Steven Al­lain Am­phib­ian and rep­tile sur­veys, Cam­bridgeshire

All over the world de­voted in­di­vid­u­als are do­ing their bit by vol­un­teer­ing to be in­volved with wildlife. Jo Price meets Cam­bridgeshire’s on­line am­phib­ian and rep­tile records ver­i­fier.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Con­tents -

Steven Al­lain sur­veys am­phib­ians and rep­tiles in Cam­bridgeshire

Steven has been vol­un­teer­ing for the Cam­bridgeshire and Peter­bor­ough Am­phib­ian and Rep­tile Group (CPARG) for five and a half years. He will soon start his PhD on snake fun­gal dis­ease in grass snakes but still finds time to sur­vey am­phib­ians and rep­tiles, or­gan­ise out­reach events, train new vol­un­teers and pro­vide wildlife ad­vice to lo­cal peo­ple.

“Aside from mon­i­tor­ing a num­ber of pop­u­la­tions over a long pe­riod of time, our on­go­ing ma­jor project is to study the non-na­tive mid­wife toad in Cam­bridge,” he ex­plains. “My proud­est mo­ment as a vol­un­teer was lo­cat­ing the pop­u­la­tion after three years of hearsay.”

Work­ing with lo­cal res­i­dents, the her­petol­o­gist gained ac­cess to gar­dens to sur­vey the species and swab in­di­vid­u­als for chytrid dis­ease: “Luck­ily none of the toads have yet tested pos­i­tive but our fear is that they may pass the dis­ease onto our na­tive am­phib­ians.”

Steven mainly works within Cam­bridge and the sur­round­ing area: “Un­for­tu­nately, the county is pretty de­void of rep­tiles (ex­cept for grass snakes) but that doesn’t stop us try­ing our best to con­serve the few pop­u­la­tions that we do have,” he says. “These an­i­mals have suf­fered ma­jor de­clines since the 1950s due to loss of habi­tat and in­ten­sive agri­cul­tural prac­tices.”

The nat­u­ral­ist has al­ways been pas­sion­ate about cold-blooded crea­tures. “They are a ma­jor part of many ecosys­tems and pro­vide us with a num­ber of ser­vices, in­clud­ing pest con­trol,” he ex­plains. “We would cer­tainly no­tice if they all dis­ap­peared.”

De­spite am­phib­ians and rep­tiles be­ing ac­tive only be­tween Fe­bru­ary and Oc­to­ber, the CPARG chair­man is busy all year. “When they’re hi­ber­nat­ing, I’m ar­rang­ing vol­un­teer days to im­prove habi­tats in wood­land, grass­land and ponds for them to breed in when they emerge. A num­ber of im­prove­ments we made last year ben­e­fit­ted species like the great crested newt and com­mon lizard.”

Aside from gain­ing lo­calised recog­ni­tion for his work and pro­vid­ing sur­vey­ing equip­ment for CPARG, Steven has pub­lished more than 12 sci­en­tific pa­pers on his vol­un­teer­ing work in the county with more to fol­low.

In ad­di­tion to his cur­rent re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, he will soon start con­duct­ing rep­tile sur­veys for the Bri­tish Trust for Or­nithol­ogy (BTO) in Nor­folk. “No mat­ter where I find my­self in the fu­ture I’ll be spend­ing some of my time help­ing wildlife,” he says. “We all have a moral obli­ga­tion to look after the planet we have found our­selves hurtling through space on.”

My proud­est mo­ment was lo­cat­ing the pop­u­la­tion after years of hearsay.

Her­petol­o­gist Steven is on a mis­sion to im­prove habi­tats for rep­tiles and am­phib­ians.

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