Protecting Turtle Eggs & Nests

Conserving Slovakia's European Pond Turtle

Each two months, our members are given the chance to vote for a rewilding project they want to see us carry out at one of our projects. Together with our partners, we select three options for high-impact conservation projects that support the rewilding vision for the area. For the Spring 2020 rewilding project, we head to the location of our new project, Slovakia, where we work with our amazing partners, Broz, to restore the Danube floodplain forests. Our members were given the choice between meadow restoration, habitat restoration for the Pannonian root vole and protecting European pond turtle eggs & nests. Our members chose to support the wonderful work to protect Slovakia's endangered population of European pond turtles.


Project Timeline

June 2020

The vote is held and work gets under way to prepare for the field season.

July 2020

The nesting site is surveyed for active nests and fences erected around the turtle eggs.

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August 2020

Adult pond turtles are tagged with GPS tags to gather important data on their movements and guide conservation decisions.

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October 2020

Fences covering the turtle eggs & nests are removed.

Learn more about why we are protecting European pond turtle eggs & nests

Turtle conservation in Europe

Discussions of turtle conservation more often than not bring up images of charismatic sea turtles, like the logger head and green turtle, gliding through crystal clear warm waters and bathing on soft white tropical sand. Both these species are also found in Europe, specifically the Mediterranean Sea, and are the focus of ambitious conservation projects to protect against the large number of threats they face in Europe, both on land and at sea. These include harvesting for consumption, habitat degradation, disturbance and fishing-induced mortality. Lesser known but equally deserving of our attention are Europe’s freshwater turtles. Many freshwater species, which includes terrapins and pond turtles, are under threat from the pet trade, habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation, vehicle collisions and non-native predators, yet their conservation seems less of a priority. That’s why we’ve partnered with Broz, our partners in Slovakia, to protect one such species, the little European pond turtle, and help safeguard its future in Slovakia.

 

A turtle on a rock in a river next to long grasses. It is such habitats that conservation efforts in Europe are trying to protect.
European pond turtles, are under threat from the pet trade, habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation, vehicle collisions and non-native predators

On The Brink

Fossil records show the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) has been present in Slovakia for at least 120,000 years. However, in recent years it has disappeared from much of its range. Today, there are only two known sites with a viable breeding population in Slovakia. These pond turtles live in open habitats and rely on wetlands, ponds and water channels for hunting and moving. Eggs are laid in shallow under ground nests in sandy soils with little vegetation. Depending on the weather, the hatchlings can remain at the nest site throughout winter and start emerging in spring following year. Unfortunately, the European pond turtle is losing suitable breeding habitat across much of its range as land is converted to agriculture and nests destroyed and turtles killed by agricultural disturbance.

A European pond turtle walks along sandy soil looking for a place to lay its eggs.
European pond turtles rely on sandy soils with little vegetation to lay their eggs

Promoting Breeding

The nesting behaviour of these pond turtles leaves them susceptible to predators as well. Our partners have access to one of the last remaining breeding populations in Slovakia, where predation is the main threat. Predator protection measures are there a vital conservation intervention to protect this important population. The project funds the training of detection dog to detect turtle eggs underground. Since nests are practically invisible to the human eye, the detection dog will accompany the field team to the breeding site to survey for active nests. Fences are erected over active nests to protect the eggs and hatchlings from predators, thereby helping to improve the reproductive success of one of Slovakia’s last remaining breeding populations of European pond turtle.

A hand holding a broken predated turtle egg shell
Predation is a significant threat to the last remaining breeding populations of pond turtles in Slovakia

GPS Tracking

To support the conservation of the turtles more widely, the team are tagging turtles with GPS trackers to enable them to monitoring their movement patterns in the long term. This will provide crucial data to enable the team to identify important areas of habitat for protection and restoration, including any unknown breeding sites.

A person releasing a GPS tagged pond turtle back into the wild. One of many turtle conservation efforts carried out in Europe.
Heart Image

the team behind the project

Team Member

Hannah Kirkland, Conservation Biologist at Mossy Earth

Team Member

Tomáš Kušík, European pond Turtle Project Manager and Chairman at Broz.

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. Critically endangered European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis) in western Slovakia: historical and current records with the discovery of a new reproducing population - Herpetology NotesExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  2. The importance of aquatic and terrestrial habitat for the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis): implications for conservation planning and management - Canadian Journal of ZoologyExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  3. Conservation actions for European pond turtles – a summary of current efforts in distinct European countries - Research GateExternal linkIcon Peer Review