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Good news for newts?

by Juliet Hawkins

Most newts will have left their breeding pond by now and I've finished my summer survey work on Great Crested Newts, a Biodiversity Action Plan species for which Suffolk ponds provide one of the world's strongholds. The male will have shimmied around his female in the spring, showing off his great crest, and once successfully mated, the female will have laboriously laid and individually wrapped her 200 single eggs in protective leaves underwater. If they make it through the summer, the young juvenile newts leave the water in September and head off for the winter on land before searching for a suitable, possibly new, pond to return to breed in next spring.

Newt eggs
Developing Great Crested Newt eggs, wrapped in water cress leaves.
Good pond for newts
A good Great Crested Newt pond with plenty of aquatic vegetation, few overhanging trees, surrounded by rough pasture with good hedge links to other ponds

The good news for newts is that so-called 'high value' farm ponds now attract annual payments (under DEFRA's new Higher Level Scheme of Environmental Stewardship) for keeping the ponds in tip-top condition for Great Crested Newts to breed in. For those farmers whose ponds still host these prehistoric-looking amphibians, this is just reward for looking after their ponds for so many years. And now for the bad news . for every one pond that supports great crested newts in Suffolk, there would appear to be about nine that are in need of major restoration work. Many potentially good garden and farm ponds contain no Great Crested Newts because the ponds are full of predatory fish (even stickleback have voracious appetites for eggs and larvae) and/or duck which destroy the vegetation needed for egg-laying.

But there is more good news - where there is real potential for Great Crested Newts to colonise suitable ponds within 1km of their breeding pond along good hedge, scrub or meadow corridors (and they will move in quite quickly), capital payments are now on offer to restore farm ponds - to coppice margins and let the sunlight in, de-silt and re-profile. So the challenge is on to safeguard and expand sustainable populations of these incredible pond creatures - to re-create healthy clusters of garden and farm ponds with plenty of diverse aquatic vegetation - and no fish or duck!

Farm pond

Juliet Hawkins has been working for Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Heritage Lottery funded pond project which aims to assess pond restoration priorities for the Great Crested Newt and provide site-specific guidance on restoration where it is needed.

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