Saving the Warkworth Turtles

From the fairgrounds to safe nesting habitats along natural stream banks to help turtle hatchlings survive.

Snapping turtles had found what seemed to them like a great location for nesting. It was deep, soft sand in a sunny location near a stream.

Unfortunately, it was the horse-riding ring at Warkworth Fairgrounds! The activities typical of a riding ring are sure to destroy the eggs and could injure or kill the adult turtles laying the eggs too. With all of Ontario’s turtle species listed as at-risk species, it was critical that these turtles and their eggs be protected. Concerned volunteers approached the fairgrounds owners, Percy Agricultural Society.

As the 2022 spring nesting season was fast approaching, a hasty first-year decision was made. With permission from the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough,  volunteers coordinated by Heather Hill of Warkworth, dug up the turtle eggs. The diggers were amazed to find over 530 eggs in the horse ring. Each egg was carefully kept right side up, placed in an egg carton, in sand, and they were rushed to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough by Laura McKeown, another leader in the rescue effort.

The eggs were incubated at the turtle centre, successfully hatching 354 baby turtles. The turtles were ready to be released back to their ancestral grounds (anywhere within a 10km radius of where they were found) in the spring of 2023. Volunteers supported the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre with the release of these turtles.

Meanwhile, a more proactive solution was in the works to exclude the adult turtles from entering the riding ring before the upcoming nesting season. In spring of 2023 (year two), the group of volunteers received a grant from Community Power Northumberland (CPN) that enabled them to install exclusionary fencing around the riding ring for the duration of the nesting season. This ensured that little to no eggs were laid within the riding ring. While a couple determined turtles still found their way into the ring (whose eggs were once again dug up and incubated), the fencing was critical in minimizing risks to the local turtle population.

Turtles still like the fairgrounds. Fenced out of the ring, they head for other areas where horses, trucks and tractors are likely to be. So stage three of the project will be a permanent boundary fence aimed at keeping turtles out of the fairgrounds altogether. Funding from CPN remains, which will help Percy Agricultural Society install this fence.

Turtle conservation expert advice has assured volunteers that ample good habitat for turtle  nesting exists along the natural stream banks of the area. So while the turtles will no longer be able to nest in the fairgrounds, they will still have plenty of natural habitat to lay their eggs – which will result in better survival rates for the hatchlings too!

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