Can a long-lost turtle help to restore Britain’s wetlands?

They are shy and secretive creatures, often going unnoticed in the dense undergrowth, damp crevasses, or dark pools they like to inhabit. But amphibians and reptiles are also among the most endangered in the world too.

Globally, 41% of amphibian species and 19% of reptile species are now threatened with dying out. The combined pressures of disease, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change have pushed many species to the brink of extinction, while in some areas, previously common species have disappeared entirely.

But one pair of childhood friends are trying to find ways of bringing back some of the most threatened species and reintroducing them to areas where they have vanished. Harvey Tweats and Tom Whitehurst, both 17, have set up a conservation center in their parents’ back gardens in Staffordshire in an attempt to restore wildlife that once thrived in nearby wetlands.

Among the species they are trying to bring back from the brink is the European pond turtle. Once common in the UK, they vanished due to changes in the climate and are now mainly found elsewhere in Europe. The pair now have one of the largest captive groups of European pond turtles in the UK, and they hope that it could help to make British habitats better able to cope with future changes to the climate.

“The European pond turtle is a lost native species to the UK,” Tweats explains. “It went extinct about 4,000 years ago, but with climate change, it’s going to get warm enough so these [turtles] could be brought back again to Britain.”

In the UK, almost one third of the amphibian and reptile species are threatened with risk of extinction. “If we’re going to be restoring wetlands on the scale that’s been pledged by many different projects, why don’t we bring them back?” asks Sweatshirts.

The pair also nurture species that are often taken for granted, such as the common toad. This work is important as the population of common toads has declined in the UK by 68% over the past 30 years.

“These projects take a while … but it’s definitely something we have time for because we’re still young,” says Tom.

Bright Sparks Sustainability

This article is part of BBC Future’s Bright Sparks: Sustainability series, which sets out to find the young minds who are finding new and innovative ways of tackling environmental problems. They are the next generation of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs who are taking control of their own future by seeking solutions to climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss and over-consumption.

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