Dragons? Living in London…? And not just the Kimodos in the zoo?
Well, yes. Kind of. There are a whole cast of cute* little dragon-y characters living in parks, gardens, nature reserves and weird scraps of land, and they very much need our help. Last Friday I went to a very special event hosted by the Garden Wildlife Health Project at ZSL London Zoo to hear more about them (not a Kimodo in sight unfortunately).
Froglife’s London Dragon Finder Project has been running in all boroughs of the City for the last 4.5 years, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (with extra support from a range of other funders). The premise is that amphibians and reptiles are our Dragons – bright eyed, scaly and warty little creatures hiding in ponds, log piles, woods and long grass and undetected by many of us.
Technically, amphibians and reptiles collectively are known as Herpetofauna.
You can see why they were a little in need of rebranding, right? It always sounds a little… yeah.
And the animals themselves are SO amazing; magical and mythical weird species with wonderful life cycles. They deserve a name that captures that better, and being so in need of our help they really need a collective name that draws people in rather than repels them.
Dragon Finder holds a special place in my heart as its one I helped to develop, and it was wonderful to hear how things had gone. HLF funding is brilliant for not only supporting practical things that need doing to conserve our heritage (and the my favourite thing is that they don’t define ‘heritage’ for you but leave it open for applicants to convince them), they also put a huge emphasis on involving people in that work in the deepest way possible.
At the Celebration Event for the project, Alan from Froglife went over the highlights of what the staff and volunteers on the project had achieved with a real sense of pride and love for the areas they’d worked in and the wildlife they had benefited. I doodled during all the talks as a way of taking notes.
The project also involved the creation of a Dragon Finder app to help you identify and then record your sightings of amphibians and reptiles anywhere in the UK. There is a real need for more data on where these dragons are found, the sites that are important to them, and how they are doing. Although most of them, with a couple of exceptions, are widespread, numbers are dropping. Froglife’s latest research shows a whopping 68% decline in Common Toad numbers in the last 30 years.
Becki Lawson introduced another project using citizen science to help nature – the Wildlife Garden Health Project, based at ZSL and involving vets and researchers there working with the British Trust for Ornithology, Froglife and the RSPB. This is another project mapping animals – this time with regular recorders letting the project know what wildlife they see in their gardens, with an added slightly gruesome (but really important) element. You can also use the GWH website to record any sightings of dead or dying birds, hedgehogs, amphibians and reptiles to help map disease outbreaks and figure out what is contributing to the declines in many species. If they want your specimen for a post mortem, the team will contact you to arrange it to be sent and let you know what happened to the poor animal you found. With hedgehog numbers really plummeting, bird disease outbreaks leading to some big population drops and diseases being the biggest threat to amphibians on the global scale, this is really crucial stuff.
Laurie Parma from the University of Cambridge filled us in on another area of research relating to humans and nature, and how good it is for our wellbeing. She cited the well known study that simply being able to see some greenery from your hospital window increased recovery speed by 1.5 to 2 days, as well as sharing lots of other researching showing just how good nature is for our health.
Froglife’s co-patron Jules Howard wrapped up the event with a heartfelt talk about toads. He used a site near his home as a great example of one of the issues facing these noble and magical animals. Over 10 years a pond that had been full of toads was surrounded by development – destroying winter hiding places and summer foraging land, and cutting through spring migration routes at breeding time. The toads are gone. “Death by a thousand cuts” was how he described the toads’ decline, but ended on a positive note by saying how much of a difference projects like Dragon Finder can make: by improving and creating habitats, and crucially charging up local volunteers to fight for the areas toads (and other wildlife) call home. 2017 is Froglife’s Year of the Toad, to raise awareness and funds to help save these charismatic, beautiful, strange little animals. You can find out more here.
*Yes, adders can be cute. Not cuddly (PLEASE DON’T TRY), but beautiful and very keen to stay out of our way as much as possible.
Tags: amphibians and reptiles, becki lawson, conservation, dragon finder, froglife, garden wildlife health, Jules Howard, laurie parma, london, nature, wildlife, zsl