Field Event Reports

7th March 2020: Amphibians at Little Wittenham Wood

Leader: Dr Angie Julian, Oxfordshire Amphibians & Reptiles Group

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Seven hardy Abingdon Naturalists members turned out for an evening walk to the ponds in Little Wittenham Wood in search of Great Crested Newts and other amphibians. While we zipped up our jackets tightly against the cold wind, Angie explained that we have come to this location because Little Wittenham Wood is known to be of European importance for its particularly large population of Great Crested Newts, which at this time of year migrate to the ponds to breed.

Before setting off for the ponds in the woods, we looked at photos of the seven species of amphibians that are native to the UK, namely Common Toad, Natterjack Toad, Pool Frog, Common Frog, Smooth Newt, Palmate Newt and Great Crested Newt, and heard about their life cycles and their natural histories. We learned that there are also several non-native amphibian species that have been introduced into the UK, including Midwife Toad, Marsh Frog, Edible Frog and American Bullfrog.

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Earth Trust manage the ponds in Little Wittenham Wood specially to protect the Great Crested Newts. Great efforts are made to remove all fish from these ponds, as they would otherwise predate the newts, their eggs and tadpoles. The woods are also managed carefully to ensure that there is always favourable habitat, including plenty of dead wood, for Great Crested Newts outside the breeding period, and to protect the newts from disturbance.

After donning high viz jackets (to make people easier to spot, should they get separated from the group in the dark), we made our way by torchlight through the woods to the ponds. We had to walk carefully along the paths to avoid stepping on the many Common Toads migrating towards the ponds. Angie's powerful torch picked out Smooth Newts and yet more Common Toads in the water, together with the occasional Common Frog. Despite searching in several promising-looking areas of the ponds, we were unable to find any Great Crested Newts.

Later that night after the rest of us had left, Angie had a quick look in Church Pond in the field opposite the church at Little Wittenham. She found 29 Great Crested Newts! Next year we hope to arrange another Great Crested Newt field event, but will visit Church Pond instead.

Amphibians seen:
Common Toad (85), Smooth Newt (11), Common Frog (5)
Attendees:
Nicky Warden, Ian Smith, Sally Gillard, Graham Bateman, Adrian Thorne, Alison & Sylfest Muldal.

Report: Alison Muldal