Print Page | Close Window

How about an in-situ shot?

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: Herpetofauna Native to the UK
Forum Name: Sand Lizard
Forum Description: Forum for all issues concerning Lacerta agilis
URL: http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=4104
Printed Date: 22 Apr 2019 at 11:05pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 - http://www.webwizforums.com


Topic: How about an in-situ shot?
Posted By: JamesM
Subject: How about an in-situ shot?
Date Posted: 18 Mar 2012 at 6:07pm

At an undisclosed location:

 
A nice male.
 
 
Not a brilliant photo, but a brilliant find.
 
A better imagine taken by a friend:
 
 
 
 
 
We managed to take some pictures without disturbing the animal, which was an added bonus. And yes, I was accompanied by survey licence holders.



Replies:
Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 7:02am
Hi James when was this taken &were where you herping Surrey hants or Dorset?no need for exact location as I know most sites,Yes all shots I take are in situ .thats why its a good idea to get a Zoom lens so you can stay back a bit without alerting them.with all my years of Sand lizard & smooth snake watching I still miss out on good shots .as they always come into sight when least expected Keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: JamesM
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 10:31am
All I am going to say, is on the Hampshire/Surrey border. I'll give you a brief description of the site:

Basically, you have a country lane. On one side is heathland, with a small pond that is home to newts. It's surrounded by heather and the occasional nasty Gorse bush. To get on to the site, you have to walk down a sandy slope.....quite the pain in the rear when you aren't wearing walking boots....LOL. The other side of that country lane, is a nature reserve. The site is often frequented by army personnel driving 4WD's.....perfect terrain for it.

This is the same site where Mark (arvensis) showed me my very first Adder, a young female back in July last year.


Posted By: JamesM
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 10:41am
The only thing that does my head in, is I can't go looking for these on my own as I don't have a licence!


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 3:45pm
James no one can stop you looking I have for near 50 years whilst idiotic clearing policies of nat eng and golf courses keep ruining habitat keep looking.keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: JamesM
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 3:54pm
I believe the nature reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Sand Lizards are on a site literally just a road crossing away, and if I remember correctly, it's illegal to survey/field herp for protected species on a SSSI without a survey licence, unless you're accompanied by licence holders. I could be wrong, however. I haven't actually checked out the reserve, but I believe Mark has. If Sandies occur just across the road, then I have no reason to doubt that they'll be next door as well.


I'd love to get licensed, but I can't get to the Sand Lizard/Smooth snake sites on a regular basis, so I don't know what ARC's stand point would be on that.


Posted By: JamesM
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 3:55pm
Ah, I've just seen your edited post.


Well, if NE can't show a good example, why should anybody else? I care a lot about herps and herp conservation, and if a governing body is willing to screw the animals over, then it doesn't look good for their future.


Posted By: Hawley
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 4:45pm
James, why not join SARG and get yourself a license. I'm sure that Vicar would help you out.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 7:32pm
There are two arguments to this:

On the one hand, as Keith says nobody can stop you looking

On the other, it is an offence to disturb sand lizards

So there is the choice, personally if I was going to go out specifically looking for them, I might think I was likely to disturb them. (I would want to take pictures and not be worried someone was looking over my shoulder).

It is not all that difficult to get licensed or find a licence holder so I would go that way. At least then you can do pretty much what you want without worrying about it.

PS get some walking boots too! Wink


Posted By: JamesM
Date Posted: 29 Mar 2012 at 7:39pm
Originally posted by GemmaJF GemmaJF wrote:

There are two arguments to this:

On the one hand, as Keith says nobody can stop you looking

On the other, it is an offence to disturb sand lizards

So there is the choice, personally if I was going to go out specifically looking for them, I might think I was likely to disturb them. (I would want to take pictures and not be worried someone was looking over my shoulder).

It is not all that difficult to get licensed or find a licence holder so I would go that way. At least then you can do pretty much what you want without worrying about it.

And that is where it gets complicated.

You can be committing an offence simply by walking passed a sand lizard, and the animal runs for cover. That is classed as a disturbance.

In my opinion, it's best to avoid sand lizard sites completely until I am licensed, or with licensed surveyors, for the simple reason that it can potentially cause me grief that I really do not want, especially at this stage in my life where I am trying to build networks for a career in herpetology.


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2012 at 5:31am
I think if its a offence to disturb sand lizards The Rspb nat England the MOD ,dog walkers and the general public would be filling our courts and their fines would pay the national debt. keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 30 Mar 2012 at 6:00pm
Don't give them ideas Keith Wink We had the same debate about GCN not long ago, is torching disturbance - unfortunately it is rubbish law, rubbish wording and about all it has achieved is putting off the handful of people who are actually interested in these animals. Those it was supposed to effect generally ignore it any case.

Trouble is if one does want a career in herpetology, one doesn't want to start it off with a prosecution under the WCA which could make future licence applications a bit difficult. (perhaps).


Posted By: MancD
Date Posted: 02 Apr 2012 at 5:27pm
James,
 
If you've got any queries about science and conservation licences for photography etc ping NE an email at mailto:wildlife.scicons@naturalengland.org.uk - wildlife.scicons@naturalengland.org.uk
 
There's a Frequently Asked Question on this that I've attached below:

Q. When do I need a photography licence?

A. A photography licence is needed if you want to photograph any Schedule 1 bird (list of species) at or on the nest or any animal listed on Schedule 5 (list of species) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) if it is likely to cause disturbance.

The form you need is WML-A29 and there is guidance on references too - link below.
http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/regulation/wildlife/licences/applicationforms.aspx#3 - http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/regulation/wildlife/licences/applicationforms.aspx#3
 
Whether you need a licence or not obviously depends on how disturbing your activities are. But if you feel more comfortable having one, just get the experience under your belt, and some referees.
 
Regarding SSSI's, I don't think there is anything specific that says you have to have consent to survey for species that aren't ordinarily protected for disturbance (grass snakes, common lizards etc) on one. All SSSI's have lists of activities that require consents, so if in doubt, check with the local NE office regarding whether you need consent to be on there in the first place (not all have public access) and if whatever you want to do on there requires consent.
 
Hope that helps.
 
Duncan


Posted By: Iowarth
Date Posted: 02 Apr 2012 at 5:49pm

Hi Duncan

Many thanks for posting that clarification. It is probably important to note that many people take photos of, for example, Sand Lizards, simply because of their beauty and with no awareness of their status (or even what they are!) 

My view has always been that anyone can photograph such an animal in the wild if they do not disturb it - in the case of a Sand Lizard, about 10 feet away with a 300mm lens or decent zoom on a compact really should be fine. In fact, even though I do have a licence, that is what I most commonly do. 

Mind you, I have a friend who is so skilled at sneaking up on herps that I have seen him take a photograph from 2 inches away without causing any disturbance (complete indifference would be a better description than 'disturbed')!

Chris



-------------
Chris Davis, Site Administrator

Co-ordinator, Sand Lizard Captive Breeding Programme (RETIRED)


Posted By: JamesM
Date Posted: 03 Apr 2012 at 2:17am
Thanks for that, Duncan.

I shall be doing a protected species course nearer the end of the year with an Ecological Consultancy company. I had a chat with the CEO/Principle Ecologist over the phone last week and I'll be getting more information soon.


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 03 Apr 2012 at 11:14am
The sad thing is does not matter how many licences are needed it does not stop habitat being destroyed,Its like the licencing of firearms dont stop people being shot does it.Keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: Kogia
Date Posted: 15 May 2012 at 10:19am
As always with all things governmental its a mess, but I understood the law to be willful disturbance. So someone just walking by without even knowing there were sand lizards (or other such species) nearby might disturb them, wouldn't be guilty, but someone specifically going there to find them (eg. photograph) them could. I was told once that dog walkers could be prosecuted if their dog disturbs them in certain sites because of specific dog control laws in SSSIs?
Sadly it is a set of laws that will impact those seeking to enjoy and explore wildlife more than those without a care and I am sometimes suspicious about the motivation of the huge amounts of different licences required for wildlife in the UK. Having said that disturbance from overzealous enthusiasts can be very damaging. A friend recently told me about a trip to view sand lizards in Dorset where there was a guy with various reps, including sandies, in containers in his car for close photography....
 
I'm often crawling around in odd places trying to photograph small inverts with a macro lense, I wonder where I would stand if I disturbed something larger without realising?


