place at Hampton Nature Reserve and the sunny weather meant that lots of butterflies were visible. Our team surveyed the entire site for butterflies and moths, this covered different habitat types such as woodland and scrub.
My surveying skills progressed quickly due to the expertise of the other volunteers. I was able to distinguish between different types of white butterfly using the presence of green veins and the colouring of the wing tip. Species such as the small heath, the speckled heath, the small white and the meadow brown were common sightings. We also saw red admirals, commas and peacocks.
Today is my last day at Froglife, and I am in the office finishing all of my online tasks.
I am reflecting on the last two weeks and all of the new experiences I have had. It had been three years since I last performed a survey, over the last two weeks I have gained a vast amount of knowledge on reptile and butterfly identification. I have seen my first grass snake and learnt the names of butterflies and plants that I have seen countless times.
While at the office I have improved my computer skills and found some useful websites to gather historic data. I have learnt how to more effectively summarise scientific literature and I have enjoyed expanding my knowledge on reptile and amphibian ecology.
During my time out of the office I have met many new people with different expertise and backgrounds. I have also worked with members of the public, and taught young children about wildlife. The soft skills that I have developed such as living alone in a new city and forming relationships with colleagues will prepare me well for life after university.
Volunteers from a local company helped contribute to the work of Froglife in looking after Orton Pits, highlighting the value of connecting people with wildlife.
Employees from BGL Group volunteered their time to monitor water quality and build new homes for wildlife at one of the UK’s most important pond sites.
Orton Pits, Peterborough, is owned by O&H and mangaged by the charity Froglife. This site is also part of the Freshwater Habitat Trust’s Flagship ponds project – one of 70 sites across the country that are home to our rarest pond plants and animals. Froglife is working with the Freshwater Habitats Trust and local communities to enhance Flagship Ponds and their wildlife to have a safe future. When companies like BGL join the team, it bodes well.
Without help from Froglife and local people, sites like those at Orton Pits will likely suffer the same fate as most other ponds: pollution, neglect or mismanagement, and the loss of the plants and animals that make them special.
Pete Case, Freshwater Habitat Trust’s Regional Officer, said: “Volunteers play an incredibly important role in helping to care for Flagship Pond sites. Everything from monitoring water quality to undertaking hands-on practical management work relies on their support, so having the enthusiastic staff from BGL to help us for the day was a real bonus. It was a pleasure to show the team around Orton Pits which is one of the best and most interesting freshwater sites in England, we are looking forward to working with them again in the future”.
Staff at BGL are encouraged to spend one work day a year volunteering in the local community. Earlier this month, eight volunteers from BGL’s head office in Peterborough enjoyed building log piles to give shelter to the Great Crested Newts that the site is best known for. The volunteers then spent the afternoon measuring pollution levels in some the site’s 320 ponds. The water testing is vital for spotting pollution that could threaten the many other special plants and animals that have made Orton Pits their home.
Louise Powell, Senior Business Analyst at BGL, said “We were delighted to spend our volunteering day at Orton Pits – we were thrilled to see so many creatures and birds, including a few slow worms, a kingfisher and a deer. We came away with a real understanding of the value of the Reserve, what effects pollutants can have on our waterways and the importance in protecting these areas. We look forward to helping again in the future.”
Laurence Jarvis, Head of Conservation at Froglife, said “We were very pleased with the work which staff from BGL carried out at Orton Pit. The wildlife homes will be valuable for a range of species including Great Crested Newts, Common Lizards and Adders. This volunteer input really contributes to the continued conservation of species and habitats on the reserve”.
Freshwater Habitats Trust’s Flagship Pond project is working with partners such as Froglife and local communities to protect 70 sites across England and Wales, with Heritage Lottery Fund support.
Today researchers from the University of Cambridge announce a partnership with nature conservation groups, aimed at getting the best science to busy on-the-ground conservationists.
‘Evidence-based conservation’ and ‘evidence-based policy’ have become buzzwords in the last decade, with a 2004 paper entitled ‘The need for evidence-based conservation’ cited over 1000 times. But within nature conservation, studies have shown that many organisations do not have access to scientific papers, and are working in the dark.
The Conservation Evidence Project (ConservationEvidence.com), set up by Professor Bill Sutherland at the University of Cambridge, summarises the scientific evidence on different conservation interventions that people have done all around the world. Their work so far includes the conservation of birds, bees, frogs and forests; they aim to cover all species and habitats in the next few years. Crucially, this information is made available for free, so anyone can read it and see what has worked – and what hasn’t. However, some conservation groups are still not using the available science, meaning they may not be as effective as they could be in conserving nature.
Several leading conservation organisations interested in the Conservation Evidence approach have decided to make it a key part of their decision-making and become Evidence Champions. The Vincent Wildlife Trust, Froglife, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and Oryx have all pledged to check the scientific evidence on ConservationEvidence.com every time they make a conservation decision. They are also keen to embrace the Conservation Evidence Project’s culture of experimental conservation by testing many of the actions they undertake – and researchers from the University of Cambridge will help them to design scientific studies to see how well their projects have worked, and publish the results so others can learn from their work.
