Ramsey has several shallow ponds in acid rich soils. They are nationally important for some of the UK’s rarest aquatic plants but some are also full of newts. There are no frogs or toads on the island, but the Newts represents the amphibians here and both Palmate and Smooth newts are found in these damp areas.
Although not more than 10cm long, the male palmate newt is relatively easy to identify. They have a thin filament with extends from the tip of the tail and the back feet are webbed, making them look like tiny black Maple leaves. The females are more difficult to tell apart from the similar Smooth newt, but Palmate have a clear pink or yellow chin whereas Smooth newt females have a spotted under chin.
They spend the breeding season in the ponds but then spend a lot of time on land during the rest of the year in damp areas under logs or vegetation. RSPB volunteer Mike found a palmate newt several hundred metres away from our nearest pond under some stones at the farm and this set him thinking that we should provide a winter home, nearer to the ponds.
So Mike has been busy for the last few days building a ‘Hibernaculm’ where newts can spend the winter months. It is a stone construction, just a couple of metres from the pond with entrance holes to allow the animals easy access. Our construction had to be fairly sturdy to stop curious sheep knocking it down, but in less harsh environments hibernacula for amphibians can be made from earth and rubble. The inside is filled with moss and wood to give the perfect protection from the elements and predators during our cold stormy winters.
Mike is now out surveying our other shallow ponds for signs of newts. They can be encouraged out for a closer look and for identification using a home made fishing line and a worm but should be handled carefully and returned immediately to carry on their business.
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