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 09 Dec 2013 at 12:03pm
Originally posted by JamesM JamesM wrote:

I believe the nature reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Sand Lizards are on a site literally just a road crossing away, and if I remember correctly, it's illegal to survey/field herp for protected species on a SSSI without a survey licence, unless you're accompanied by licence holders. I could be wrong, however. I haven't actually checked out the reserve, but I believe Mark has. If Sandies occur just across the road, then I have no reason to doubt that they'll be next door as well.


I'd love to get licensed, but I can't get to the Sand Lizard/Smooth snake sites on a regular basis, so I don't know what ARC's stand point would be on that.


-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: JaySteel
Date Posted: 11 Dec 2013 at 9:45pm
Originally posted by AGILIS AGILIS wrote:

The sad thing is does not matter how many licences are needed it does not stop habitat being destroyed,Its like the licencing of firearms dont stop people being shot does it.Keith

Quite right Keith.

Unfortunately as the law stands I feel it does little to protect these species from the real threat which is habitat destruction. It doesn't matter how protected a species is supposed to be by our laws, it doesn't stop the government and local councils finding a way to build on a site if it's in their best interests to do so.

I visited a site in Dorset to photograph sand lizards last year with a long 300mm lens. This would enable me to get good shots without going anywhere near the sand lizards and causing them any disturbance at all. I was approached by the site warden who insisted that I had no right to be there trying to photograph these lizards without a licence. He threatened me with "possible consequences of my actions" and mis-quoted the law regarding disturbing a fully protected species. In the end I left him to it and carried on walking around the site with my camera.
To me the most offensive part of this scenario was a very large sign on the site informing everyone that this was a public open-access site. It went on to list all the activities that could be performed there. This list of activities included things like playing ball games, horse-riding, cycling, kite-flying etc. 
How are any of these activities possible without causing a disturbance to the sand lizards there? And why the hell is my photography from a respectful distance more of an issue that the horse riders and cyclists running straight over ground that could be potential egg-laying sites?

Like James I would also like to have a licence to survey for sand lizards and smooth snakes but seeing as I live so far away and can only visit sites with these species a couple of times a year I am never going to be granted a licence. Finding out where these fully protected species are is easy for anyone willing to search hard enough on Google. Every site is listed on the internet if people search hard enough for the information.
And yet finding licence holders that are willing to allow you to accompany them on a survey for the purposes of photography is extremely difficult. As a committee member of KRAG I think I've proved myself worthy of people's trust over the years and yet I'm sorry to say that it disappoints me hugely how reluctant most people are to help others experience the privilege of getting close to these rare and beautiful reptiles. 

Sorry for the rant. It's a bit of a sore subject! lol

Jason


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 11 Dec 2013 at 10:29pm
This is from the Natural England website for Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR:

Why visit: the reserve is one of the most important wildlife sites in England, and a place where visitors can get close to nature. The landscape is perfect for a leisurely stroll through the magnificent scenery of dunes, pinewoods and golden sands, while children can enjoy the wide open spaces of the huge sandy beaches.

Star species: this is one of the best remaining strongholds of the rare natterjack toad, Europe’s loudest amphibian. Red squirrels can occasionally be seen in amongst the reserve’s pine forests too, while sand lizards, great-crested newts and a fantastic variety of orchids and other wildflowers can also be found here.

And this is from the NT website for Studland:
 

Reptiles are emerging from hibernation, including this male sand lizard with the distinctive bright green flashes he wears for the mating season.

Other cold blooded Studland residents include slow worms, adders, grass snakes and rare smooth snakes.

Spring can be the best time to spot them basking in sunny spots on the heaths and dunes.

Prominent signs at these reserves giving illustrations of the animals say the same thing. If the agencies that administer these public nature reserves are enthusiastically inviting the public to seek these animals out and watch them, and indeed "get close" to them, it seems improbable that a draconian interpretation of the "disturb" clause in the law would stand up in court - an interpretation that would make these activities illegal. As far as I am aware, no one has ever been prosecuted for merely watching these animals from a public path, even if movements do sometimes scare the animals away. I find it very hard to see how that could happen.


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 11 Dec 2013 at 11:09pm
I want to add, as well - because, obviously, it is troubling to think that the law could be interpreted so restrictively - that the 1981 Act refers specifically to intentional disturbance. Someone watching an animal from a path fairly clearly does not intend to disturb it, though accidental disturbance (of, arguably, a trivial kind) may occur. Disturbing the animal would bring the watching to an end.

I have always thought that disturbance meant something more active and intentional, such as catching and handling animals or trampling habitat. The draconian interpretation could also be applied, presumably, to birdwatching in the open or even from a hide, since noise and movement from within a hide can still make the birds fly away.

I'm not a lawyer, and until we get legal advice or a test case in court we won't know for certain whether "disturbance" could apply to watching from a footpath, but I imagine that the ability to say that one was doing exactly what Natural England, a government agency, had publicly invited one to do would be quite a powerful defence.


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 6:41am
I agree with what's been said in terms of real threats to our rare reptiles and amphibians; it's a shame that once again the Law takes a broad brush approach, equating disturbing ospreys at the nest with flushing a sand lizard into cover. In the case of the former, the birds might desert their chicks, in the latter, the lizard will be back out and basking in exactly the same place two minutes later (of course I am not in any way condoning trying to capture one, merely to get a bit closer to have a look). There is also an evident contradiction between the 'public engagement and education' message from NE and the information boards - 'look at our wonderful sand lizards, natterjacks etc - oh, but actually, sorry, you can't...'


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 9:51am
Hold on, though. We really don't know that the law takes this broad brush approach. It has never been tested. I don't believe anyone is likely to be prosecuted for merely flushing a Sand Lizard into cover by crouching to watch it from a public path. There seems to be an exaggerated fear here.



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 1:58pm
Fact is though, probably anyone on this forum would actually want to get closer still. For the public observing from a footpath it is a huge jump to the photographer staging a shot and possibly handling the animals. It's just easier in every way to be licensed if one is going out with the intention to seriously study/observe the animals.

The sense behind it isn't really the point. We had a similar argument regarding torching for GCN. I doubt it really disturbs them that much, at worst I guess it could break up a mating pair, the chances are they would forget about it within 10 seconds. The point is though NE are vague about it. 

It says on my GCN licence that torching is a licensable activity - it would therefore follow in my feeble mind that NE consider one needs a license to do it.... Asking NE directly one gets replies such as it 'depends'. 

Seems daft to me that one would need a licence to watch newts in a garden pond at night using a torch, but that is the way it is.

So in all my advice is, don't advise people to break the law, especially those laws that have not be tested and have no case law.

If you are going out to disturb protected species intentionally, either survey or close observation, at least consider getting a licence to do so if one is required by law....


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 2:42pm
Handling the animals could scarcely be considered anything other than disturbance, I agree. I don't really know what "staging a shot" involves, since my own photographs tend to be taken spontaneously with an ordinary hand-held camera, and are therefore far from professional quality. Anything very prolonged and intrusive would obviously constitute disturbance, but I am not sure why a tripod set up on a path with the photographer waiting silently would be a problem.

What concerns me about all this, apart from my own freedom to watch animals in the wild, is that these animals are part of our public heritage and culture. I take that very seriously.  If people are not allowed ever to see them, they will become ghosts in the landscape, mere rumours or theoretical presences. Why then would people think there was any point in protecting them? Licenses are fine and necessary for genuinely specialised work that involves handling, but if they come to be seen as a prerequisite for even watching, then we will have reached a state of affairs in which these animals are only visible to experts. In a sense, they will only exist for the experts. That is the opposite of the idea of natural heritage, which an agency like Natural England or the National Trust obviously exists to protect and promote. If one looks back to the natural history literature of the period immediately after World War Two - a sort of golden age for such literature - one finds the idea that Britain's wildlife is the common possession of its people, and part of what they deserve after the wartime sacrifices. We need more of that today - the idea that people have a right to see these animals in the same way that they have a right to look at buildings, landscapes and publicly-owned works of art. Conservation needs may sometimes impose limitations on that right, but the conservationists should seem themselves as stewards of public heritage, and should aspire to maximise that right as far as possible.

I'm very interested in that answer from NE - "it depends". This answer of course constitutes an admission that there are some circumstances in which torching does not require a license. It is up to NE then to explain those circumstances. Did they say upon what it depends?

