You’ll have to pardon the pun, but I’ve always had a soft spot for newts, in particular, great crested newt. My fondness of these small unassuming amphibians heralds back 17 years ago, when I worked as a junior ecologist in Bedfordshire. In fact, I can still vividly recall my first encounter with a great crested newt, which was safely contained, floating in a bottle trap taken from a series of ponds in Cambridgeshire early one spring morning. My next serious encounter with great crested newts was three years later when I worked as a field ecologist on the M80 Stepps to Haggs DBFO. It was whilst undertaking amphibian surveys in support of this project that, much to my delight, I discovered a previously unknown great crested newt population, although I can’t say my enthusiasm was shared by the transport engineers!
Over the subsequent years I’ve either directly undertaken or managed surveys for great crested newt at a variety of locations throughout the UK. I’ve also been involved in the design of mitigation measures to ensure impacts to great crested newts, associated with development projects, were ameliorated. When we learned Erik Paterson, a zoology student at Glasgow University, was going to need help with his honours project, and the subject of his research was the population of great crested newts at Gatcosh (Scotland’s largest population of great crested newt), we understandably jumped at the opportunity to get involved with his work.
Fast forward four weeks, a couple of rounds of emails with Erik and a scene that was reminiscent of a 1970’s cold war spy thriller, I finally got the opportunity to meet up with him at the Gartcosh Nature Reserve. After checking the registration of his parked car (an occupational must for any ecologist working after the hours of darkness…) and with a brief greeting out of the way, Erik and I headed to the nature reserve and to a series of eight ponds.
To the layperson it would be quite easy to see why this small group of ponds could be viewed as valueless; their small size and shallow nature doesn’t exactly fit the archetypical image of vibrant village green pond. However, for a seasoned ecologist it’s easy to see exactly why these ponds are so valuable, not only for great crested newt, but also smooth newt, palmate newt, common frog and common toad. Their small size and shallow nature reduces their suitability for waterfowl and likely presence of fish populations, which are a major limiting factor for newt populations, in particular, great crested newt.
Despite the somewhat dank working conditions of the evening, we were soon treated to some amazing views of a large number of male and female great crested newts, in addition to all the other common amphibian species present in central Scotland. We even encountered one adventurous fellow on a hike between ponds!
If anyone would like to get involved and help with Erik’s research over the coming months then he can be contacted via the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a truly wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in great crested newt ecology and conservation, to not only get involved with Erik’s research for Glasgow University but also network with other professional ecologists working in Scotland. We're certainly delighted to be doing our bit to help Erik and hope others will get in touch to offer their help as well, as there are few other locations supporting such a high density of this wonderful species in Scotland.
Finally a word of caution, great crested newts are strictly protected by law (the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended) - Schedule 2) and our visit to Gartcosh was completed under the terms of a survey license issued by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), which is required for any work using the standard survey techniques, where there is a reasonable likelihood that great crested newts are present.
Photo Credits: TETRIX Ecology