My first assignment for RSK was a Great Crested Newt translocation at a large site comprising 20 hectares of meadow and agricultural land. The fields were criss-crossed with black drift fencing and hundreds of pitfall traps were dug into the ground. I spent my first two days opening the traps for the season and waiting for the night temperatures to rise – if the air temperature is below 5oC newts are very unlikely to emerge from hibernation and the following day’s effort will not count towards the total number of trapping days required by Natural England. The traps are still checked daily for animal welfare reasons; other amphibians fall in and have to be safely removed from site too.
It was my third day in Sussex and a cold, misty morning. The grass was damp with dew and I could still see my breath. I had only checked a handful of traps when I looked in a bucket and saw the unmistakeable outline of a very large newt. She was female (no crest or tail stripe) with a beautifully marked, fiery underbelly and orange colouring that extended along the underside of her tail. I looked at her delicate, tapering toes, alternately orange and black and her black skin stippled with white spots.
After making a few notes I moved her to the receptor site; a nearby breeding pond which will be preserved post-development. Four hibernacula have been constructed from logs, bricks and grass clippings and it was here that I released her. I watched her slowly and deliberately crawl between the logs to wait for the next night; she will soon return to the water after many months underground.
I will undertake dozens of newt surveys this season and become very familiar with the species over the coming years but I won’t forget the moment I found my first crestie!