Thursday 24 January 2019

Gatwick's turtle tally

As you might imagine, the importation of exotic animals and plants is well enforced at UK airports. However, there are still occasional strange reports from 'round these parts, such as a group of Siberian Chipmunks witnessed running through the northern long-stay car park, or a Harris Hawk loose in the woodlands to the east. Most of these records are likely releases or escapes from private collections, but there is also a chance of things becoming naturalised in the wild.

Chinese Pond Turtle Mauremys reevesii (photo by Anthony Jones)

Last week's mystery was uncovered by a team of landscaping operatives, who while clearing a ditch airside at Crawter's Brook, spotted a tiny turtle. At only about 10cm in length they could easily have missed it, so it was quite a lucky find. The Animal Reception Centre (ARC) at the airport usually receives non-native animals which come in via aircraft; to have something exotic retrieved from the airside landscape is very unusual.

Crawter's Brook runs approximately 1 mile the length of the airfield

The tiny reptile was deemed to be in poor health, and permission was quickly given to transport it to the National Centre for Reptile Welfare (NCRW) at Hadlow College. Chris is an exotic reptile and amphibian specialist, who told me that despite the myriad of released terrapins living in UK waterways, this particular species (Chinese Pond Turtle) is very rarely encountered. It is sadly an endangered species in its native range in Asia (due to competition with non-native invasive turtle species), but a popular one to keep in captivity.

Glen this week; apparently his shell is rather off-colour (photo by Chris Newman)

We cannot know how long our little pal Glen (named for Glendale Landscaping Services) has been living on Gatwick's airfield, or how exactly he got there. After some days recuperating in controlled environmental conditions, his health has picked up and he is much more active, although he seems to have ongoing problems with his eyes.

The recuperation tank; Glen will eventually be re-homed into specialist care

We revisited the exact spot where Glen was found to have a closer look, but no other turtle chums were spotted. Which brings us to 'Turtle Tally', a citizen science project due to be launched by Hadlow College in spring, to collect sightings from the general public of turtles loose in the UK. Perhaps we will find there are more Glens out there than previously thought...

I am still collating a master species database for the airport landholdings (as more and more historical data comes out of the woodwork!), allowing us to keep track of the wildlife occurrences at Gatwick. If anyone happens to have unusual records or sightings from around the airport, whether historical or recent, please do get in touch via this blog's email account!

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