My name is Kate Lewis and I am an MSc Conservation student at the University College of London. For my dissertation topic I have chosen to study Cambridge allotments to ascertain how important they are as terrestrial habitat for amphibians and reptiles. I began my surveys in February 2016, surveying 15 sites across Cambridge, once a fortnight between 8-10am on a Saturday or Sunday. Unfortunately not all went to plan and a large number of my sites proved devoid of amphibians or reptiles. However, Burnside has been a consistent light at the end of the tunnel as it is absolutely bursting with frogs, toads and smooth newts and has been an absolute joy to survey. I also found a grass snake on one occasion and hope to find much more this year, including lizards and great crested newts! My initial observations of why Burnside is such a haven for amphibians is that there is a lot of scrub all over the site providing essential habitat, not just for the amphibians but also for their food source of various invertebrate species (unfortunately many allotments in Cambridge have taken a very ‘neat’ approach to maintaining their allotments, which is often very detrimental to our wildlife). No doubt the large, private lake and adjacent brook also play their part in making Burnside a very attractive home!
Burnside allotments are an incredibly important refuge for multiple UK amphibian species and must be protected if we are to halt the decline of once common charismatic creatures such as the common toad.
During my two year survey I found 193 amphibians in total, 71 toads, 62 frogs and 60 smooth newts, though this was using an experimental survey method and I’m sure the numbers are far greater!
Common toad populations are in decline nationwide, yet they are thriving at Burnside, due to the excellent scrub habitat, good quality ponds and adjacent brook and fishing lake.
Smooth newts are also highly abundant on site as well as the common frog, which has seen populations devastated across the country due to ranavirus.
A survey by Cambridge City Council in 2010 found that Burnside had relatively poor biodiversity compared to that of several other allotments in the area, such as Trumpington, Auckland Road, Fairfax Road and Stourbridge Grove. However, it is the findings of my research that Burnside is an incredibly rich site for amphibian biodiversity and should be noted as such.
Things you can do to aid your amphibian neighbours: keep ponds in a good condition, with a variety of plants and mixed shade cover; keep open composts where possible (not covered containers); and leave areas of scrub with wood piles if you can.
Surveying Burnside was a pleasure and I would to like to extend my thanks to Matthew for giving me permission to be on site, and to all the plot holders that I bumped into whilst surveying, who were friendly and welcoming.