Endangered in Wanstead


The Wren Wildlife Group, London Wildlife Trust and Wild Wanstead have compiled a list of 10 species at risk of local extinction. In the second of a series of articles looking at each species in turn, Alex Deverill explains how to help smooth newts thrive in your garden

Anyone with a pond will tell you that newts are welcome visitors – engaging little creatures with a handy appetite for slugs. The best time to spot them is March to October. Smooth newts are generally brown in colour with a yellow or orange belly with small black spots. The males develop an impressive wavy crest along their backs in the breeding season, making them look like miniature dinosaurs. In fact, on land, their skin can take on a velvety appearance and they can be mistaken for lizards.

Smooth newts spend part of the year in water and part on land. Adults head to ponds from the start of the breeding season in February through to around June. Spawn is laid as individual eggs wrapped in pondweed. Newt larvae breathe through external feathery gills which sprout from behind the head. It takes about 10 weeks for them to metamorphose into air-breathing juveniles. In late summer, both juvenile newts and adults leave the water. They can often be found sheltering in damp soil beneath logs and rocks. In winter, they stay hidden underground, among tree roots and in old walls.

Smooth newts are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. They’re at risk because of the loss of the habitats where they live, particularly the removal of ponds, and the fragmentation of green spaces as more land is developed. In Wanstead, small garden ponds help support the species, but if these ponds are filled in or stocked with fish, or if gardens are paved over, newt populations will suffer. Here’s how you can help:

  • Newts need two types of habitat – a pond where they can breed and a surrounding land area containing slugs, snails and insects for them to eat, along with cover to hide from predators. There’s a great guide by The Wildlife Trusts on how to build a wildlife pond (wnstd.com/pond). To create places in your garden where newts can hang out, consider a long grass area or a pile of old wood or leaves in a shady location.
  • Newts need insects to eat, so help mini-beasts thrive in your garden. That means having as many plants as you can. Ground-dwelling insects generally benefit from patches of dense vegetation where they can hide away. Large areas of paving for drives and patios are disastrous for city invertebrates and wildlife more generally.
  • Never use slug pellets, pesticides or weed killers in your garden. Instead, aim to attract lots of different wildlife to keep things in balance, using biological pest control if necessary.

For more information about the 10 species under threat of extinction in Wanstead, visit wnstd.com/the10