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About Great Crested Newts

This fact sheet sets out practical details for the care, restoration and creation of great crested newt habitat.

How to recognise a great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) The great crested, or warty, newt is the UK's largest newt species, with adults reaching up to 165 mm in length. Adult newts are dark brown or black on top, with fine white spots, the "warts", on the sides of the head and body. Both sexes are orange or yellow underneath, often vividly so, with black blotches and spots.

In the breeding season, adult males have a jagged crest along the back and tail, with a slight gap where the tail meets the body; the crest flops over when the newt is out of water. Adult males also have a pale stripe along the side of the tail, usually white, silver or blue-grey in colour. The males of the commoner smooth newt also have a crest, but are grey-brown in colour with dark spots.

Females lack the crest and the pale tail stripe, but have a yellow-orange line along the base of the tail and occasionally on their backs. Sub-adults (or "efts") resemble the female and larvae ("tadpoles") are spotted brown, with a thin filament at the end of the tail and external, feathery gills. Eggs are a clear, oval jelly capsule, with a yellow-white embryo.

Where great crested newts occur Great crested newts are traditionally associated with clusters of ponds in rough grassland. However, they will readily colonise garden ponds, moats, brick pits and even concrete tanks when local populations are strong. Several ponds linked by grassland are essential to maintain a healthy, inter-related population, known as a metapopulation;.

Legal protection Great crested newts are protected by both the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and the Conservation (Natural Habitats etc) Regulations (1994). Killing, injuring, capturing, handling or possessing the species is prohibited, as is damage to their habitats and trade in the species. Activities which involve the handling or disturbance of newts require a license form English Nature.

Other species of newt, frogs and toads do have some protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and cannot by sold. Only the rare natterjack toad has the same level of protection as great crested newt.

Why do great crested newts need help? As with many vulnerable species in Britain, the major problem faced by great crested newts is the loss or fragmentation of habitats. Many ponds have been filled in by development and many more ponds have been neglected as they have fallen into disuse. Neglect causes a pond to become surrounded and invaded by scrub, or to fill with silt and debris, leading to a decline in water quality and eventually causing the pond to dry out. Some ponds have been managed insensitively, either by deepening and straightening the sides, or by the introduction of fish, which feed on newt larvae. As newts often rely on clusters of ponds, the loss of ponds within a cluster, or of grassland habitat linking the ponds, is detrimental to the whole population.

Managing habitats for great crested newts

An ideal pond for great crested newts will include the following favourable aquatic features.

A still water pond of 50m2 to 250m2, preferably with several ponds in a group.

Gently sloping sides are preferable for easy access, although great crested newt does occur in some steep-sided ponds. In these cases, a small ramp might help access. .

Shallow areas near the margins will warm up quickly in spring, but deeper areas (over 1.5m) are useful for protection from frost and to prevent the pond from drying out before the tadpoles have developed. .

Pond clusters should include temporary or ephemeral ponds, as these will have fewer predators, such as fish or predatory invertebrates. .

Water can be slightly nutrient-rich and with a pH of 6 or above. The water should be free from pollution and hence buffered from roads and arable land. .

The south of the pond should be free from scrub or over-hanging branches to allow sunlight onto the pond; this not only warms the water, but encourages aquatic plants. Adult newts enjoy some areas shaded by scrub or trees. .

Aquatic and emergent plants are essential as a refuge and for egg-laying, but some open areas are also required. Favourite plants include water speedwell, water crowfoot, water starwort, float grass, water mint, water forget-me-not, brooklime and watercress. .

Aquatic invertebrates are essential for food, including water snails, fly larvae, water lice, worms and Daphnia. .

A lack of fish, including small species such as sticklebacks is essential and a lack of wildfowl preferred. .

The habitat around the pond should include:.

Uneven grassland, with tussocks and patches of scrub and trees. 1 ha of suitable habitat will support approximately 250 newts and less than 1?2 ha is unlikely to support a viable colony. .

Plenty of shelter, such as logs, piles of stones and tree roots. These provide daytime shelter and should be damp, but not waterlogged. Shelter that remains frost-free is vital for hibernation. .

If patches of suitable habitat and ponds are fragmented, corridors, such as hedges and grassy strips will help to link them. .

Management tasks Ponds occasionally require management to stall the natural processes of filling with silt and drying out. Management work should not be carried out unless essential for retaining the pond and expert advice is essential. Where work is required, the following guidelines will minimise disturbance to newts. Although guidelines for newts will benefit most wildlife, disturbance to other species using the pond should also be taken into account:.

