We are all about conservation at Quarry Bank and it is not just history and heritage that we are looking to preserve. Working at such a unique and interesting site brings up all sorts of new challenges and one of the big issues for us is to ensure the wildlife at Quarry Bank – and particularly that living in the Upper Gardens – is not disturbed when the work to restore the Glasshouse begins. So, the discovery of a great crested newt in the area, and lots of common newts for that matter, has meant our team has created a new habitat just for them.
A search of the derelict glasshouses had uncovered newts whilst others have been spotted in the dipping pond. Great crested newts are a European protected species, which means its eggs, breeding sites and resting places are protected by law.
The way the environment has developed in Cheshire means there are lots of newt habitats as we have created many ponds in the county, which is generally quite damp as well.
We would have done our absolute best to protect the Quarry Bank newts anyway and that’s why the rangers, in conjunction with licenced ecologists set about trapping the little amphibians to find out exactly what species we have.
There is a new test that looks for eDNA (environmental DNA) of greater crested newts in water bodies on a proposed site. The testing makes it possible to detect newts simply by taking water samples.
However, we are not quite that technically advanced yet so we resorted to some tried and tested methods.
Using an old pop bottle with the top cut off, inverted the top, and then placed the ‘traps’ strategically around the edges of the two ponds. Placed at an angle, the newts can wander in but can’t get back out. Although no newts were trapped in the two ponds in question, we do know that newts are in the vicinity of the proposed works.
The newts breed in water, but come out of the ponds to rest in damp log piles and under brickwork where they will often hunker down for the winter. They also like old log piles and anywhere else where there is a little dampness and they feel safe and secure.
So before we go ahead with major aspects of the project we have to remove the newts and put them in the newly-built pond near the gardens where we hope they will live happily ever after! Special newt fencing will then be put up to stop them returning to the building site.
An area has been cleared behind the Glasshouse and a number of Lime trees taken out. These had been inappropriately planted in this area in the 1960s and their removal also helped to open up Little Town field and restored the historic views across to Styal Village.
Once their new home is ready, moving them will be a delicate process and a licenced newt ecologist will be called in to move the newts and make sure they are safe.
From Quarry Bank’s point of view the newts are an important part of the ecosystem. They eat a lot of insects, but are also food for others including birds like herons and a lot of fish.
They are as much a part of the gardens as the 1830s glasshouses themselves so it is vital that we treat them with respect and do what we can to continue giving them a home.
If you visit the gardens this summer you may well spot the newt conservation work going on and, if you are lucky, you may even see one of the little creatures yourself.
Pictures by Derek Hatton and Simon Herdson.