We should not allow ourselves to be fearful of extreme worst-case interpretations of the law, when the agencies responsible for stewardship are telling us in their publicity that watching these animals is encouraged. Why not just take them at their word?

Richard


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 3:17pm
I agree with all of that, Richard, very eloquent. But my point was not if you accidentally disturbed a sand lizard by casting your shadow on it from a footpath, but, as Gemma suggests, if you actually saw one and then tried a stealthy approach to get a closer view (and maybe even a sneaky photograph); you would intentionally be disturbing the protected species, no question...   and I do think that some conservationists are too quick to adopt the 'leave it to the experts' approach which can only serve to disenfranchise the great British public from the conservation of these animals - experiences like Jason's prove this, unfortunately. Back in the 90's I was shown where to look for tins on Dorset heaths by a great NT warden who appreciated that although I had no licence, I represented no threat to smooth snakes and that perhaps by encouraging my interest and turning a blind eye, he might encourage a lifelong interest in these animals - and guess what? it worked!


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 3:20pm
It's one of those arguments Richard where I can agree with everything you are saying. But to clarify, many photographs involve, positioning the animals, distracting them to look in a certain direction etc etc. Trust me I can tell a true in-situ shot very easily from a staged one, so know plenty of staged shots are posted.

In all can we as a forum be seen to advise people to break the law? Really that is what it all comes down for me. Regardless of how I actually view the law/laws in question.

In reality it isn't all that difficult to obtain a license, so it makes it all a bit mute. Certainly someone with the resources to transport themselves to sand lizard site, would be more than capable of obtaining a license.

For the record no, they did not state on what it depends. The reason being that they like me can see it is a sort of implied offence. (in that the animals will not be a very good witness as to how disturbed they were - it's entirely open to somebody's interpretation, who probably was not even present at the time) I don't want myself or anyone associated with this forum to be the one to test the law and find out what it depends on, that really is my point.

So is the law an ass? 

Of course it is.

Would I on this forum recommend anyone does not comply with wildlife legislation and potentially breaks the law?

Of course I won't.


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 3:40pm
Will,

Yes - well that would be a question of how close you tried to get, and whether you left the footpath, I suppose. If a warden felt you were getting into illegal disturbance territory they would be entitled to tell you to stop. In many places the banks are only inches from footpaths anyway. I'm all for licenses where scientific or conservation work requires intrusive disturbance, but what we should guard against is the assumption that a license is necessary for all kinds of experience of these wild animals. Birdwatchers don't interpret the law that way. Their activities are very public. No one tries to stop them or prosecute them.

Gemma,

As far as these staged photographs are concerned, I agree with you. They obviously constitute disturbance, if they involve deliberate positioning or distracting. And it may be easy enough to get a license if you are in the know (though they wouldn't give you one just because you enjoyed watching lizards presumably, you would have to prove that you were doing research or conservation work for some recognised agency). But my whole point is that the sight of these animals shouldn't be restricted to people in the know and engaged in that kind of work, and it seems to me a perverse interpretation of the law to attribute that intention to it.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 4:09pm
I've never seen a bird watcher stand within 12 inches of the subject though Richard. They are often half a mile away or more.

Would you photograph bats in a roost without a licence? That is a more realistic comparison.

NE will issue photography licences without you having to meet all the requirements of commercial development licence as stated above. Wink

The guidance on photography is available here:

http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/images/photography-guidance_tcm6-35807.pdf" rel="nofollow - http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/images/photography-guidance_tcm6-35807.pdf


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 5:21pm
Thanks, Gemma. That's interesting. No, I wouldn't think it OK to take photographs in a bat roost without a license, but that seems to me more intrusive than watching lizards from a footpath and perhaps flushing them into cover. It would presumably mean letting light into the bat roost.

Bird watchers do sometimes startle birds into flying away. I've seen it many times, and I'm not sure that the distance away from the birds is the crucial factor. Birds react to things at longer distances than lizards. So to me the bird-watching analogy seems closer. A lizard is startled into running under cover. A bird is startled into taking flight. These seem to me to be similar levels of disturbance, and in both cases the watcher may take care but cannot really guard against them happening. Both disturbances are essentially similar to disturbances that take place all the time in the wild without human intervention, whereas the intrusion into the bat roost would be a much rarer event in the wild.

All these comparisons are imperfect, I know. One can err on the side of excessive restriction and on the side of excessive liberty.

Richard


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 6:02pm
But if one looks at the guidance above

Is the species in question protected?

Yes

Is it likely that I am going to commit an offence in my activity, i.e. disturbance, which it is protected against

Yes

Do I therefore need a licence?

Yes.

The next step is to pick up the phone and talk to the NE licensing department. 

There is really no escaping that Sand Lizards are protected against disturbance and anything other than the most casual of observation ***probably*** could be regarded by some people as disturbing them and therefore potentially as committing an offence. Personally I would have to get close enough to a juvenile to potentially risk disturbing it, even to be sure of the ID.

If one wanted to argue in court that bird watchers do it all the time thereby flouting the law, all one has is an example of what others get away with rather than an defence.


If a case did get to court they would use documents such as that provided earlier to build the case. It is pretty clear to me it is saying one would need a licence. So it would also be clear to a magistrate too?


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 6:29pm
This almost makes me want to be the test case.

We have come full circle, back to the question of what would count as "disturbance". We just don't know, but obviously Natural England and the National Trust take a more relaxed view. They can't think that merely watching is disturbance, because they invite the public to do it. That would be my defence, I think. Natural England, after all, is the licence-issuing authority.

Richard


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 6:43pm
It is a magistrate that will prosecute, not NE. Who can guess what they will think disturbance means.


But to add...

If by chance they happened to ask my opinion what it meant, I would have to say that is very difficult to observe reptiles at close quarters and not risk disturbing them. Regardless how careful one is or how experienced one is...

That's just fact is it not?


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 8:12pm
Once again, it all depends on what the law means by "disturbing". It is difficult to watch reptiles at close quarters without risking making them run for cover. Whether, in the meaning of the law, that constitutes disturbance or whether disturbance means something more serious is what this whole debate is about.

I would have to place my faith in the common sense of a British magistrate. The fact that English Nature had publicly invited me to do it would be a piece of admissible evidence, i would think.

Richard




Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 8:43pm
If they went for a dictionary definition it would be along the lines of 

something that interrupts them or makes them feel worried

I would guess making something run away could qualify?

I guess the most ironic thing is one would pretty much have to creep up stealthily to 'disturb' a reptile.

Perhaps that is the difference. A member of the public probably would not have the ability to achieve this. I know for sure plenty of rangers who never see anything on their own sites from what they say. So now we have a picture of someone creeping through the undergrowth targeting the animals. Again far removed from a member of the public getting a fleeting glance whilst on a path. I don't see how anyone could not see the potential of 'disturbance' in such a situation really. I pretty much give up looking for adders at my local site when other people are about looking for them. They clearly do disturb the animals.


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 9:01pm


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 9:22pm

Thanks, Gemma. I hope you don't think I'm keeping on about this just for the sake of argument. It seems very important to me.


The actual wording of the disturbance clause introduces another complication:

"a person is guilty of an offence if intentionally or recklessly—



(b)he disturbs any such animal while it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for shelter or protection;" 











It has to be using a structure or place for shelter or protection. One could take this to mean that one will be committing an offence if one pursues the animal or otherwise continues to disturb it once it has run under cover, but not in the initial instance of startling it out in the open. Or one could argue, I guess, that the whole nature reserve constitutes the structure or place, but that's a particular interpretation. It's another grey area.




What I have in mind is someone getting, as you say, a fleeting glance on a path, but then stopping and crouching to watch. This doesn't require any great skill or knowledge at all, just a bit of luck. Or not even that if you are following the instructions NE and NT kindly provide on their signage. Lizards don't always run away at the slightest movement. Or one might wait motionlessly for the lizard to come out again. How could that be disturbance?


 



Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 9:23pm
Sorry about my spacing. Pasting that bit of the Act in made it go crazy.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 9:31pm
I would as a potential expert witness happily state that an earth bank was a place of refuge for a lizard though. In fact all of its natural habitat qualifies. Surely vegetation provides shelter or protection when you are a lizard or snake. It does not have to be a specific 'den' as such as far as I can see. Much the way a pond qualifies to a GCN or a log if it is under it.

