Public asked to report released pet terrapin sightings

Olivia Miller
Yellow-bellied slider terrapins on a birds nest by Pete West

This story was originally published on 22 April 2021

A biodiversity management student at the University’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) is asking the public to report sightings of terrapins (North American native freshwater turtles) in the UK.

Terrapins are widespread across mainland Europe. Yet, no native freshwater terrapins have been found in the UK for around 7,000 years, due to suspected climatic changes and possible anthropogenic factors. They have been popular pets in western society for decades, typically imported as coin sized hatchlings from the USA and more recently South Asia. Yet, the desirable coin sized hatchling grows too large for the typical domestic aquarium and presents owners with a dilemma of how to cope with a large adult when fully grown. For this reason, many have been illegally released into UK freshwater habitats such as urban ponds, municipal lakes and canals.

In order to build a more comprehensive picture of terrapin numbers and their whereabouts in UK freshwater habitats, DICE’s Suzie Simpson is leading an observational study known as the Turtle Tally Citizen Science Project.

For this project, both angler and public surveys have been launched to gain as much information as possible on the locations and quantities of terrapins in the country. From this information, the team can analyse if there are correlations between urban areas and release sites, the numbers seen in one sighting and types of habitat. This evidence can inform future decision-making, potential legislative changes, and considerations for their welfare. Partners in the project are the National Centre for Reptile Welfare (NCRW), Hadlow College and the British Herpetological Society (BHS).

As terrapin sightings tend to occur in spring when the turtles come out to bask in lakes and ponds until October/November, Suzie Simpson is asking the public to send in sighting information to the Turtle Tally website. Her tips for those who want to get involved are:

  • Head out to local lakes and ponds on sunny days
  • Mid-late morning is the best time to see them
  • Most terrapins will be basking on logs or the edge of the riverbanks
  • Take a photo if you can
  • If you get too close, you may hear a ‘plop’ as they drop into the water to hide!
  • This is purely an observational survey so no need to handle or disturb the terrapins
  • Please ensure your safety when near open bodies of water

The researchers are also carrying out welfare assessments on captive and released terrapins to look at diseases and parasites that are potentially being released into the wild with them. Furthermore, they are looking at both captive and released terrapin body conditions of those individuals brought to the NCRW’s rehoming centre.


A red-eared slider terrapin on a bank. Image credit: Corinne Pardey


A terrapin on a log. Image credit: Kieran Richardson