Foresters’ Forest Landscape Project training: Ponds, Newts and Adders in the Forest of Dean

Ponds, Newts and Adders

Dear All,

Thank you for being interested in my projects which form part of the Foresters’ Forest Landscape Partnership project. I would like to give you some information on how these projects are shaping up. Some aspects are still a bit fluid but this is how I see things developing.

Pond Habitat Surveys

There are at least 150 ponds on the public forest estate and more besides on farm land and in people’s gardens. These need to be mapped and catalogued so that we have an overall picture of the pond network. Having such a network of ponds is very valuable for many species of wildlife. We will be better informed on how to manage the pond network where necessary and probably more importantly, where to create new ponds. We also need this information to help us plan for the next step in the Foresters’ Forest project (the ‘Delivery Phase’) and to make the case for receiving additional money from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As luck would have it an organisation called Freshwater Habitats Trust is starting to create a national database of ponds and we should be able to utilise the facilities they have just set up.

This part of the project will involve visiting each pond with a standard form and recording all the relevant information about the pond. It will include things like the location, size, depth, the type of habitat surrounding it, etc. Also, testing the water for nitrates and phosphates, looking out for alien plant species and taking photos. The form comes with clear instructions and is quite easy to complete. There will be no need to enter the water or put yourself at risk. The next step is to take the form home and enter the data into the national pond database, including entering your photos.

Key Date: Saturday, 23rd January, 2016 at 10:00am until 12:00. Although this is all very easy to do, there will be a short training course at the Forestry Commission offices in Bank House, Coleford to run through it all. We will then drive over to the pond at the RSPB Nags Head reserve near Parkend to see how this would work in practice. This will involve some transfer time but parking will be available at both venues and a lift can be provided. Families and older children are welcome but very young children might find it a bit too challenging. No dogs though.

Please let me know if you think you may come just to ensure that the venue will cope with the numbers.

Additional training dates may be available if required.

 

Pond Invertebrate Families

This part of the project will aim to look a bit deeper into a selection of the ponds to see what lives in them. Depending on how many people are able to take part and their skills, we will survey up to about 20 of our ponds to see what families of invertebrates live in them. Invertebrates include such things as dragonfly larvae and water beetles and the number of different ones which can be found is a key indicator of the health and value of a pond. This will involve doing pond dipping and requires a higher level of knowledge. I’m hoping to organise some training for this and for my own benefit also!

This part will not start properly until April when things have warmed up a bit.

More ponds will be included during the Delivery Phase of the project after 2016.

Pond Botany

The objectives for this project are similar to the pond invertebrates except obviously will involve surveying plants. This is certainly not my area of expertise and requires fairly specialised knowledge.

Newts

I am hoping to survey most of the 150 ponds plus any others which come to light to see what newts can be found. I have covered many of these ponds over the last 5 years but would like some other people to repeat this work to see how good my results were! It is also jolly interesting.

The surveys will be done using the ‘Dewsbury Box Trap’ which catches quite a lot of newts and is quite easy to use. It will involve visiting the pond (or several ponds) towards the end of the day to deploy about 3 traps and returning the following morning to record the newts which have been captured and release them unharmed. This type of trap is much safer than the traditional bottle traps and I have not had a single casualty caused by my trap having caught well over 5,000 newts.

All three species of newt can be found in many Forest ponds and I am applying for a project newt licence from Natural England to cover any legal requirements. There are many aspects to this and I will train some key individuals who I hope will accept responsibility for ensuring that their groups of people will comply with the requirements. Hopefully we will have several groups who will cover agreed areas. I would also like to make some of these events open to the public so that they may join in and see some newts.

Adders

The adder may not be everyone’s favourite animal but I think, in many ways, this is Britain’s least understood and most threatened reptile. If we can help the adder to thrive in the Forest then it will help the other 3 species of reptile also.

I would really like to find out where some of our adders hibernate because this will help to ensure that these places are known and can be protected when normal forestry operations and other potentially disruptive activities take place. An adder hibernaculum typically is used by several animals who all return to this safe haven to spend the winter protected from severe frost, flooding and other perils. The male adders emerge at any time from mid-February to bask in the sun to get themselves into breeding condition. They tend to remain here until early April when they shed their skins and then take themselves off in their shiny new skin to find a mate.

Hence, we have a window from mid-February until about mid-April (depending on the warmth of the season) to find them. We will also find other reptiles at the same time. What I would like to try is going out in small groups on sunny days to explore suitable open habitat. I will endeavour to make a list of suitable habitat which I know of including all the places where adders have been recorded in the past. We will then attempt to draw up a schedule for visits. (You may well know of other places.)The tricky part is that we cannot forecast the weather. We need sunny days, especially earlier in the season so groups will need to be fairly flexible to take opportunities as they arise. We can look at the Met Office forecast the day before but as they will admit, they don’t always get it right! So people with a flexible life-style would be particularly welcome.

As part of the Delivery Phase after 2016 we may be able to run a project which will involve tracking some adders to find out more about their movements. We need the new adder locations to help us plan this project as well as possible. The new knowledge will also help us to plan where new open habitat might best be created throughout the Forest.

General Timescale.

January onwards: Pond Habitat surveys.

Mid-Feb to mid-April adder surveys

Mid-March to early June: newt surveys

April onwards: pond invertebrate families and plants

Safety

The most important requirement for these projects is safety. Whilst small accidents can always happen by chance there are ways of anticipating the dangers and advice will be provided. However, two key rules which should be adhered to are that no-one enters any pond almost without exception and that there are at least two people so that help is always at hand.

Please feel free to ask any further questions and don’t assume I’ve thought of everything! Hope we can meet sometime at a pond near you.

David Dewsbury.

07/12/2015

[email protected]

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