On the 8th of April 2017 five members of the Acer Ecology team travelled to the Forest of Dean to gain additional experience in surveying newts, particularly great crested newts. The goal was to learn more about how to use Dewsbury traps as well as helping to collect information for a volunteer based amphibian and reptile project called Foresters’ Forest. We had a lot of hopes for Dewsbury traps in terms of them being more efficient and less potentially harmful to the newts than the more widely used bottle traps. Dewsbury traps were designed by Mr David Dewsbury and who better to learn from than the inventor himself, so we decided to give him a visit.
We were most excited about being able to use the traps. Previously on our newt surveys we had used bottle-traps which are made out of regular 2 litre plastic bottles with the top cut off and inverted back into the bottle to create an entrance for the newts.A bamboo cane is pushed through slots cut through the bottle so that they can be anchored to the bottom of the pond and submerged. The newts swim into the bottle through the opening but are not able to find the way out on their own.
After the captured newts are identified to species and sexed, the newts in the bottles are released back into the pond. One of the problems with bottle traps is that the exchange of oxygen in the water is limited and consequently the bottle-traps need to be checked in the morning as soon as possible. This is especially important towards the approaching summer season when the temperatures are higher and the water is heated up and oxygen consumption increased.
With Dewsbury traps, the risk of harming the newts is greatly lessened, because the traps themselves are resting on the bottom of the pond, well submerged, with a greater volume of water and air with good ventilation. It is still advisable to check the traps as early as possible, ideally before 6am. The Dewbury traps are made from plastic ‘lunch box’ containers which you can get in regular convenience stores for freezing food. The containers have a gap with a mesh covering it, forming a small opening through which the newts can go in but not escape. On top of this plastic container there is a plastic bag with a floating device in it, so that the bag remains at the surface of the pond. The whole trap is tied with a string and attached to the edge of the pond. When the newts swim into the trap, they are deep under the water and protected from heat or oxygen loss. In addition, the newts can still swim to the water surface to gulp breaths of air as the trap is connected with the surface of the pond through the floating device.
We had a great experience using the traps and caught palmate newts, smooth newts as well as great crested newts. After half a day of surveying ponds in the beautiful Forest of Dean, we had the privilege to enjoy a delicious dinner at David and his wife Susan’s home where he was able to tell us more about his project.
Foresters’ Forest is a Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership programme which is just about to start in the Forest of Dean. One of the main aims of the project over the next 5 years is to create some more open areas of forest and re-create the mire habitat which existed many years ago. This should help many species of wildlife including reptiles and amphibians which do not thrive very well in dense woodland and scrub. The new habitat will be maintained in the future by bringing back more grazing animals. The waterways and ponds are a key element in this and are important habitat features in their own right.
David is responsible for the following three projects:
– Ponds are being located and surveyed in order to create a complete database of the existing pond locations, their size, photos and other basic physical features so that a picture of the pond network in the Dean can be built. This will be used to help improve existing ponds and also show where new ponds should be created. The survey is straight-forward and more volunteers are required to carry out these surveys.
– Newt and other amphibian populations are being monitored, firstly to create a baseline of each species and then to assess what effect the habitat changes are having over the course of the project and hopefully beyond. Volunteers are required to help with this although it is slightly specialised work.
– Reptile populations will be monitored for the same reason but this time using refuges where the animals will congregate. A band of willing volunteers is required so that these refuges can be checked and monitored every 2 weeks during the spring and summer.
As stated above, if you would like to help improve the Forest of Dean and its wildlife for everyone or you just want an excuse to get out into this amazing place then please enquire to see how you can help. There are many other projects you can be involved with too.
More information about the Foresters Forest Landscape Partnership is available at www.forestersforest.uk on Facebook or Twitter or sign up us a volunteer by emailing Deb Cook (Volunteer Co-ordinator). Alternatively, you could e-mail David directly. Finally, you can view a video of David on Springwatch in April 2017.