Page last updated at 01:26 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 02:26 UK

'Stock-take' of garden creatures

By Sarah Mukherjee
BBC environment correspondent

Common lizard
All too often overlooked: Wildlife in the garden

Whether it is frogs in your ferns, or toads in your tulips, a coalition of wildlife charities is asking for volunteers to carry out a national "stock-take" of the reptiles and amphibians in the UK's gardens.

Called Reptiles and Amphibians in your Garden, the project is being undertaken by The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Froglife and the Herpetological Conservation Trust (HCT).

Conservationists say they hope the survey will bring together an army of amateur wildlife watchers including birdwatchers, gardeners, hands-on conservation volunteers and the general public.

Wildlife experts say the results will contribute to knowledge of where frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards are found nationally and allow scientists a better insight to how important gardens are for their conservation.

Common toad
The survey wants to put some hard data on anecdotal trends

The results will also be used to understand how amphibian and reptile populations may be responding to a variety of threats, including habitat loss, disease and garden chemicals.

"Amphibians and reptiles aren't like birds - there's not the same level of public support," said Jules Howard from Froglife.

"All we know about reptiles is based on a few scientific studies and some surveys - but basically we haven't a clue about what's going on in people's gardens.

"We need to know what's happening so we can direct resources to the right areas in the future."

Naturalists say that although people may think of amphibians and reptiles as creatures that occur only in the countryside, the 13 species native to Britain can all, to differing degrees, inhabit gardens.

They say some gardens can harbour hundreds of common frogs, and others can house large populations of slow-worms (a legless lizard).

Slow worm
The information could help direct conservation efforts and resources

Grass snakes can also be prevalent in some urban areas, where they dip in and out of ponds looking for amphibian prey.

"The good thing about this is that we're using such a wide number of people so we're getting information that we never would have done in the past. We're hoping to get over 20,000 people getting involved," said Jules Howard.

Volunteers are need to complete a simple recording form, marking off species they have seen and answering straightforward questions about their gardens, such as whether they have a pond, whether they use pesticides or whether or not they have a compost heap.

"This is the largest survey of these species focused on gardens in Britain and has been designed to complement other studies that are tracking the fate of amphibians and reptiles in the British countryside," said John Baker from the HCT.

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