We recently organised a great crested newt course held at Rudry Parish Community Centre and Craig Ruperra in Caerphilly which was presented by a local amphibian expert. The theoretical part of the course was held in Rudry Parish Community Centre and covered aspects such as identification and ecology of newts in the UK, legislation and licences, maintaining a Great Crested Newt survey log book, survey planning and a practical demonstration and practice in how to make bottle traps. Making a bottle trap is quite a fun task and involves cutting open an empty 1.5 litre plastic coke bottle (other fizzy drinks bottles can also be used), inverting the top and pushing a bamboo cane through to make two holes on each side of the bottle. The course also covered topics such as health and safety issues, biosecurity and we practically learned how to disinfect wellies with Virkon disinfectant. Once all of the background knowledge had been covered in the lectures we were then let loose outdoors. The fieldwork centred on two ponds at Coed Craig Ruperra. The first fieldwork technique which participants experienced for carrying out a great crested newt survey was the use of the hand nets. This involves dipping the net into the vegetation of a pond and moving it in a figure of eight motion. This technique can cause disturbance to a pond and so particular care needs to be taken. We were rewarded with a good catch of palmate newts. The second great crested newt survey technique which was demonstrated to the class was egg searching. Female newts lay individual eggs on leaves and then use their feet to fold the leaves of water plants over them making them invisible from the outside. Egg wrapping protects the eggs from being predated. The eggs of great crested newts are white or light yellow and surrounded by an envelope of jelly. The eggs of great crested newts can easily be distinguished from the eggs of the other native newt species which are smaller and darker. After a short search for eggs in the pond we were rewarded by finding great crested newt eggs. Next, we installed the bottle traps that we had made earlier around the perimeter of the pond. Thirteen bottle traps were installed which were spread out at approximately at regular intervals along the edge of the pond. After the initial excitement and the confirmation of great crested newt presence in the pond, we all headed for the local pub for well deserved dinner and waited for the sunset so that the newts would become active. Once it was dark enough to go back outside we commenced the next great crested newt survey technique – torching. This involves walking along the pond edge and shining a very bright torch over the surface of the water and identifying and counting any newts and other amphibians found. Great crested newts are the biggest of the newt species and are quite easy to recognise by their sturdy black bodies. If you see a male, you will most likely notice a silver stripe on the tail as the newt retreats into the vegetation whilst the female has an orange stripe running along the lower edge of the tail. After the completion of the torching session we headed home with many new thoughts buzzing in our minds. There was still one thing to do though… We had to return to the site at 07:30 in the morning to check out our bottle traps. Despite our long previous day, we managed to be back on time and release all the newts that we caught. There were many of them and we had the chance to learn how to handle them properly. Overall the course was a success and we all had an enjoyable and informative day. In total, we found 7 great crested newts and 33 palmate newts. We would like to thank Rudry Parish Hall for the use of their excellent, well-equipped centre and Ruperra Conservation Trust for allowing us to undertake the fieldwork at Craig Ruperra. Throughout the year Acer Ecology will be running a wide range of one day training courses for all ecology enthusiasts, from Plant Identification for Phase 1 Surveyors to Vegetative Plant Identification. For more information contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 029 2065 0331.
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