19 Apr 2009

Fire-breathing newts in Stonehouse?

I was up at 6am yesterday to take my partner's granddaughter newt counting with Stroud Valley's Project in a large pond opposite the Stonehouse Court Hotel. Sadly despite some of the children saying the newts breathed fire we did not get to see those ones - we were in search of the Great Crested variety...

Photos: from our newt adventures

Surveys have shown that up to 50% of Gloucestershire's ponds have disappeared since 1950, depleting the newt's natural habitat. Today there are fewer than 3,000 of the original farm ponds left. During Spring 2007, 60 ponds in the county were surveyed but great crested newts were only present in 14%.

Stroud Valleys Project (SVP) is undertaking a long-term study into the state of the population of great-crested newts living in the Stonehouse pond. The launch of this study coincides with the peak courtship and egg-laying period which occurs mid-March to mid-May. During this time, adult males attract females by undertaking a complicated courtship ‘dance’ and you can go out with a torch and see if you have them in your pond. We sadly saw no crested newts but did see 9 'boy' newts and 1 'girl' newt - see below - females are less colourful on their bellies - see below

1 in 10 gardens now have a pond but natural ponds are disappearing throughout the countryside due to infilling, pollution and draining as a result of modern agricultural practices. As a result great crested newts are now a protected species as the lack of natural habitats; particularly the loss of breeding grounds is impacting on the size of the newt population in general. Indeed the police have a Wildlife Crime Officer who patrols some of the key sites at key times.

On my visit to the Stonehouse site we witnessed that one newt was dying as a result of the strimming of grass there (see photo below) - I will ask to see if there is a way the Parish can change the times of strimming to have less of an impact on the newts.

The long term goal of the study is for SVP to work with local residents to look after the pond, ensuring that the newt population continues to thrive despite the housing development that’s been built around the pond in recent years. The survey involves putting out special newt-friendly traps on the Friday evening, and then returning to the pond at 7.00am the following morning to empty the traps and see what's been caught. The early start is to minimise any disturbance to the newts. We were apparently working with one of the country’s leading great-crested newt experts who lives in Stroud and is properly licensed to handle these legally protected animals.

There is also now a project to protect great crested newts in Gloucestershire - with £34,396 collected from landfill taxes to ensure the 'No Newts is Bad Newts' conservation scheme will run for two more years. In an attempt to halt the decline of newts the team has held pond survey training days with more than 60 volunteers. They have issued advice and management plans for 38 ponds, restored four ponds and created a further four new ponds and seven artificial hibernating shelters for the newts during the project's first year.

Former Green District councillor Dr Simon Pickering, Chair of the Gloucestershire Biodiversity Partnership, is quoted in the press saying: "This is a stunning innovative project that will set new standards for great crested newt conservation in Europe by protecting and enhancing networks of ponds not just individual ponds."

This pic is of the fence - a special design to stop the newts getting out onto the main road - however there are apparently flaws with it? Anyhow it was a very enjoyable time - I learnt lots - would have been even better with an espresso machine but nevertheless a good time - look out for similar events next year.


The species is legally protected in the UK
It is possible for them to reach an age of 27 years
They may grow up to 17cm long (body and tail)
They are nocturnal, hiding on land during the day in burrows or under logs, stones
They hibernate between October and late February
They have dark grey-brown backs and flanks, and are covered with darker coloured spots

No comments: