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Great crested newt

Great crested newt by Karl ChartersGreat crested newt by Karl Charters

Triturus cristatus

The great crested newt is Britain’s most strictly protected amphibian. It is the largest of our newts, with mature females reaching up to 6.5 inches or so in length, and named after the male’s courtship regalia – the jagged crest that runs down his back during breeding season. It is also known as the warty newt because of its dark black-brown colour with ‘warty’ darker spots and bright orange-yellow belly with dark blotches. Although this newt breeds in ponds, it spends much of its life foraging and overwintering on dry land, hugely dependent on nearby rough grass, hedges and good habitat links to other ponds.

Suffolk (along with Cheshire) boasts the highest density of ponds in England – and is the county stronghold for the great crested newt. However, a three year Suffolk Pond Project run by the Trust produced some alarming data about the state of Suffolk’s ponds and the status of great crested newts. The Project showed just how critical pond restoration and appropriate management was to rejuvenate dwindling populations that may be on the verge of local extinction in parishes with very low pond densities.

Analysis of 2004-07 pond survey data provided a unique snapshot of 900 of Suffolk’s 22,000 estimated ponds. Whilst over 14% of the ponds surveyed contained great crested newts, large and thriving populations were only recorded at a handful of ponds – sunny, well vegetated ones with good surrounding habitat. In most cases they were merely hanging on in silted, shaded, neglected ponds with one or two newts laying a few eggs on occasional plants. Our survey showed that the vast proportion of Suffolk’s ponds were in fact unsuitable for newts due to heavy shade and organic matter, or the presence of predatory fish or damagingly high duck populations.

As a result of this pond survey work the Trust has given – and continues to give - targeted pond restoration advice to landowners with follow-up visits to monitor success. The Trust has advised on over 84% of the ponds restored with Natural England grant aid between 2006 and 2010. Early monitoring of 50 of these and other ponds showed that just one year after pond restoration, breeding great crested newts had returned to 23% of ponds where there had previously been none.

The great crested newt is long-lived and and extremely mobile and can travel up to one kilometre in search of good pond habitat. Because of this, sensitive restoration of neglected ponds can quickly result in newts moving into a previously unsuitable pond – and result in a turnaround in the fortunes of this species locally.