Our wonderful pond at Flatford Wildlife Garden is home to many invertebrates, plants and amphibians, including newts. There are three species of UK newt - the smooth (or common) newt, the palmate newt and the great crested newt. Reaching lengths of 17cm, the great crested newt is our largest species, with females growing larger than the males. The UK population of great crested newts is under threat and is of international importance, so the species and its habitats are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
At this time of year, the great crested newts at Flatford are in the water for the breeding season. They arrived in the pond back in March, with the males usually arriving a few days before the females. The characteristic toothed crest of the male, which runs from the back of the head to the base of the tail, is only present during the breeding season. Their courtship is elaborate, with the males using their flattened tails in an underwater courtship dance. After mating, each female lays around 200 eggs, which she wraps inside pond plants using her hind legs.
Courtship is over by June, but the newts stay in the ponds a little longer to make the most of the abundance of food that summer brings. Sometime during July, the adults will return to dry land, not to return to the pond until next spring. The juveniles won't be ready to leave the water until early autumn, then they will spend 1-3 years on land until they become sexually mature.
Great crested newts spend the autumn in hedgerows and boggy grassland, hunting for invertebrates and preparing for winter. As the weather in October begins to get colder, newts look for suitable sites to hibernate such as under piles of leaves, among tree stumps or a hole in a wall. Great crested newts really need as much help as they can get, so between now and October, why not build a hibernaculum in your garden for the newts (as well as other amphibians and reptiles) to use over the winter? It could be a fun project for the summer holidays coming up!
Building a hibernaculum
Nick Cunard (RSPB-images.com)
Another great way to support amphibians is of course to build a pond in your garden. This can be a major project, but even a mini pond, made using an old container such as a washing up bowl, can make a real difference. Just remember to include some kind of ramp, made with bricks or rocks, so the creatures can get in and out of your pond easily.
There's plenty going on in and around the pond at Flatford Wildlife Garden at the moment, so it's a great time to come along for a visit. The garden is open every day from 10:30-4:30.
Come and see if you can spot a newt at Flatford Wildlife Garden!
(Photos volunteer's own)
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