Newts-flash: endangered ‘mini dinosaurs’ safely relocated

The Earth Trust Farm is home to one of the largest and most significant populations of great crested newts in the country. Looking like a miniature dinosaur, this amazing amphibian is internationally endangered and protected by UK law; it is the reason why Little Wittenham Wood and surrounding grasslands are designated not only a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) but also a Special Area of Conservation. Amphibian species across the world are declining faster than any other class of animal so here at the Earth Trust we are taking our own populations seriously and making sure we are diligent with their care.

Ahead of our Gateway project we have been working hard to ensure these special creatures come to no harm. In September we installed an amphibian fence around a farm track that runs behind the ponds here at the visitor centre. This created a temporary newt-free enclosure that would enable progression with the next phase of works, which is an archaeological dig. The one metre high fencing prevented newts and other animals from entering the enclosure where archaeologists will start digging this November. Any newts inside this area were carefully collected by experts and relocated to surrounding habitats. In addition, our volunteers spent hours putting in place newt hibernacula – a natural shelter created from logs and loosely covered with earth.

Although we humans prefer the dry sunny days, we were crossing our fingers for rain during this phase of the project. Regular rainfall is important, as in dry spells the newts tend to hide away and not come out again until it is wetter. The weather was mostly on our side and we managed to complete the trapping within 38 days.

Jayne Manley, CEO of Earth Trust said: “We are delighted that 66 great crested newts were found and carefully relocated. This represents a healthy population close to a relatively new pond. We will be working closely with an amphibian specialist and our landscape designer before further work begins to ensure that the future design enhances the habitat for these protected creatures, helping them thrive in the future.”

For more information about our archaeological dig please visit www.earthtrust.org.uk/dig

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