Round up 2014 – Part 2: Triumphs, Tribulations and Translocations

projects-residential-popley-featuredThe Landmark Practice and its own Itinerant Ecologist have been undertaking a translocation of great crested newts (Triturus cristatus) and grass snakes (Natrix natrix) at a site in the Cotswold Water Park.

Great crested newts (GCNs) receive a high level of protection under European law and it is an offence to kill or injure, damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used for shelter or protection or disturb GCNs unless permitted under licence from Natural England.

In addition, grass snakes are protected by law from killing and injury so it’s essential that any impacts from development on reptile habitat are addressed through careful planning and implementation of mitigation and compensation measures.

The notorious newts and scurrilous snakes were caught and transferred from the site to an adjacent receptor site by TLPs highly trained team of herpe-wranglers (Cowboy hats are obligatory). The receptor site has undergone a range of excellent enhancement measures including the creation of new ponds, improvement of existing ponds, artificial hibernacula amongst others. This complete programme of translocation has been informed through the preparation of a comprehensive European Protected Species Mitigation License.

The site comprises a ten hectare mosaic of marshy grassland, scrub with a network of ephemeral waterbodies surrounded by extensive marl lakes (the Cotswold Water Park represents the UK’s largest system of marl lakes). In other words, if there’s anywhere which is likely to have good populations of these species, it’s here!

The trapping and translocation process involved enclosing the application site with temporary reptile and amphibian proof exclusion fencing into a number of discrete land parcels (fifteen to be exact). This prevents movement of individuals, otherwise trapping could continue almost indefinitely, as translocated individuals could move back into the site once moved. A vicious cycle for both the trapper and the trappee.

The trapping process involved the use of pitfall traps and artificial refugia. The pitfall traps are dug into the ground along the boundary of the exclusion fencing. The fencing helps guide the newts into the traps, facilitating trapping. The artificial refugia are dark metal tins or roofing felt. These dark surfaces typically provide more attractive basking sites for reptiles as they absorb and radiate heat better than the majority of features in the natural environment. These pitfall traps and mats are checked and individuals are captured and translocated.

While the application site and the wider Cotswold Water Park provides an ideal habitat for grass snakes, previous surveys undertaken within the area had identified relatively low numbers within the site. We were sure that upon beginning the capture and translocation process that a reasonable number of grass snakes would be captured, we weren’t however, expecting the numbers we eventually translocated.

When we finally managed five trap free days within all the discrete translocation areas, 110 grass snakes had been captured and translocated. Of these 110 individuals, 45 were adults. The highest number of grass snakes found during a single visit included five adults and four juveniles. Interestingly, of the fifteen discrete areas within the site 58 of the total 110 individuals were found within a single area. Upon completion of trapping, habitat manipulation via phased strimming was carried out under the ecological supervision to ensure that we hadn’t missed anything.

Due to the total size of the site the works have been phased over two years, so there is still another season of works to undertake in spring 2015.

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