23 March 2012

Froglife’s Dragon of the Month: Smooth Newt

Every month in 2012 we are featuring a fact file about a different dragon - the wild amphibian and reptile species that Froglife works to support. Dr Vicky Ogilvy has been developing our Dragon Finder project for London, and tells us more about the Smooth Newt.

"The Smooth newt, often referred to as the common newt, is the most widespread newt in the UK and is found across most of Europe. Smooth newts adapt to many different environments and can often be found breeding in ponds within towns and cities.

Smooth newts hibernate in dark, damp places over the winter but start to emerge in February and March once the temperatures get a bit higher. So keep your eyes peeled for these beautiful creatures!"

Dragon Fact File: Smooth Newt
(Lissotriton [Triturus] vulgaris)

Dragon Facts:
Like other newts, males use their tails to waft pheromones towards females to attract them. As she approaches he will put down a spermatophore, which contains sperm that will fertilise her eggs.
• Females stick individual eggs on the surface of leaves where they develop for two or three weeks until a tadpole hatches out. She can produce 200-300 eggs in one breeding season!
• The tadpoles have feathery gills that absorb oxygen from the water until they metamorphose into juvenile newts that have lungs and can live on the land.
• It takes three years before the young newts mature enough to be able to reproduce.

Male smooth newts get a wavy crest on their back, and can have bright bellies
• During the breeding season males develop a wavy crest from head to tail and their markings become more pronounced.
• Non-breeding males and females are similar in appearance with olive-brown skin on their backs, often with two darker stripes running along the length of the back.
• The belly is cream with brown spots and an orange stripe, and these markings are usually larger and brighter in males.
Smooth newts can be distinguished from Palmate newts by their pale and spotted throat – palmate newts have pale throats without spots.

Juvenile newts are tiny!


Smooth newts are brown, often with dark stripes running along their backs

 More information available here about Smooth newts and other water dragons can be found here.
• You can support Froglife's work conserving Smooth newts and other amphibians and reptiles here.

Photos:  Sam Taylor, Jules Howard, Andre Wild

21 March 2012

Training for the Big Newt Count

It’s an exciting year for Froglife on Hampton Nature Reserve near Peterborough in 2012 – it’s the year of our Big Newt Count. This massive survey takes place every five years to check how the thousands of newts on the site are getting on. It involves going out over a number of nights in spring to shine torches in the ponds on the site and recording what’s seen.
Join us to survey the newts at Hampton Nature Reserve
So, do you fancy being part of could be the biggest newt survey ever we? Join us for some training this Saturday to find out more. This is also one of the first events for the revamped Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Amphibian and Reptile Group (CPARG).

We will be covering the top tips for survey skills before heading out to the Reserve to become more familiar with the site.

The evening surveys will run between the beginning of April until the end of May, depending on the weather, and there will also be some weekend surveys.

We’re putting together a team of volunteers to help Reserve Warden Paul Furnborough and his assistant Nick Peers cover as many of the ponds as possible, and we’d love to have you on board!

• If you would like to be part of the Big Count team and attend the training, please get in touch with Paul on 07977250048 or email paul.furnborough@froglife.org
• This course is suitable for beginners but would equally represent a good refresher for experienced surveyors.
Date: Saturday 24th March
Time: 12-4PM indoor theory, 2hr break, 6-9PM outdoor practical
Location: Froglife Offices, 2A Flag Business Estate, Vicarage Farm Rd, Peterborough, PE1 5TX
Cost: Free to HNR volunteers who will be invovled in the survey, £15 to CPARG members surveying across the region
Facilities: The indoor session has toilets and tea/coffee facilities, however the reserve has no facilities and access is across rough/steep and potentially slippy ground, so a degree of physical confidence is required

Celebrate Wildlife in Peterborough on Saturday

Froglife will be at Olive Branch Community Gardens in Dogsthorpe this Saturday 24th March as part of a tree planting day which is open to all.   Our My Wild Life project will also be collecting wildlife memories and encouraging people to reminisce about their childhood experiences at the event.

Project Officer Jodie Coomber is looking forward to the day; “We’ve got some special items to remind people of their childhood adventures with wildlife and we hope parents and grandparents will bring the kids along and share memories of what they got up to growing up.”
Pop down to the Olive Branch Community Garden this Saturday

420 trees are being planted on the green space as part of the Queen’s Jubilee Woods project with the Woodland Trust. Froglife have been at the site in Dogsthorpe for the last six weeks working with a group of Wildlife Ambassadors to put in a wildlife pond and sensory garden, as well as hibernaculas and rockeries for wildlife to inhabit.

It’s hoped that the event will draw plenty of local people to the gardens to help plant trees, find out what the Ambassadors have been up to over the last 6 weeks, and learn more about the Oliver Branch’s plans for the future. Project Officers will be on hand to explain what the Ambassadors have achieved on the site, and to identify any wildlife that may already be living there.

- Come along and join in the Froglife fun between 11am and 3pm. Tree planting between 10am and 4pm.
- Olive Branch Community Gardens are off Olive Road in Dogsthorpe, Peterborough. If using satnav please use postcode PE1 4PT.
- You can find out more about the My Wild Life memory project at the Froglife website here
- To find out more about the Wildlife Ambassadors project helping people find new opportunities please visit  the Froglife website here

19 March 2012

What to do When the Wetlands are Dry

With today's news again raising concerns about the ongoing drought in parts of the UK, Froglife and the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust are offering advice to help protect the wildilfe that could be affected.  With one of the driest autumn and winters on records, water levels are running low in ponds and other wetland habitats. 
Drier weather this spring may affect tadpoles and newt efts
“In the short term, some ponds drying out is not actually that much of a problem,” explains Dr Silviu Petrovan, Conservation Coordinator at Froglife. “Ponds naturally fluctuate, and dry spells can benefit some species as it decreases the chances of fish presence, meaning less predators for developing amphibians. It’s more of a worry that this might become part of a longer term trend due to climate change, and it highlights the need for networks of ponds of varying size and depth so that animals can have the choice to move to more suitable areas.”

“We’re struggling to keep our wetlands wet in winter which is virtually unheard of,” explains Rob Shore, Head of Wetland Conservation at WWT. “If this continues it could have serious impacts on a wide range of wetland wildlife, particularly those species that are less mobile or rely on small and increasingly isolated habitats”.

“A Toad on Roads volunteer in Norfolk asked us what to do if the pond they would normally move the toads to was dry,” adds Silviu, “It’s not a question we’ve been asked before and raised the issue of what effect the local droughts will have on the amphibians that would normally be breeding at this time of year.”

The advice for Toad Patrol volunteers facing this problem is to move the toads as usual to where they would naturally go, even if the pond appears to have dried out. It could be that there is just enough water for them to breed, they might find an alternative pond nearby, or if not, the females can re-absorb the eggs and be in good condition for the summer.

Wildilfe: another reason to be water-wise in the garden
Both charities urge caution about the temptation to fill garden ponds with tap water, not only as this itself could be in short supply, but as the water can contain chlorine, chloramines and high levels of nutrients. Saving precious rainwater in a water butt is and using that is preferable if you need to add extra water to your pond.

“We have the solutions,” concludes Rob. “For example, by creating more, small wetland areas we will keep more water on the landscape. It will benefit wildlife and it will prevent soil, nutrients and other pollutants from being washed into our rivers, which in turn reduces the costs of water treatment. We just need government to back some of these small but sensible ideas, so this problem can be managed for the long term.”

·   More pond advice is available on the Froglife website here
·   You can find out more about drought from the Environment Agency here
·   More news from The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust is available on their website here