Monday 22 April 2013

"Newt Bothering"

Being ardent wildlife gardeners and natural history enthusiasts we do quite like to get involved in local moves to enhance the environment and hence our volunteering to plant some trees towards the 'Plant a Million Trees in a Day' project happening this weekend (assuming the trees get delivered; we are only 5 days out now and no ETA for them at this stage). When Liz heard a call go out on local radio for volunteers to become newt surveyors in County Roscommon, she was in there like Flynn.

The Irish Wildlife Trust do not have the breadth of knowledge on distribution and habits for Irish amphibian species that the equivalent group would have in the UK (although there have been some studies done) so they are still at the stage of confirming distribution of some species, and amphibians being among these.

Their current belief is that there is only one native species of newt in Ireland, the Smooth Newt although there may be an escaped/introduced population of Alpine Newts in Galway. They also believe that there are no Common Toads, and only (widespread) Common Frog and (some) Natterjack Toads in Kerry. I actually think I have seen a toad here, under some plastic sheeting I'd put down as weed suppressant on the allotment, but Liz's Man-at-IWT says it would be 'very exciting' and would need photographic or physical evidence before he was convinced.

Stranger things have happened mind. In the UK, dormouse 'knowledge' was largely based on people re-hashing old books which were already rehashes of even older books. Everyone "knew" that you only got dormice in broad leaved woodland where they needed honeysuckle to bark-strip to build nests. Then we started surveying all around the South East including our own Challock Forest in Ashford and found thriving populations in stands of, for example, Corsican Pine, with nests made from grass and leaves. The 'books' are now being re-written with modern information. That is the plan by IWT for their own species and hence this attempt to recruit a surveyor for every 10 km square of Ireland.

Liz went 'back to school' armed with notebook and pen, attending a session at the Ardcarne Garden Centre yesterday afternoon. She is now an embryonic expert on all things Smooth Newt, distribution, site selection, surveying methods and reporting. Amusingly, as the training session came to the section where trainees would be shown live newts in what the trainer assumed would be a decent sized pond (Ardcarne had told him they had newts) he asked to be shown the pond. He was a bit surprised to be told by the Ardcarne lady that there was, in fact, no pond, only the pools they use to store aquatic plants for sale, and the newts were in those!. The training guy rather disbelievingly went to check with some of the course members so that the latter could 'see the newt in question'. There were indeed newts and the guy was able to tick off that 10 km square on his map but was left wondering how they got there!

Liz came away with a wad of training materials in a posh folder and her own copious notes in the notebook. She will now wait till the training guy (Seán Meehan) contacts her to confirm which 10 km square we 'own' (we are hoping it is this one, where we live, as we can then nip down to John Deere Bob's likely pond down by Lough Feigh itself which looks very promising - if J-M and Em-J Silverwood are reading this, it's the one you guys tried to wade across with John the Bass Player last Summer). We then have to go and do our simple 'Presence or absence' survey a couple of times this year and report back.

As is her wont, Liz has called this activity 'Newt Bothering' and hence my subject header. Lissotriton vulgaris here we come. We have seen newts here on this land, too, especially last year when we were clearing lush, overgrown vegetation and found the species among the grass. We are now a bit more mowed, 'manicured' and short-grass, especially since the advent of sheep and now geese, but we are hoping that the new pond, once finished will be rapidly colonized by newts, frogs and (if that really WAS a toad) toads, too. That'll show 'em!


Anne Wilson said...

We most certainly do have common toads here, we found one last year near our septic tank. Next one we find we will send a photo.

Matt Care said...

Thank you for that Anne! I am sure I have seen one here but was starting to doubt my memory against all this 'expert' advice. If I see another I will certainly be checking it carefully, photographing it and emailing Seán

Mr Silverwood said...

Do you remember Flynn, great centre in his day........ lol