“WE want more people to go out and have a little look around,” said Michael Hordley.

“Have a look in your back garden. If you have a Nan who’s got a pond, ask to go and have a look. What they have to do is submit a record to us.

“One of the things we’ve got to deal with is people wanting to know what’s in their area, but without people going and having a look, we can’t tell them.”

As it stands, the atlas has more than 10,000 record going back more than 22 years, but more are always welcomed. Adding to the record is as simple as visiting the records centre’s website.

For Michael and his fellow environmental scientists, the importance of the record, and of filling in its gaps, is important on several levels.

“If you’re looking at it from a commercial standpoint, many of the - for example - great crested newt colonies greatly affect development.

“They affect construction - the building of new houses, estates and any kind of work that’s going to change the landscape.”

He cites the example of one of the best known protected species, the great crested newt. If nobody is aware of the existence of a colony on a site earmarked for a housing estate, for example, a vital breeding site can be lost forever.

The other side of the coin is that if the presence of the scarce amphibians emerges far into the planning process, the ensuing wrangles can be a major headache for councils and businesses alike.

There are other reasons why the records centre team are such strong advocates of data-gathering.

“It’s important to know where areas are lacking species they should ordinarily have. We can then find out why a certain area - Salisbury Plain, say - does not have adders, for instance.

“Maybe there’s something going on that we’re not aware of. Recording areas where they are not is as important as recording areas where they are.

“From a moral standpoint I think we have an obligation to know where species are and help them recover from human activities, because human activities are the main cause of species’ decline.

“If we’re not aware of the needs of species we can’t help them.”

Again, he has a striking example to cite, although it involves a species which is neither reptile nor amphibian.

There was a time when most people thought the common house sparrow was everywhere in enormous numbers, but surveys begun two or three decades ago revealed a decline which some scientists believe amounts to 90 per cent against earlier population levels.

The reasons for the alarming plunge have never been completely pinned down, but the building work needed to provide our own population with places to live and work is a likely culprit.

Michael was born and spent the first five years of his life in South Africa, where his English parents had moved for work. They later moved to a small town near Cardiff.

Michael’s insatiable interest in the natural world surfaced early, and he recalls forever holding up walks in the country so he could pause to examine some creature or other, such as a beetle trundling along the path.

A first degree in Conservation Biology at Plymouth University was followed by a Masters in Applied Ecology at Essex.

Before coming to work at the records centre, his career included a stint with the RSPB at its renowned reserve on Islay in the Inner Hebrides.

The decision to come to Wiltshire was not difficult, and is one he’s glad to have made.

“It’s an area that I had never had any experience of, and the job was something I had never really done before. It was a new experience, a new challenge.

“I wanted to learn more about the chalk grasslands and meadows that Wiltshire holds.

“Speaking as someone who has done stuff in South Wales and South Africa, Wiltshire has a lot more to offer than the layperson might think.”

The reptiles and amphibians to which the atlas is devoted are much in evidence in various locations across the county. They include three types of newts, grass snakes, slow worms, common frogs and common toads.

Michael is happy to answer the common question of how to tell the latter two apart.

“The easiest way to tell the difference is that toads crawl as opposed to jumping, and they tend to be a lot less reliant on water, so they tend to appear drier.”

According to Michael, the separate classification of frogs and toads only really took place in the 19th century, when Victorians decided that amphibians they deemed ugly should be classified as toads.

Amphibians are seen even in built-up areas such as Swindon – and records are fairly thorough.

“In areas like Swindon there’s a lot of record-keeping going on because of development. We get a better idea.

“The main thing we want is that people submit to the records centre or to the people at the reptile group.

“It’s a great atlas and we have received a lot of interest, but the thing is that we did not have as many records as we wanted.”

Further information about the atlas can be found at www.wsbrc.org