Someone lucky on a path I would say would be very unlucky if they were prosecuted for disturbance.

Someone who regularly wanders off the path to creep about with a camera in the undergrowth (for example even the most amateur of herpetologists) ought to be thinking about what they are doing and whether they ought to have some form of licence if protected species are present.



Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 12 Dec 2013 at 9:55pm
If that someone being lucky on a path can be someone who has deliberately gone there to look out for lizards, then I think we have reached common ground.

Richard


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 13 Dec 2013 at 10:30am
To be sure, I telephoned Natural England this morning and asked what "disturb" meant, as used in the Act, and how the concept would apply specifically to watching wild Sand Lizards. I was told quite categorically that crouching down at the edge of a path to watch Sand Lizards would not constitute "disturbance" within the terms of the Act. I asked for absolute clarity on that. Making a movement while doing so that caused a lizard to run for cover would not constitute disturbance either. "Definitely not," I was told. "It's not illegal just to watch wildlife." What would constitute disturbance then? "Handling them or interfering with their burrows or something like that, if you haven't got a licence."

Richard


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Dec 2013 at 12:17pm
Or walking all over their habitat of course, which in itself is protected under the act ......

Richard the line is fairly obvious, watching them from a path is not disturbance. Getting more involved i.e. leaving paths and specifically trying to observe them easily could be. That is just the sort of activity most likely to be undertaken by members of this forum. I very much doubt the temptation would be resisted to do so after perhaps travelling for miles and with an obvious enthusiasm for observing the animals.

The reason this debate runs forever is simply those who do not have licences feel they need to justify that their own activities do not require one. The rest of us  will just get specific licences and get on with it all and wonder what on earth the fuss is all about.

Did you ask them if photography needed a licence? Clearly it does in some cases else they would not have published the guidance on the topic.

If  you read back carefully you will see NE have not contradicted anything said by Will or myself. Also again I will state clearly it will not be NE who decide when it is and is not disturbance. It will be a magistrate...


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 13 Dec 2013 at 2:59pm
Gemma,

It wasn't obvious to everyone at the beginning of the thread that watching from a path did not constitute disturbance. James M said "I can't go looking for these on my own as I don't have a licence". If the site in question has public footpaths on it, he can. Will said he thought there was a contradiction between the encouraging notice boards and the actual situation. According to NE, there isn't. And, with respect, you did not accept at first that watching from a path was not disturbance.

It's true that NE aren't exactly the arbiters of the law, but what is an ordinary chap to do except seek advice from the government agency that is clearly responsible for administering this whole area of policy. If they can't be expected to understand the law, who can? I find it inconceivable that anyone following clear NE advice that they had taken the trouble to ask for could be found guilty. 

Walking all over the habitat is of course another matter - much more likely to count as disturbance (though it does depend on what you mean by "all over"). You and I have reached some sort of agreed understanding, I think, though each of us is still inclined to want to edge it in our preferred direction.

I agree too that many of the people on this forum probably want to do more than watch from paths, and that if so they would be wise to get a licence if they can. I didn't ask about photography, since that isn't really my interest apart from the odd spontaneous snap, but I would agree with you that anyone wanting to make what you called staged shots should seek advice from NE or the reserve management first, and probably apply for a licence. But my strongest feeling is that our concern on this forum shouldn't only be with the people on the forum; that is, the well-informed enthusiasts. It should also be with general public awareness of these animals: their place in the culture. If we accept an unnecessarily pessimistic interpretation of the law, and thus allow the idea to get about that people without licences aren't even allowed to look at these animals, or go looking for them responsibly, then we will be placing the long term future of the animals more at risk, for an invisible animal is not one that people will care much about protecting. I believe in communities and individuals having as many connections to their local wildlife as possible. I think you do too.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Dec 2013 at 3:25pm
In my opinion James said that because like me he is aware to actually go looking takes far more effort than walking down a path and expecting to see anything.

We might all expect at most sites it involves leaving paths and creeping around the habitat. An activity that could and probably will disturb animals at some point.

Nobody said people are not allowed to look at the animals. All that has ever been said is that if one is to take the next step and get in the least bit serious regarding observing and photography one ought to consider the licence issue. 

If you are lucky enough to have a site where it is easy to observe animals from a path (and believe me I know it is possible because one of the largest adder hibernacula locally is just such a place) then it is very unlikely doing so would ever be seen as any form of offence.

Step much further away from that though and it becomes a different game.

If I'm edging in a preferred direction it is simply one of my own experience. I know after years in the field is it very difficult to regularly observe reptiles without occasionally disturbing them. I also know in time the temptation to get just that little closer or investigate what is just that little bit off the beaten track can be extremely difficult to resist.

So to clarify. Does one need a licence to 'look at' a sand lizard, well clearly not. Does one need a licence to actively 'look for them' - in most circumstances, yes.



Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 13 Dec 2013 at 5:14pm
There is only a smidgeon of difference between us now. The important thing as far as I am concerned is that people should not feel deterred from going to nature reserves to look. Studland is covered with footpaths, and I have many times seen Sand Lizards basking inches from those paths, and occasionally basking on them. The banks in places rise steeply immediately from the paths, forming a natural showcase. You have to go at the right time and get your eye in, that's all. It's not that easy everywhere, but I can think of several places where paths afford a very good view and there is no need to trample habitat.


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 13 Dec 2013 at 6:12pm
I have been around herping before the Self appointed nat England lot who never even knew that reptiles existed on English soil and heathland and then started issuing permits, none of them were even born to make these bylaws when I was rescuing la and looking freely. Yes some bye laws are a good thing with todays declining colonies, Provided they also stop allowing certain sectors of society like golf clubs rspb. super markets developers who can do what they like with impunity and destroy vast swathes of heathland and habitat to be consumed as a commodity for their wealth funny they do bugger all about bringing these offenders to book.so I will carry on as I always did until this country disapears under the blanket of Euro backed global concrete I shall carry on looking without giving a F ck about their pathetic bylaws and permits . keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 13 Dec 2013 at 6:27pm
Keith, you don't count, we all know you were out there before the WCA was thought of and one person I wouldn't even bother mentioning licenses too lol. (not that you would actually have the slightest bit of trouble in obtaining one if you wanted it).

If it was my decision I would give you the job of handing out the licenses, that would be entertaining! You knew many of the places I know today when they actually were heathlands and not just left over scraps.

Shame in all really because back in the day when the forum started we had TP as a local licence holder for Studland and he'd have been more than happy to have taken anybody round. You can see the irony when you consider half the reason he left was because NE sanctioned the destruction of part of the site. I'll never forget the pictures of dead sand lizards and smooth snakes strewn all over the place, and here we are discussing the license issues of watching the things.

Perhaps we should all concentrate next season on getting the forum back on track. Plenty of pictures and sighting reports. I think over the years we have had some truly amazing stuff posted, this though shouldn't mean that we don't keep posting the every day stuff too.


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 13 Dec 2013 at 7:02pm
Hi Gemma well Ive had my rant for the week lol the only thing thats going to stop me looking is fuel costs I never ventured to any of the old haunts this year and its made me very irritable and want to vent my feelings. but over the last few seasons I have had some of my best new CA sightings better then my younger days ,and its not that having a licence that bugs me its the thought of some official twat that might thinkI dont know enough about herps to have one, But I have also had a contact with a old LA herping buddy ginger Dave from the late 1950s who I suspect aint that ginger any more lol and so we become embroiled into another Humbugger season yeuk or yeehaaa what ever your boat .A moaning Keith                          ps And for Richard dont worry about walking the heaths all the holiday makers do without a licence but they dont look so if you dont look your be ok..

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 14 Dec 2013 at 1:22am
thanks for a very interesting read and an object lesson in how to conduct a forum discussion with restraint and dignity. something that appears to becoming increasingly uncommon and undervalued.

i would love to see Keith not only handing out licences but actually head of NE or maybe secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs!

in terms of getting the forum back on track i'll get out as much as i can next year and post more pics. hope everyone else does too. i love seeing them and will make more of an effort to acknowledge everyone else's hard work and effort too.

might even resurrect the old music thread. would love to hear how you're getting on with the not so new guitar gemma.

tom


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 14 Dec 2013 at 12:41pm
Sadly Tim I can't play much at the moment. I ruptured a lumbar disc and though it sounds daft it is almost impossible for me to sit or stand to play at the moment. Still I did catch Ziggy Stardust the Motion Picture on telly last night so life is not all bad!




Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 14 Dec 2013 at 10:24pm
lol no way you can wield an axe without using your back! hope it doesn't disable you for too long.


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 14 Dec 2013 at 11:16pm
Cheers Tim I need a job 😁 keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: dave fixx
Date Posted: 15 Dec 2013 at 3:05pm
Cracking debate that guys. I follow Tim in my praise to all concerned. I am going to make more effort to join in with the forum in 2014. I miss you guys, especially Keith he just says what I and most of us I am sure are thinking!LOL


-------------
Dave Williams
davewilliamsphotography.co.uk


Posted By: Tom Omlette
Date Posted: 15 Dec 2013 at 9:34pm
hope so dave...we've missed you!!!



Posted By: Suzy
Date Posted: 16 Dec 2013 at 5:26pm
Gemma is absolutely correct that you need to work within the law. I think what rankles a lot of us on here, and leads us to pushing the boundaries, is that whilst we might disturb small numbers of the protected species, we feel that large numbers are wiped out by the very organisations supposed to be protecting them!That is no excuse I realise, but it's easy to see where that mindset comes from.
I'm disappointed that over recent years more and more species have become out of bounds to all but a few (and I don't mean licensed photographers), but equally I know that public pressure is truly bad for many species.
It's like not having your dog on a lead in an area where all the signs tell you to, because you feel it doesn't apply to you as yours is well behaved and does not cause damage.



-------------
Suz


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 16 Dec 2013 at 5:37pm
Suzy,

I wasn't suggesting that anyone shouldn't work within the law. Our debate was about how the law should be interpreted. I am not suggesting that we should see ourselves as exempt special cases, like the dog-owner you mention, but that the law actually permits responsible watching. Natural England confirmed this. My concern was that in interpreting the law unnecessarily strictly we might ourselves place species out of bounds - but I think we thrashed the question out and got at least to a place of approximate agreement.

I agree with you that the main threat to these animals comes from habitat destruction, not from people who want to look.

Richard


Posted By: Suzy
Date Posted: 16 Dec 2013 at 7:10pm
I worded it badly Richard, I guess.



-------------
Suz


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 16 Dec 2013 at 7:33pm
Sorry - didn't mean to bite your head off.

Richard


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 16 Dec 2013 at 8:15pm
I've got to say Suzy I thought you worded it very well, in fact you pretty much summed up how I was feeling about the debate.

I'm as sad as anyone that it might put people off looking. 

I'm more sad that I hear from schools that they are afraid to pond dip because their pond has GCN. Far sadder to me than a handful of individual wanting to view animals, is a whole class of school kids, who never get to see the amazing life that lives in a humble UK pond.



Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 16 Dec 2013 at 9:01pm
I agree with you there.


Posted By: MancD
Date Posted: 16 Dec 2013 at 9:43pm
Hi all,

The difficulty with advising people on the intricacies of the legislation is that it has a habit of changing with regularity. The Habs Regs (we're talking sand lizards after all) used to contain the "incidental result" defence which you could use in the unlikely event that you were ever challenged for something like spooking a reptile into cover.

The EU commission ruled that the UK had not transposed the Directive correctly with respect to this so it was removed. The UK then amended "disturbance" in the Regs to "significant disturbance" and set out what this actually meant for each of the species. Again, this wasn't liked so it was removed.

The latest version of the Habs Regs is quite specific actually. It states this:

For the purposes of paragraph (1)(b), disturbance of animals includes in particular any disturbance which is likely—

(a)to impair their ability—
(i)to survive, to breed or reproduce, or to rear or nurture their young, or
(ii)in the case of animals of a hibernating or migratory species, to hibernate or migrate; or
(b)to affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong.

This does set the bar quite highly in terms of disturbance and appropriately refers to the times when species are most vulnerable. Remember, if a case like this ever went near a court, the CPS would have to decide if it is in the public interest to prosecute. Chances of them deciding that people looking for sand lizards should be prosecuted are pretty much zero unless someone was repeatedly disturbing the to the extent that they died (so during hibernation for example) or had failed young.

Regarding pond dipping for GCN. There is an advice note on this. That's slightly different as if the school knew it had GCN in the pond, and there was a reasonable chance they could turn up in kids' nets, that would be deliberate capture, which is a clear offence. So, in some cases, schools may need a licence. But they are not difficult to get, it's just to make the pond dipping legal.

Hope that helps. You can always ask for advice if you like, it is my job after all.

Duncan


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 16 Dec 2013 at 11:42pm
That really is enormously helpful. Quite an eye-opener - I didn't find these amendments online. The law is even less restrictive than I thought; perhaps less restrictive than I think it should be. Under these rules there is no problem for careful watchers at all.

Richard


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 8:17am
So Duncan, it is now possible according to the definitions to handle Sand Lizards without a licence?

If it were argued that it did not impair their ability to survive, breed or reproduce or nurture their young. Prevent them from hibernating or significantly affect their local distribution or abundance.

That is exactly what you are stating?

Also should I advise my clients in future that due to the the highly unlikely nature of the CPS prosecuting they should ignore all current wildlife legislation........rather than the current situation of following 'best practice'.

The fact is in the real world of field study actually looking for animals does create plenty of local disturbance and it is anyone's guess really if one is meeting the stated criteria or not.

I think also you underestimate the ease for many regarding licences. Yes it is easy for a school to obtain a licence for pond dipping in theory. However that means a member of staff taking responsibility for doing so. People are reluctant to do such things in a litigious society as it rather places them in the 'responsibility seat'. Likewise it is easy for a photographer to obtain a licence or indeed any individual. However you appear to believe it is rather unnecessary for people do so in the case of sand lizards.

I guess at least Richard will be happy about your comments, personally I shall be quite happy to continue as before and only specifically go to to observe sand lizards with current licence holders.



Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 8:44am
Originally posted by Richard2 Richard2 wrote:

That really is enormously helpful. Quite an eye-opener - I didn't find these amendments online. The law is even less restrictive than I thought; perhaps less restrictive than I think it should be. Under these rules there is no problem for careful watchers at all.

Richard

Can you define a 'careful watcher' Richard. Is that similar to a responsible dog walker with their dog off the lead in areas where it is required?

I've been doing this for 40 years, still can't do it without occasionally disturbing animals, can you explain what I've been doing wrong all this time. Wink 

So lets be responsible, for example we can't possibly observe animals in the breeding season according to the habitat regs for fear of preventing a breeding opportunity... shame really considering that is when most observations occur!

It rather proves I think the whole concept of licencing, those who do not see the need for them or think they are somehow for others often have little concept of their own potential to do harm?


Posted By: MancD
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 9:04am
Originally posted by GemmaJF GemmaJF wrote:



So Duncan, it is now possible according to the definitions to handle Sand Lizards without a licence?

If it were argued that it did not impair their ability to survive, breed or reproduce or nurture their young. Prevent them from hibernating or significantly affect their local distribution or abundance.

That is exactly what you are stating?




Not at all. Handling a sand lizard would mean you have deliberately captured it, as would be the case if you bottle trapped or pitfall trapped a great crested newt or removed a bat from beneath a roof tile. Deliberate capture itself is an offence, and is completely different to disturbance. Capturing these species requires the person to have a knowledge of them, know how to safely capture them, handle and release them, and be licensed.

There are of course other offences such as damaging a breeding site or resting place so dismantling a hibernation site to "look for" European Protected Species would also run a high risk of committing offences.

My point is mainly that the legislation is not in place to create fear or warn people off an interest in these species, it is to protect them.

I advise people on the legislation, so I can help in terms of misinterpretations such as yours on capture. What I can't do, not being a lawyer, is tell you for definite if you would or wouldn't be prosecuted for something when it would be for a court to decide and for the police to get it to court in the first place. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Police so as and when they get reports of offences, we can and do help them with ecology advice to decide if it is likely that reported works have committed offences. In these events, the case file goes to the CPS to decide if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute and if it is in the public interest.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 9:20am
There was no misinterpretation on my part Duncan. I am well aware of the current legislation.

It changes absolutely nothing about the debate.

The fact is you are not a field herpetologist are you? No.

Lets 'twist' your definitions a little further. It would now be possible for a consultant to survey using ACO without a licence at a sand lizard site. It does not involve hand capture. Correct?

No of course not because common sense prevails over written definitions that obviously there is a potential in such circumstances for disturbance.

