The Ranavirus, first reported in the UK in the 1980s, is responsible for killing thousands of frogs, toads and newts in the UK every year. The cause of the spread of the disease is as yet unknown, however some populations have recovered following an outbreak. The second disease is the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which was first discovered in the UK in 2004 and is thought to be the main threat to amphibian populations worldwide and can destroy entire populations of amphibians. All of our six native amphibian species - common frog, common toad, natterjack toad, smooth newt, palmate newt and great crested newt – are under threat from these diseases.
As ecological consultants, we undertake a lot of surveys for amphibians, in particular great crested newt surveys. Great crested newts are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and need to be considered in most developments within the vicinity of a suitable breeding pond, as newts can travel up to around 500m from their pond. However, we regularly encounter other amphibian species in the ponds we survey. Over the last few years we have needed to take precautions to avoid spreading these diseases – our job is to ensure that the newts are safe, after all. As we often use our surveying equipment over many sites within the great crested newt survey season (March-June), we need to ensure that diseases are not spread from one pond to another. Following each survey, all of our equipment such as newt bottle traps, pond nets and wellies are thoroughly washed and then disinfected with Virkon S, which kills both of these diseases. The equipment is then washed again to avoid contamination of the ponds with the disinfectant.
A national survey of garden wildlife health is underway in the UK. If you find dead amphibians near a pond, please report it here: http://www.gardenwildlifehealth.org/faq/how-to-report-death-or-illness-in-garden-wildlife/