Heaps of Toads, and Piles of Newts
Carefully removing a a small log from its position in rough grass at the top of the Glade in Wanstead Park, I was transported back to childhood days visiting the Park to find newts. In those days, still with varying water levels because of water loss in the Heronry Pond, the south edges of the pond were a muddy gloop of "grass". I don't know what the vegetation consisted of then, because I had no knowledge of wildlife - or maybe even concept of it - but it's successors can probably be found easily at the south-east corner of the Shoulder of Mutton, and other places, today.
We - it seems loads of kids - used to turn over bits of wood, leaves and litter, and pull out sometimes what seemed like hundreds of newts. We probably used to take them home and put them in a cheap fish-tank or some other container, where doubtless they suffered and died.
I tend not to get down in the mud so much now, but lifting the log exposed a nest of newts, just like in times past. To some, it might seem these were a long way from any standing water, such as one of the lakes, but then newts like it damp - not necessarily wet all the time! I only have records of Common Newts - or Smooth Newts as the are alternatively known - Triturus vulgaris from Wanstead Park, not the more exiting Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) which tends to be found in any pond where a new development is planned. This may be something to do with the fact that the Great Crested Newt is seen as a threatened species in the country and is strictly protected by British and European law, which makes it an offence to ...
- Kill, injure or capture them;
- Disturb them in any way
- Damage or destroy their habitat
- Possess them or sell or trade them in any way.
The Common Newt is protected in a similar way in Northern Ireland, so if I'd uplifted that log there... Incidentally - but importantly - I replaced the log as gently and as carefully in its original position as I could. I hope that no animals were injured in the process.
There is another British newt, the Palmate Newt (Triturus helveticus), but it prefers acid soils and is more common on heathland in the south and west and on moorland and bogs in the north. I am not an expert on amphibians and have never closely examined our populations as to whether we may have either of the other two species.
Also in the long grass and elsewhere in Wanstead Park the last week or so have been lots of small toads. I always perceived Frogs - the Common Frog (Rana temporaria) - to be more common in the area than toads (Bufo bufo) - but not this year. On 31st June I experienced the site of piles of tiny toads at the west end of Heronry Pond - a remarkable sight which I reported on here. The toads that are at the moment so profuse in long grass on the Plain, by Heronry and Shoulder of Mutton Ponds and elsewhere, are almost certainly the results of an incredible number of tadpoles and off-spring survival rate this year.
So there are our amphibians, what of our reptiles? The reptiles that we might expect to have are the Adder Vipera berus, the Grass Snake Natrix natrix, the Common Lizard Zootoca (Lacerta) vivipara and the Slow Worm Anguis fragilis. There are few records of adders from our area, and I know of none recently. Grass Snakes, however, may be more common than we realise, for I've certainly seen them in Wanstead Park and in the City of London Cemetery. Often in the Park, that sighting has been of them swimming - for they swim well. Common Lizards are surprisingly scarce; a recent survey was carried out on Wanstead Flats and none were found. however a single individual was found by chance in a garden in the Lake House area near Bush Wood, so there may be a population in that area. Slow Worms used to be found in the old sewage works site - now Aldersbrook Exchange Lands. Although they haven't been recorded recently, it may well be that any population that we do have will be in this area or the adjacent allotments or riding school.
Paul Ferris, 2nd August