RETEC- The BCG Red Eared Terrapin Education Centre: The first four years

BCG Newsletter 2000
(note: 'Secret World' closed to the public Jan 2001- viewing is now by appontment only)

It hardly seems possible that four years have gone by since work first began on the RETEC at Secret World- I still tend to see it as the BCG's new venture, helping to solve the problems with unwanted terrapins. A lot has happened to the centre in this time- it has matured, developed and improved, taken on a steadily increasing number of terrapins, and helped to give the BCG a visible UK based example of its worldwide conservation efforts.

For those of you who have not visited, the RETEC was built inside a large greenhouse at a badger and wildlife centre called Secret World (in Somerset). The pond itself is about 10' by 30', hourglass shaped, dug into the ground to a depth which varies from 5' to 2', with a bridge across the narrow point, and powerful 'koi' filters at the shallow end keeping the water pure and clear.

The RETEC has a number of aims and objectives to fulfil.
The prime one is to demonstrate how to keep adult Terrapins in captivity in this country. This is of equal importance to members of the public, and to other wildlife sanctuaries. For the person with a treasured pet at home, it offers a solution to the housing problem- by using a greenhouse and pond. For other sanctuaries it demonstrates what can be done to create an attractive feature out of a problem situation.
Secondly, we intend to use the terrapins grouped here for long term study. Each one is photographed (fingerprinted) and recorded. Their weights are taken regularly, and the conditions in the pool surveyed electronically (air temp, surface temp, depth temp, light values, and PH level.) This information will give us a valuable insight into to terrapins life-cycle, and its longevity in these conditions. Once handed in to the BCG, each terrapin is held in a holding pond at my house until, it is considered fit and able to join the large group at the Secret World. Once there, they will be continue to be monitored on a regular basis, and their progress added to their individual record portfolios.

There have been a number of changes at the RETEC since its initial construction. Basking areas have been extended as the numbers have gone up. The planted areas have grown up, providing a luxurious tropical surround to the pond, and the marginal bed filters have finally begun to develop and improve the water quality. More significantly, the greenhouse suffered broken panes and water leakage in the winter of 1998, resulting in major work needing to be done. Many of the roof panels were replaced with Perspex- lighter than glass, they are tougher, and put less strain on the building's fabric. On the spot to help were members of the South West region BCG, whose carpenter (Alan Gallup) originally built the notice boards and tortoise vivaria. They refurbished all of these areas to an even higher standard than the originals, stepping in just when the RETEC seemed to be a burden to Secret World.

The most recent developments however have been on the electronic front. In the spring of this year a phone line was installed into the greenhouse, and I was able to position a computer into the cupboard, complete with a sophisticated digital camera overlooking the terrapin basking area. This remarkable device telephones our BCG website at least 4 times a day, and places hourly photos of the terrapins directly into the web pages to be viewed immediately. (2002- not functioning at present)

As for the terrapins themselves, there are now 38 in the pond, with a further 15 awaiting their turn to join the party. This will probably be the limit for this centre, although we cannot be sure as yet. My wife and I have weighed and measured them all over the last four years, and we can vouch for the effectiveness of the setup. Everyone has been gaining both size and weight, hibernation has been successful, and casualties at the centre, few.

Paul Coleman