My point is that the realities of regular visual field observation invite identical opportunities for disturbance. Those who claim it does not either have a) no field experience, b) their own agenda.

So it goes back to exactly where we were. Anybody regularly setting out to observe/study sand lizards in the field ought to consider the licencing issue.

Perhaps a re-read of the thread would be in order before you also advise me regarding what I have already stated several times in your last paragraph...




Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 9:58am
We should make a distinction, shouldn't we, between systematic survey work, which probably does need a license, and recreational observation? By careful watching, I mean watching that certainly would not involve catching or chasing the animal, but might involve crouching to watch and carefully getting a bit closer - being careful not to scare the lizard, if possible, and also careful not to damage habitat. I am indeed relieved that this sort of opportunity to enjoy wildlife responsibly has not after all been criminalised.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 10:05am
Originally posted by Richard2 Richard2 wrote:

We should make a distinction, shouldn't we, between systematic survey work, which probably does need a license, and recreational observation?

Why should the potential to do harm be less of an offence because is serves your recreational purposes Richard? It sort of sounds rather selfish and arrogant reading it from this end. Particularly considering as a rather experienced herpetologist I do not share your optimism for not causing any harm during visual observations at sand lizard sites.

Originally posted by Richard2 Richard2 wrote:

By careful watching, I mean watching that certainly would not involve catching or chasing the animal, but might involve crouching to watch and carefully getting a bit closer - being careful not to scare the lizard, if possible, and also careful not to damage habitat. I am indeed relieved that this sort of opportunity to enjoy wildlife responsibly has not after all been criminalised.

I would read Duncan's last paragraph again very carefully Richard. He clearly states he is able to advise on the legislation, whilst unable to actually be sure of the definitions. It would not be the first time if someone ended up in a court after following NE's advice...


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 11:49am
This debate has been fine and courteous so far. It is a shame to start introducing accusations of selfishness and arrogance. The question is whether careful watching does harm. The law clearly thinks not, as do Natural England.

In the field of relationships between people and wild animals, and the cultural significance those animals acquire, I believe that recreational watching has some importance, even moral importance, and is worth encouraging. Wildlife is not reserved for the experts, in this case the trained herpetologists. It is for everyone. If not, what are the arguments for protecting it at all? Trained herpetologists should certainly be listened to, but they are not the only people entitled to have an opinion on these matters. What sort of training qualifies you anyway? Would an amateur enthusiasm and a lifetime of amateur field experience count?

We have now heard from a professional adviser on the law, and from Natural England, the government agency responsible for administering policy in this field. Both have made it clear that recreational watching is permitted, indeed encouraged. In my view the information from Duncan should transform the terms of this debate. Ideally, the notice boards and websites would give precisely this information, with advice about what sort of disturbance would threaten the survival, reproduction or hibernation of the animals.

I don't think my position has changed very much, in fact, but it is now clearly well within the law rather than subject to doubt. Careful watching always runs quite a high risk of spooking a lizard into running into cover. This will happen as often as not; perhaps more. Perhaps there should be some sort of code about not scaring the same one in more than twice before moving on - something like that. But scaring one in by making a movement nearby it (as opposed to chasing it) will not threaten its ability to survive, reproduce or hibernate. Lizards are running for cover for natural reasons all the time. As Duncan says, the bar has been set quite high as far as the legal definition of disturbance is concerned. In my view, that decision does indeed represent 'common sense', but, of course, one person's common sense is always another's outrageous nonsense, so the term doesn't get us very far.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 12:00pm
There is nothing discourteous Richard in stating that someone's opinion appears a certain way.

I am sorry if you saw my comment otherwise.

What NE say is not worth a thing. They are forever saying many things This is how their 'reptile expert' ended up in a magistrate's court in the past being asked if he understood the GCN guidelines, when he in fact wrote them. Duncan has clearly told you he can provide you no advice as to what words such as disturbance would be interpreted as meaning in a court. He can only advise regarding his interpretation of the legislation. For example I stated a survey using ACO according to NE that is 'trapping' but no trapping occurs. When these cases get to court it is anyone's guess how things will turn out.

In fact as much as it is Duncan's job to advise people on the legislation, it is mine to make sure my clients don't fall foul of it.

Would you for example advise people to drive up and down the A12 at 140 mph if I told you they were very unlikely to be caught and prosecuted?


A simple question. How would you describe the way female sand lizards bask when gravid Richard?

A simple description will do...


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 12:21pm
OK. Several things here.

Accusing someone who is debating seriously with you of arrogance is to demean the seriousness of their concern with the actual arguments. For a genuine debate to take place, the debaters have to respect each other's genuine commitment to the process.

If what NE says isn't worth a thing, why is what anyone says worth a thing? As I asked before, what is an ordinary person to do if not ask the relevant government agency?

Someone driving at 140mph - the comparison is clearly desperate and unfair. In that case the behaviour is quite undeniably illegal and also life-threatening.

How would I describe the way female Sand Lizards bask? I'll submit to your test, though no doubt my expertise will be inadequate. They flatten their bodies as much as possible to bring maximum warmth to the developing eggs. You will say that therefore disturbing them at all, even startling them once, is an impairment of their breeding. But they will be disturbed like that frequently anyway. Is there any evidence from scientists that the daily routine of taking cover and coming out again actually hinders breeding? If it were a matter of constant pestering, perhaps there would be a problem, and if lizard-watching ever became as popular as bird-watching, this might be a problem. Some sort of code would then be desirable, or even an off-season. But we are far from that.


Posted By: MancD
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 12:34pm
If you're carrying out a survey, you would be making repeat visits to a site over a number of occasions, carrying out the same activity and potentially disturbing the same animals time and again. This may be at a time of year which is sensitive (such as breeding) where this disturbance could have a compound effect. ACOs aren't well used by sand lizards so there would not be much point using them instead of transects but I see your point.
 
There is, of course, the counter argument that on a site with high public access, that routine disturbance in this manner is typical and so what happens through members of the public using a reserve unlicensed on one site, would be similar to that which a licensed surveyor would undertake on a site with no access. Hence why it is difficult to advise on theoretical cases since advice needs to be tailored to specific sites. I do agree with Richard though that surveying and casual observing with an interest are not quite the same (although there is clearly overlap).
 
In terms of the licences themselves, most of them actually include methods which include deliberate capture, so it wouldnt be possible to use certain methods without having a licence. In terms of GCNs you could make a case that shining a torch into a pond has little disturbing effect in terms of the legislation I stated earlier. But what if the pond is overgrown and covered in floating vegetation that renders torching ineffective? Getting your waders on and setting bottle traps round the edge would risk a host of offences other than disturbance, as would netting, or capture/mark/recapture. Consultant ecologists need to be able to provide a range of methods under their licences and their clients also use the fact that the ecologists have licences (so have had referees and experience assessed) to be confident that they know what they are doing. This is all entirely appropriate so that all concerned can be confident that surveys are as accurate as they can be and being carried out by responsible people.
 
Prosecution for disturbance only would have to be based upon evidence. So, say that someone didn't like having bats in their loft and so put a light up there on continuously, or left a radio on to deliberately disturb them. Provided there was evidence of the bat roost existing, and that there had been disturbance, and that the roost was no longer there, this could be used to prosecute. It would be unlikely that anyone would report someone for flushing a sand lizard into cover, unless it was a reserve warden and that person was seen to be doing it regularly and there was evidence of an impact in line with the legislation. Proving disturbance is difficult, much more so that proving damage/destruction to breeding sites/resting places which really, are the ones we should all be more concerned about.
 
Gemma, thanks for assuming that I'm not a field herpetologist. My specialism is amphibians rather than reptiles (although by trade I'm a mammologist with a specialism in marsupials and monotremes), and I do a host of surveys each year mainly for Natterjacks and GCN (including annual ones at a SAC), run internal training courses on them, alongside providing advice to staff across the country in addition to developers and ecologists many of whom would tell you I am pretty knowledgable in the field and very helpful. I've also acted as an expert witness in court and have helped the police in a number of prosecution cases over various species. Back in thea early noughties I worked on Cane Toad control projects in Queensland. I've also helped run workshops at the IEEM GCN conference in Brighton, and routinely attend the HWM each year, although not this coming one. There are lots of extremely dedicated and hard working people at Natural England in what is a tough job these days in an ever shrinking organisation with an ever increasing workload. Which is why I come on here in my time off to offer advice to people who want it.
 