Dr Henry Schofield, Conservation Director of The Vincent Wildlife Trust, was instrumental in developing his organisation’s partnership with the Cambridge scientists. ‘We have been leaders in innovations to protect British and Irish mammals, especially the rare horseshoe bats. We have designed bespoke bat houses, predator-proof bat entrances and enhanced major hibernation sites. With the help of the University of Cambridge staff we can measure the impact we have had, and share the results with other conservationists.’
Kathy Wormald, Chief Executive Officer of Froglife, has already arranged for the Conservation Evidence staff from Cambridge to train her team in using the Conservation Evidence website and designing ways to test the impact of their conservation projects. ‘We are committed to delivering the best possible conservation outcomes, and a better understanding of the impacts of our projects will help us to do this. We have seen how much useful information there is on amphibian conservation on the Conservation Evidence website; but the website has also highlighted areas where there is still a lot to learn. We have the expertise to fill those knowledge gaps, and aim to start doing so this year.’
Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at People’s Trust for Endangered Species, is deploying her considerable influence as a funder to spread the evidence-based conservation message. ‘We’ll be asking all our grantees to check the evidence for their proposed projects on the Conservation Evidence website. This will help us to fund the projects with the highest chance of success. We will also be encouraging the conservationists that we fund to test their work and publish it in Conservation Evidence’s journal, so we can be constantly improving conservation science.’
Martin Fisher, the editor of Oryx (The International Journal of Conservation Fauna & Flora), feels that his journal’s decision to ask contributors to discuss the evidence on ConservationEvidence.com will improve the standard of discussion in papers and even affect how projects are planned. ‘We know that humans have a tendency to cherry pick and discuss the existing literature that supports their views – if they check the totality of evidence collected on the website, this can be avoided. We hope that as authors experience checking the existing evidence they will also start to check it before undertaking conservation interventions – and this may lead to the avoidance of approaches already shown to be unsuccessful.’
For conservation, developing a rigorous, evidence-based culture similar to that seen in medicine could be a game changer. In medicine, careful tests of treatments showed some routinely used methods were ineffective, or even harmful; and this helped develop the effective medical care we enjoy today. Professor Bill Sutherland envisages the same approach revolutionising nature conservation, a typically underfunded discipline.
“Routinely checking the evidence before starting a project is clearly the conservation model of the future. We think conservation can be as science led, experimental and innovative as medicine; we just apply the lessons learned from healing people, to healing the planet”.
From the 17th of July to the 20th, I have been working with Froglife to gain some experience in the world of work. The week was packed with interesting activities that varied from chopping down willow to helping line a pond. These tasks helped to build some key skills within the workplace, such as working well within a team and solving any problems we came across.
Monday morning started with an induction, during which I was introduced to other members of staff at Froglife, given a tour of the Froglife building and informed of safety procedures.
Soon after, I was shown how Froglife’s social media pages are managed. As it’s an account that posts three times a day, the posts are scheduled to be released at specific times.
Followed by this, I visited Castor Hang lands with two members of staff and another work experience student. Our task was to cut down the willow around the pond. This was important because the willow absorbs the pond water.
Once we had finished in Castor, we went to a nature reserve to search for some grass snakes, adders and slow worms underneath the mats. We were quite successful and managed to capture some great pictures, for example, the picture on the right of the adder that we met.
On Tuesday morning, our task was to clear the lining of a pond at the allotment – we cleared the water from the bottom of the pond and helped to shovel some soil away from the liner and onto the bank of the pond.
In the afternoon, we were still working on the pond liner but after clearing the liner underneath, we had to lay a felt underlay over the previous liner and then a new liner on top of the underlay. After this, we needed to cover the liner with a felt overlay. The felt had to be rolled out in the opposite direction to the underlay to ensure that the liner has enough support to hold the pressure of the water when the pond is completed and full.
To complete the pond lining process, the overlay had to be covered with the soil that we had removed that morning and water to weigh it down. Due to the fact that the working day was coming to an end, it was important that we made sure that all of the excess liner was weighed down – we rolled it up and placed tyres on it.
Wednesday began with a trip to Boardwalks. We practiced geocaching – we hid eight objects around a specific route and punched the coordinates into the GPS. Next, we had to walk round the same route but this time we used the GPS to track down the objects that were hidden. I found this quite fun because I’d not used a GPS before then.
The next activity at Boardwalks was recording the frequency of certain types of butterflies we could see as we walked around six different routes. This was interesting too because I learnt the names of lots of different types of butterflies and learnt how to identify them when their wings are open and closed. The most common butterflies were the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies, however we also came across a few Small Skippers and Red Admirals as well as Small Whites.
Later on, we visited the Green Backyard where we did some pond dipping. In the pond, we found a small newt and several different dragonfly nymphs. We also came across a big frog that was unfortunately too quick for us to catch and have a look at.