Ponds choked by aquatic or marginal vegetation may need to be cleared out. Clearance work is best carried out in the winter, when newts are least likely to be active. Only part of the pond (up to one third) should be cleared in any one year. Clearance by hand is preferable where ever possible and debris removed should be left on the bank for a day or so to allow pond creatures to make their way back to the water..

Dredging of ponds might be required if a build up of silt means the pond is in danger of drying up. All pond work is best carried out in late autumn, before water levels rise and soils become water logged. Unless the pond is in very bad condition, some silt or vegetation should be left. .

Rubbish dumped in ponds can create pollution as well as being unsightly, however, newts may use some rubbish, such as plastic bags, as shelter, or for egg-laying, so care should be taken when removing it. If possible, leave litter in place until after the breeding season. .

Fish can be removed by draining the pond in early autumn, but permission from the Environment Agency will be required. .

Avoid using agricultural or garden chemicals in or around the pond .

Management of terrestrial habitats should also take account of the needs of great crested newts. In some cases the grassland may be of interest botanically and care should be taken to avoid damage to wild flowers. .

Great crested newts can be active at any time of the year, other than the very depths of winter and are less likely to be active by day, although they may shelter in tussocks of grass. Both grass and scrub are best cut in autumn or winter, with a high cut recommended for areas of tussocks. A medium length of grass is preferred and newts are unlikely to be on land in May and June. .

Hibernation sites should not be disturbed during the winter. .

Grazing, like mowing, can also control scrub growth and is less likely to damage newts sheltering in the grass. Advice on the most appropriate management of grasslands should be sought, but aim to create an uneven grassland structure and fence off ponds if livestock are likely to damage the margins. Avoid over grazing. .

Scrub clearance or the cutting back of over-hanging trees should avoid disturbance to the pond and other species, such as nesting birds. Only cut a few trees in any one year. .

Terrestrial litter, such as dumped rubble, might be used as a refuge, especially during the winter. Consider making these eyesores more attractive, but leave them in place if possible! .

Creating new ponds Great crested newts will regularly colonise new ponds, provided the location and conditions are suitable. If the terrestrial habitat allows, creating new ponds next to old ones may be preferable to restoration work. Advice on pond construction, including liners, should be sought; all contractors should be informed of the legal obligations and the following guidelines:.

New ponds should be sited in an area the collects water naturally, or near a suitable supply, but damage to existing areas valuable to wildlife should be avoided..

The size and shape of the pond should take into consideration the points raised in the section on ideal habitats, including sloped sides and an open aspect to the south. Several small ponds, each within 500m of the next, are preferable to one large one, providing they are linked by suitable habitat; a variety of ponds, including temporary, sunny and partially shaded is ideal. .

Woodland edge, scrub or hedgerows within 50m of the pond will provide hibernation sites. .

Areas subject to pollution, agricultural or road run-off are not suitable. Where proposed sites are near roads or developments, newt-proof fencing might be required, increasing costs substantially..

Access to the pond should be considered, as disturbance to habitats or the introduction of fish will be problematic. .

The planting of aquatic and emergent vegetation will help the colonisation of new ponds in gardens. The list of plants for an ideal pond is a good starting point, but plants occurring naturally in the vicinity of the new pond are recommended. It is best to avoid introducing plants, into new ponds on commons, farmland and in villages, but tip in a few buckets of water from a nearby pond. Never introduce fish or wildfowl. .

The colonisation of a new pond by invertebrates can be encouraged by using a couple of buckets of water from existing local ponds, or spreading a thin layer of top soil (I spadeful per 4m2) in the base of the new pond..

The habitat around the pond should be a mosaic of grass and scrub and can be created by planting scattered scrub, or opening up areas covered with scrub, as required. At least one hectare of suitable habitat should be within 200m of the pond, preferably adjacent to it. Shelters can be created from piles of stones or logs, with some including frost-free shelter for hibernation. .

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Contacts and further information This information sheet contains only brief guidelines of the work needed to restore, create or manage ponds. Before undertaking any work, expert advice is essential; as a license from English Nature may be required for some management tasks, it is recommended that they are contact prior to work commencing. For information on managing habitats for great crested newts, or on grants for restoring farm or village ponds, please contact:.

The above has been published with the kind permission from Helen Baczkowska Norfolk Wildlife Trust 22 Bewick House Thorpe Road Norwich Norfolk Tel: 01603 625540.

Recommended reading: English Nature leaflets: Facts about great crested newts Facts about amphibians Great crested newts; guidelines for developers.

References Scottish Natural Heritage, Information and advisory note number 4 John Baker, Froglife, personal communication and information sheets English Nature, Species Conservation Handbook John Buckley, Distribution & status of newts in Norfolk; Transactions NNNS 1989 28 (3) 221-232 .

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