Build a pond to help save threatened newt

THE decline in numbers of farm ponds has left the threatened great crested newt with fewer places to breed and struggling to survive in Scotland.

Now Scottish Natural Heritage is calling on individuals to help out, through the simple act of helping to build a pond in their garden or community.

The great-crested newt, also called the warty newt due to the lumps on its skin, is the largest of Britain's three newt species and is dark in colour, with a vivid orange belly covered in black spots. The handsome creature has been put on SNH's Species Action List, as needing conservation action.

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In the most recent survey, the newts were discovered in just 100 ponds across Scotland. Although they live most of their life on land, preferring rough grassland and woodland, they need ponds in which to breed.

Before the advent of tractors and taps, farms used to be covered in ponds to provide water for animals, but today there is a shortage of places for the great crested newt to breed.

As part of Scottish Biodiversity Week, SNH is asking animal lovers to help out by getting involved in projects to build ponds for the newts in their town or village, or by simply building a pond in their own garden.

John McKinnell, species management adviser at SNH, said: "They are threatened across Europe due to loss of habitat. A major thing is breeding sites. They breed in ponds rather than streams or lochs.

"They like farm ponds, but agricultural practices have changed over the last century and now there are not the same number of ponds as there used to be. People can help to a certain extent by building ponds in their gardens. The new ponds have got to be close enough to the places where newts live for them to commute."

He said one of the best ways to help out was by joining a local group such as those within an umbrella organisation called the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK.

They carry out survey work to discover the locations of the newts and build ponds nearby in time for them to breed in spring. The newts usually live within 250 metres of the breeding ponds.

The Lothian Amphibian and Reptile Group and the Clyde Amphibian and Reptile Group have been actively getting involved in surveying newt populations and building new habitats for them and they rely on help from volunteers.

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Starting to build a pond now should mean that it will be ready in time for next year's breeding season. Even if it does not turn out to be near enough to a newt population for it to be used as a breeding site, it will still help plenty of other species of wildlife.

Most great crested newts in Scotland live in Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders, as well as across the Central Belt from Fife to Lanarkshire and around Inverness.

Female great-crested newts lay about 300 eggs, attached to vegetation in the pond. Larvae develop over three months, before leaving the pond and moving on to land.

As well as changing agricultural practices, newt habitats have been threatened due to neglect and mismanagement of ponds. The introduction of fish to a pond is catastrophic for its newt population.


FROM bluebell workshops to badger walks, there are more than 100 events during Scottish Biodiversity Week. The highlights include evening badger walks in a secret location on Loch Ness shore between today and Friday.

On the Isle of Skye there is the chance to learn about limestone on Thursday and in Fife you can walk along giant millipede tracks on Saturday.

There will be a bird-watching walk to see hen harriers in Renfrewshire and events at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, including a bluebell workshop and a native-tree walk. There is also the chance to help plant the rare native sea pea on the sand dunes at Broughty Ferry near Dundee.

Scottish Natural Heritage is also holding a photography competition, with a top prize of an all-expenses paid day with the professional photographer Neil McIntyre. For more information visit www.snh. or call 01738 458530.

• TOMORROW: Five ways you can help fungi in your back garden.

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