 
 
 


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 12:34pm
Yes, quite.

No actually Richard on the whole they mosaic bask.

That is they remain entirely hidden from sight and only rarely are seen openly basking at all.

Now do you feel so confident that your apparently innocuous observations involving getting close to animals and bending down etc might not be an offence? You could very easily for example kill a gravid female sand lizard by simply poorly placing a foot for no other reason that you did not see it or expect it to be there.

Trying to argue a natural consequence of your actions is an accident won't get you very far in my experience in court of law.

In all Richard I just get mild entertainment from these debates, so please do not take any offence. Particularly when we are fortune enough to have contributions directly from NE. 

At the end of the day, there will always be those that will specifically go to sand lizard sites with the intention of visually surveying without a licence. (that is after all exactly what you are talking about doing however it is dressed up).

That is not me though and I don't advise others to do so on this forum. Most actually realize the need for a licence fairly soon. Those that don't well thin end of a wedge etc. But we can hardly cry when a developer digs up a site in future can we.

The point is Richard and with the deepest respect you would not even have known the potential for harm, whereas any licence holder most certainly would.


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 1:01pm
Thank you. That's something I've learned. Actually, now you say it, I recognise this from experience, but I was answering your question quickly.

Careful watching, as I try to define it, would not include trampling thick heather where concealed lizards might be trodden on. We need, I would say, to develop informal codes of dos and don'ts for watching, and this information contributes.

That does not mean that accidents can't happen, though the one you describe would I think be vanishingly rare if we are only talking about cautiously edging a bit closer to a lizard. A hyper-precautionary approach in relation to this particular risk would mean no one was allowed off the paths at all. In duneland reserves such as Studland and Ainsdale the paths are pretty indistinct anyway; there are many small ones. In effect you would be saying that recreational use of the land by walkers, birdwatchers, picnickers, lovers and frisbee-chuckers should also be ruled out. The land would lose its public meaning. Is that too high a price to pay for the occasional accident of the sort you describe? I hope it isn't arrogant to think it might be.

The law, by Duncan's account, suggests that it might be, which is why the disturbance has to be deliberate and a significant impairment. The accident you describe would not be deliberate, and would not have a significant impact on populations. Still, I hate the thought of it - and now I think we are beginning to discuss not whether the watching is legal but within what conditions it can be ethical. There is a lot to be worked-out about that. Do you come from an animal rights viewpoint on that, or is the principle one of maximising ecological diversity? I enjoy the discussions too.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 1:16pm
Originally posted by Richard2 Richard2 wrote:

Thank you. That's something I've learned. Actually, now you say it, I recognise this from experience, but I was answering your question quickly.

Careful watching, as I try to define it, would not include trampling thick heather where concealed lizards might be trodden on. We need, I would say, to develop informal codes of dos and don'ts for watching, and this information contributes.

That does not mean that accidents can't happen, though the one you describe would I think be vanishingly rare if we are only talking about cautiously edging a bit closer to a lizard. A hyper-precautionary approach in relation to this particular risk would mean no one was allowed off the paths at all. In duneland reserves such as Studland and Ainsdale the paths are pretty indistinct anyway; there are many small ones. In effect you would be saying that recreational use of the land by walkers, birdwatchers, picnickers, lovers and frisbee-chuckers should also be ruled out. The land would lose its public meaning. Is that too high a price to pay for the occasional accident of the sort you describe? I hope it isn't arrogant to think it might be.

The law, by Duncan's account, suggests that it might be, which is why the disturbance has to be deliberate and a significant impairment. The accident you describe would not be deliberate, and would not have a significant impact on populations. Still, I hate the thought of it - and now I think we are beginning to discuss not whether the watching is legal but within what conditions it can be ethical. There is a lot to be worked-out about that. Do you come from an animal rights viewpoint on that, or is the principle one of maximising ecological diversity? I enjoy the discussions too.

The point is Richard killing is itself an entirely separate offence. I'm sure Duncan will confirm this. I don't think it can be argued as not deliberate if it is a likely or natural consequence of the activity you under take. 

For reference Duncan's account does not discuss the 'law' it discusses the legislation.

If nothing else I think we have all demonstrated a very wide interpretation of what things mean.

What it comes down to is in the unlikely event of one ending up in court it would not be any of our interpretations it would be the magistrate's who might have not the slightest interest in wildlife at all.

I still maintain that anybody regularly spending time around protected species, or purposely setting out to survey (see, visually study etc) those species should consider if they require a licence.

We have plenty of people involved with sand lizard conservation on the forum. I wonder how they feel about the issue, as opposed to arguing about interpretations and meanings of legislation?


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 1:28pm
yes and I am one o them do la know if they are being disturbed by a licensed or non carrying person?KEITH

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 1:32pm
I totally agree Keith, they don't have a clue, but the idea of a licence is that it allows one to undertake an activity that would be otherwise illegal. As opposed to it in any way changing the consequence of the activity. Wink One would hope though that the licensing system would at least insure that those that hold them have some basic knowledge of the species involved.




Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 1:49pm
"I still maintain that anybody regularly spending time around protected species, or purposely setting out to survey (see, visually study etc) those species should consider if they require a licence."

This idea would seem less alarming if licenses were issued for recreational purposes, and could easily be obtained on the spot from the offices at major nature reserves. The idea of some sort of Highway Code style training to go with the issue of the license seems attractive too, but I doubt that the resources would ever be provided. As long as licenses are issued only for scientific work, then you are arguing that only the experts are entitled to look at these animals deliberately. Surely that is a bit of a problem for your ethical argument, isn't it?




Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 2:04pm
I have not put across an ethical argument. I have put across my interpretation as a field herpetologist specializing in reptiles on what is required by the law.

But licences can easily be obtained. The majority of forum members here will hold one or more.

I can't see what is alarming about any of it. 

IF you want to spend time close to the animals that are protected under the WCA, it is a good idea to obtain a licence. What is the problem with the whole concept? 

It is actually NE's total inability to prosecute under the current legislation that makes my blood boil, rather than the fact one ought to have a licence before spending a lot of time around protected species.

It is simply untrue that licenses are issued only for scientific work.

I have at no point argued that only experts are entitled to look at the animals deliberately.

You know as well as I do that actual feel study does not consist of animals parading themselves in front of the observer for viewing. It takes hours of walking over the habitat to locate individual animals. Doing so regularly can easily invite potential offences under the WCA, so the wise get a licence.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 2:22pm
PS Richard, it just occurred to me also why this debate rolls on and on.

Many non-licence holders consider that somehow they are being excluded.


Personally I view my licences as protection against potential prosecution. 

Why wouldn't I want them.

Makes a big difference to turn things around sometimes?


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 2:22pm
We're going round in circles a bit now, but still.

My concern in this debate is not with members of the forum, but with the uninitiated public. Let's say someone who sees a Sand Lizard on one of those noticeboards and is taken with the idea of going to look for them.

That said, if I wrote and asked for a license for purely recreational purposes, would they give me one, do you think? Or would I have to prove I was collecting information for accredited scientific purposes?

I think you are engaging in ethical debate, because you seem to be concerned with a principle of possible harm that goes beyond the legislation as quoted by Duncan.


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 2:29pm
"Personally I view my licences as protection against potential prosecution. 

Why wouldn't I want them."

Gemma, you are engaged in professional survey work. Of course you should have a license. I've never questioned that. Professional survey work can involve trapping etc (what is ACO, by the way?). What about the occasional holiday visitor to Studland or Ainsdale?


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 2:37pm
Well you started going round in circle Richard not me lol.

 I would rather consider the public couldn't care less. However if you saw a particular insect on a noticeboard would you consider it OK to walk all over the habitat looking for them? That is what field herpetologists do isn't it?


The only legislation Duncan put forward were current definitions of what in the mind of NE constitutes disturbance via the habitat regs. That doesn't let people off of all the offences they could potentially commit whilst walking about an area frequented by Sand Lizards. All the other offences still apply. It might come as a surprise to you but I already knew about the changes to the habitat regs at the start of the debate, I can't see it alters anything at all. It was a magistrate understands by the word disturbance that will count.

Again I'll state why wouldn't you want a licence that protects against fines of up to £5000 or six months imprisonment? 

As for holidays, so it is OK to speed on motorways occasionally but as long as you don't make a habit of it?

