19 December 2018

Hadlow College to Undertake National ‘Turtle Tally’ Citizen Science Project

By Philip Orrell

turtle 1

In the world of nature conservation, the potentially devastating effect of invasive species on native ecosystems is a constant topic of discussion. With Britain’s withdrawal from the EU imminent, there has been much discussion around the post-Brexit nature and biodiversity strategy, including EU Regulation 1143/2014 on Invasive Alien Species (IAS) - which came into force on 1 January 2015.

Dr. Niall Moore, England’s Chief Non-Native Species Officer, and Lord Gardiner, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity have confirmed that EU IAS regulation and its stringent provisions will be transferred into UK law in the Withdrawal Bill. However, it has yet to be clarified how the list of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern, which is central to the Regulation, will be updated and administered when the UK leaves the EU.

Red eared turtle

Further restrictions may be applied on keeping, importing, selling, breeding and growing, which may result in many reptile breeders being forced to keep their animals for life, rather than give them away or sell them. Consequently, this has the potential to result in many animals being abandoned into the wild.

To address some of these concerns, Hadlow College, a Kent-based provider of further and University-level education for the rural sector, will be launching a citizen science project in 2019 to collect data from the general public on introduced turtle and terrapin species in the UK.

Launching in association with the British Herpetological Society (BHS), the project, dubbed ‘Turtle Tally’, will enable people across the UK to submit their sightings over three weekends - 30th & 31st March, 6th & 7th April and 13th & 14th April – to a website: The site will allow users to record location, supply photographs of the animal, time of day and date sighted and will include identification keys provided by ARG UK and London, Essex and Hertfordshire Amphibian and Reptile Trust, who carried out data collection on this subject in the London area in 2011. The project has been devised in consultation with Paul Eversfield, a turtle expert and council member of the BHS, Chris Newman of the National Centre for Reptile Welfare and teaching staff from Hadlow’s Animal Management faculty.

Over the years, the popularity of film franchises such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has resulted in spikes in demand for the creatures as pets, with the number of suppliers rising in tandem to meet this demand. Local Authority Inspectors now have to ensure that commercial pet retailers and breeders meet stricter standards, with a star-rating system introduced to rate businesses’ welfare standards found during an inspection and on whether that business is deemed low or high risk. 

snapping turtle

Suzanne Simpson, Hadlow College Animal Management lecturer, BHS council member and project lead, said: “We already have a large number of invasive turtle species frequenting lakes, rivers and ponds such as red-eared and yellow-bellied sliders, but the numbers have not been investigated in enough detail to know what the actual quantity is. We’re also now aware of more sizeable species, such as the snapping turtle, being released into ponds and lakes where they are top of the food chain – and affect the native wildlife and plant life. The soaring temperatures over the past summer also mean that it’s more likely for eggs to incubate and potentially hatch.”

“Obtaining data through this project would aid in gauging the impact of the legislative changes and the potential increase of turtle releases into the wild. The data submissions we receive will then be analysed by our students as part of their degree project.”

The college is also hoping that the project will help to raise awareness of its National Centre for Reptile Welfare, established in order to reduce the amount of unwanted reptiles and amphibians abandoned into the wild, invasive or otherwise. The first centre of its type in the UK, it brings education, charity and the pet industry together, operating as a centre for welfare excellence, providing refuge and care for up to 600 unwanted and vulnerable reptiles and amphibians, rehoming them through a national network of retailers and wholesalers.

Press contact: Philip Orrell, Hadlow Group PR and Media Manager, Tel: 01732 372794,