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Crested or Smooth?

Posted: Tuesday 23rd August 2016 by OutdoorLearning

A group of enthusiastic adults joined SWT Ecologist Danial Winchester and Paul Ritchie on evening and early morning searches for our three native species of newt in ponds near Dorking.

Newts are tailed amphibians, unlike frogs and toads, but like them these largely terrestrial animals favour damp places and return to water to breed. Males become very colourful and distinctive at this time and display in front of the females, who lay their single eggs on water plants.

The course participants gathered in the classroom at our education centre near Dorking on Friday evening to hear Danial describe our three native species – the Great-crested Newt and the smaller Smooth and Palmate Newts. All three species breed in local ponds and range widely throughout the other habitats at Nower Wood.

After studying the biology of these fascinating creatures and a short coffee break we set off to explore ponds laden down with all the paraphernalia for trapping these elusive animals – adapted plastic bottles, bamboo canes and buckets. We were allowed to catch Great-crested Newts because as an experienced ecologist Danial holds a licence from Natural England to trap and handle this larger species that has European protection.

Firstly we practised how to assemble and set the equipment before gathering around one pond to prepare overnight traps, which is when newts are most active during the breeding season. We managed to install the bottle traps without falling into the pond and then took it in turns to spot newts with powerful torches and saw a variety, including some female Great-crested newts.

We all came back early on Saturday morning to check the fruits of the previous night’s labour and the group waited with anticipation as Danial and Paul retrieved the traps. Whilst we caught lots of male and female Smooth Newts to study more closely in the classroom the prize of seeing a Great-crested Newt eluded us. We did however find over-wintering larvae and eggs hidden in neatly folded leaves of aquatic plants when pond-dipping with nets at another pond.

Despite not seeing this large but elusive species of newt up close the participants enjoyed learning about amphibian biology, species identification and how to survey for newts. Everyone went home back to the four corners on the Home Counties completely enthused by their fresh knowledge and ready to put into practice their new skills.

Paul Ritchie

Community Learning Coordinator

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