How many people does it take to catch a newt? In the case of the first formal newt survey ever held at Bere Marsh Farm, it’s actually four members of the Countryside Regeneration Trust’s (CRT) staff, plus two extra conservationists licensed to carry out the operation.

This is because great crested newts (GCN) require a special license from Natural England to survey, so the CRT’s Community Engagement Manager Nick Dobbs, invited his daughter Ellie and Tom Fry to lead the survey – because they are licensed to survey and teach GCN surveying on a non-commercial basis.

Ellie and Tom both attained MScs in Conservation Biology at the University of Kent and were mentored by Professor Richard Griffiths, one of the UK’s leading herpetologists and authorities on GCN. The survey was carried out as part of CRT’s ongoing biodiversity monitoring of key species on the Dorset farm.

The United Kingdom has three newt species, the palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus), smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and great crested newt (Triturus cristatus). Historical data and casual sightings indicated that all three species are present at Bere Marsh Farm, but there were no guarantees each species would be confirmed.

Newt surveying entails three different techniques - torchlight searches, netting, and bottle catch and release trapping. All three methods were used, although a torchlight survey is dependent on clarity of water and after heavy rain this wasn’t good.

Bere Marsh Farm has two permanent and one ephemeral (seasonal) ponds. All three were included in the survey, with 20 newt bottle traps laid down in the evening and left overnight. To increase the chances of capture in the water column, half of the bottle traps were floating, and the other half were weighted down on the bottom of the ponds.

Whilst laying the bottle traps, hundreds of recently emerged frog (Rana temporaria) tadpoles were seen, as well as two sub-adult common toads (Bufo bufo).

The next morning the whole team gathered to inspect the traps, revealing a male and female palmate newt (above top) and a female smooth newt (above in hand), as well as dragonfly larvae and an impressive adult great diving beetle (Dytiscus marginalis) pictured below. However, no GCN made an appearance in the traps, but there is still every probability that this iconic species is present in two of the ponds.

Ellie and Tom have kindly agreed to be references for several members of the CRT’s staff who will be applying for volunteer GCN licenses. This will provide the CRT with the capabilities of in-house newt surveying across all our farms and ensure the search for Bere Marsh’s elusive GCN will continue another day.

How you can help

We can’t do it without you. If you want to help us protect local wildlife you can support the CRT in any number of ways, from joining as a CRT Friend to volunteering on one of our farms and attending our events. You can also sign-up to our monthly newsletter 'CRT News' for regular updates from our farms, straight to your inbox.

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All images taken by Nick Dobbs.
Published: March 2024