I can honestly say I have never and never will set out to look for sand lizards without a licence holder present or before obtaining a current licence myself. 

That's all I can say Richard. If you are not convinced there is little else I can add.



Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 2:59pm
"I would rather consider the public couldn't care less. However if you saw a particular insect on a noticeboard would you consider it OK to walk all over the habitat looking for them"

That's the nub of it. Quite a lot of the public probably has a general interest in wildlife which is put into practice occasionally, on holidays and so on. For some, especially children,  the interest develops, and even becomes a passion. That's how it started for many on the forum, I would think. I value that passion. I want it to be nourished, not shut down through misplaced by fear of the law.

If I saw an insect on a noticeboard, I might well want to look for it, yes, but I would want to know how to do so responsibly.

Would you really prefer the general public to be uncaring?

What is the status of the Habs Regs, then? I understood from Duncan that they were approved by the EU commission.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 3:07pm
There are plenty of ways of introducing children to wildlife without disturbing our rarest reptile species Richard. Try a grass snake or a common lizard for example.

I'm all for you nourishing the public's interest.

Just please do not advise people on this forum that is OK to go out and purposely survey for sand lizards without a licence. It is not OK.  You have already on previous pages stated that if you were to kill one during your activities it would be kind of trivial, could have been done by anyone.

We had a similar poster on here a while back that claimed torch surveys for GCN did not require a licence. 

It's just really bad advice in my opinion.






Posted By: MancD
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 3:23pm
Originally posted by GemmaJF GemmaJF wrote:

It is actually NE's total inability to prosecute under the current legislation that makes my blood boil, rather than the fact one ought to have a licence before spending a lot of time around protected species.
 
It's actually the Police's role to prosecute offences under the Habitats Regulations and Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We can and do assist the Wildlife Crime Officers if they request assistance. Some forces have these, others don't, some forces use ecologists to help them.
 
The exceptions are if it is a protected site (SSSI etc), or if NE has issued a licence (development or class licence for surveying etc etc), in which case NE is the enforcement body.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 3:30pm
Originally posted by MancD MancD wrote:

Originally posted by GemmaJF GemmaJF wrote:

It is actually NE's total inability to prosecute under the current legislation that makes my blood boil, rather than the fact one ought to have a licence before spending a lot of time around protected species.
 
It's actually the Police's role to prosecute offences under the Habitats Regulations and Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We can and do assist the Wildlife Crime Officers if they request assistance. Some forces have these, others don't, some forces use ecologists to help them.
 
The exceptions are if it is a protected site (SSSI etc), or if NE has issued a licence (development or class licence for surveying etc etc), in which case NE is the enforcement body.

I entirely agree, thank you for the correction as it was a rather clumsy statement on my part. 

I will correct it to:

It is actually NE's total inability to have any useful role under the current legislation that makes my blood boil, rather than the fact one ought to have a licence before spending a lot of time around protected species.

There that is much better. Wink


Posted By: MancD
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 3:36pm
I understand that you enjoy these debates Gemma, but it is comments like that when people are simply trying to offer helpful and constructive advice that may be why the volume of traffic on here has dropped over recent times.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 3:44pm
Oh come on that was obviously meant as humour. Do lighten up a bit.

I'm sure the reason traffic has dropped has more to do with Facebook than my presence on the forums. Though I'm more than happy to go away again, as in fact I had done during the time the site started to become quieter and quieter. 


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 3:44pm
You misrepresent me, Gemma. I said that I thought it vanishingly unlikely, in the case of someone watching carefully. I also said that I hated the thought. But, yes, in the circumstances you outlined - a gravid female being trodden on by mistake while concealed - it could happen to anyone using the heath for recreation. Extremely unlikely, but possible. It could even happen to someone carrying a license. Ethically, it would not be trivial. Ecologically - possibly. It depends on the health of the overall population. If a buzzard eats a Sand Lizard, is that a trivial event?

I was the person who suggested that torching might not be illegal. NE and Duncan have both said that there is some doubt on this point.

I am not sure that I am advising anyone. I have been questioning the restrictive interpretation of the law, that's all, and a lot of the expert evidence turns out not to support that interpretation, though you dismiss that evidence. People must make their own decisions.

Richard


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 3:46pm
But I don't want you to go away.


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 3:57pm
Well as you say Richard, people make their own decisions.


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 5:50pm
Oh - it's a shame if this has gone sour. I have found it very helpful and interesting.


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 7:45pm
I hate to keep repeating stuff but the licence system is a big joke that protects nothing when nothing is done about the real offenders who are destroying the heaths and habitat seem to have the freedom to act with Carte Blanche immunity beyond any form of licensing restrictions if you want to develop habitat areas for other purposes at the detriment of the animals ,nothing is ever done even when the likes of me has reported incidents to the good old Nat England lot ................ PS theses reptiles are only rare because of habitat loss and development not through the odd snap shot looker. Also disturbance seems to have a nil affect on animals breeding ,Example the cliffs at Boscombe proves that with the amount of wall lizards that bask on the zigzag path they even ar seen running across the footpath with thousands of rowdy holiday makers passing bye every day. Some dont even move unless some imminent threat like some body making a grab for them.......But I do agree some regulations are needed for their protection to insure that species are not collected like rare birds eggs as in the past. First we need rid ourselves of the pc lot who would even stop kids netting sticklebats that will soon be rare if we keep draining land and filling in ponds for housing etc what we need is some common sense not some twats sitting in Brussels who would not know a frog leg from a fried sloworm,dictating regs to justify their tax payers fueled salaries. A Moaning Keith

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: AGILIS
Date Posted: 17 Dec 2013 at 7:56pm
Just a little dig the signal crayfish that the environment agency wants eradicated from all UK waterways officially you need a licence to remove the plague.

-------------
   LOCAL ICYNICAL CELTIC ECO WARRIOR AND FAILED DRUID


Posted By: Vicar
Date Posted: 14 Apr 2015 at 9:08pm
I've been away so long, this is a new thread to me :-)

My take on this is a kind of Venn diagram, where you have the letter of the law, the spirit of the law and common sense sometimes overlapping and sometimes with bloody great air-gaps.

For Sand lizards, the advice I give people locally is that if they stick to paths, in the right places they will see plenty of lizards, and I do not consider this disturbance. Same goes for photography.

If you go off piste looking for sand lizards, then the law should be used to dissuade non-licensed people from doing this, as off-piste there are all sorts of protected things you could disturb beyond the odd La. Most reptile surveys involve refugia set away from paths, so checking these in La or Ca areas ought to be a licenced activity.

My 2p.


-------------
Steve Langham - Chairman     mailto:steve@surrey-arg.org.uk">
Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 15 Apr 2015 at 2:12pm
Nice to see you posting Steve, yours seems a fair interpretation. Though I expect that some would say 'as long as they are careful' off-piste all will be OK. 


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 15 Apr 2015 at 4:14pm
I won't rise to that, though I'm tempted. We gave the whole question a very thorough airing two years ago. I've just looked back over the thread, and I hope people of all persuasions learned something from it. 

Richard


Posted By: GemmaJF
Date Posted: 15 Apr 2015 at 4:40pm
Be tempted Richard. 

I've made it pretty clear in the past that the advice I would give is not based on my own opinion but very much the fact nobody can give a definitive answer until there is case law. 

Though I am not so naive to not realise most herpers could be very tempted in the moment to step off the path and get a better look at an animal, or just check to see if there is another one sitting around the corner, no, well maybe a bit further on now I'm here then... Wink If I'm right (without reading back through the whole thread) you were thinking of photography for a book, surely you would want a little more than what most people could see for themselves from a path? Or perhaps I misunderstood the intentions. 


Posted By: Richard2
Date Posted: 15 Apr 2015 at 5:05pm
No, my concern was not with photography. As for the book, yes, some recent observation did go into it, but most of the writing was based on memories from times before these laws. I discussed the question in the book, in what seemed to me a balanced way.

My main contentions in the thread were that watching from paths was acceptable, and that the advice given by NE and some other experts supported this view. The thread started with JamesM's regretful perception that he wasn't allowed to go onto an SSSI to look for Sand Lizards at all. 

Richard



Print Page | Close Window

Forum Software by Web Wiz Forums® version 11.06 - http://www.webwizforums.com
Copyright ©2001-2016 Web Wiz Ltd. - https://www.webwiz.co.uk