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FEBRUARY 2017

 

 

Newt & toad rescue mission

I spent several evenings in February (and March) driving across to the other side of London to work with a team of London Wildlife Trust volunteers rescuing newts and toads.  A local business park has created a fantastic environment for its human workforce.  It includes a series of spectacular lakes, waterfalls and shallow reedy areas and the local amphibian population love this luxurious watery habitat.

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Each Feb/March, as soon as the weather is a bit wetter and a bit warmer, these plucky little critters emerge from their sheltered over-winter sites and head up towards their new breeding ponds.  They don't seem to mind the distances and certainly don't seem to have much insight into the mammoth journey and assault course that they're embarking upon.  

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The journey could be made across grass but, some of the critters take off across car parks, concrete paths and steep banks.  How they make it to the ponds on their own, I really don't know but they do!  Each year, their journeys are assisted by the London Wildlife Trust volunteers.  I think the grand total rescued on this particular site in 2017 included 721 newts, 38 toads and 6 frogs!  That's amazing, isn't it?  So, the numbers that migrate without assistance must be enormous!  

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The volunteers patrol the pathways and carparks and rescue the critters that have strayed off the grass and lost their way.  Armed with torches, buckets and fishing nets and wearing hi-vis vests, the volunteers search the drains, kerbs and concrete corners that would mean certain death to the newts and toads who have lost their way.

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It was cold and uncomfortable work but the volunteers remained cheerful in the cold conditions.  We peered enthusiastically down drains and shone torches into the murky, darkness.  Some of the drains were really disgusting! When the cry of 'Got one' or 'Got two' went up, we'd take it in turns to lift the heavy drain covers and lie full length on the cold concrete, shine torches and fish about with nets... generally going to enormous lengths to rescue these tiny and delightful little critters.  

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Every now and then we'd find a newt or toad that would dive down into the murky depths of the drain and defy all our attempts to rescue it.  It was quite sad to have to walk away sometimes and know that we were leaving the silly critter to certain death.  Sadly, I also found a number of squished frogs, toads and newts.  All part of the story I suppose.

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The best part of each evening was releasing our rescued amphibian friends into the luxury ponds.  It was wonderful to watch the captives sit and blink on the smooth pebbles on the side of the ponds before slowly sliding off into the darkness.  We wished them all luck in their attempts to find a mate and hoped that we'd see them or their off-spring next year.

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I won't forget the twinkly, glittering lights of the business park in a hurry.  What a superb backdrop for this magical rescue story?  I also really enjoyed talking to office-workers who were curious about our strange antics, to security guards who came to talk to us, to folk out for a walk who wanted to know what we were doing and to a few folk to got up close and personal with our captives.  It made it all extra worthwhile.  Perhaps they'll join in with the rescue efforts next year?  They certainly won't forget the newts, frogs and toads that they saved.  Nor will I.

Particular thanks go to Netty, Jess, Richard, Jess and Sheila for being such wonderful company and for helping me to document this amazing story... and to Ian, who tipped me off in the first place!