FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

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Enhancing Learning Environments

The Centre team needs all the help it can get to maintain and enhance the learning environments within the grounds. A team from Epping Forest Countrycare and their volunteers spent a day at the Centre in February removing plant overgrowth from the two ponds in the grounds. Find out the reason for this and how you can help.

The ponds are important for a number of reasons. Firstly they play a major role in our education programmes for primary children through to students taking A-levels. The full list of courses can be found on our outdoor classroom page. The ponds also feature in some of the Natural History and Leisure Learning adult courses including ‘British Amphibians’ and ‘Aquatic Plant Identification’ courses. Details of these courses and others are on the website. Secondly the ponds support a large abundance and variety of animals. Research by EFFC staff member Laurence Jarvis over the past five years has revealed there are over 1000 adult Great Crested Newts living within the ponds around Epping Forest Field Centre. This work has also revealed some interesting facts about the behaviour and ecology of newts in this area.

Great Crested Newt larva

Great Crested Newts are a declining and protected species in the British Isles due to habitat destruction and fragmentation. It is illegal to disturb this species or its habitats without an English Nature licence. Great Crested Newts spend many months of the year on land hiding in leaf litter, under logs and buried within soil but return to water in the spring to breed. At High Beach Great Crested Newts breed within five ponds along with four other amphibian species.

The research project utilised humane funnel traps to capture and identify individual newts by their belly pattern markings. By capturing and recapturing the same newts over five years Laurence has been enable to create models that predict annual survival and population sizes. These indicate there are probably at least 1,200 breeding adults at High Beach, most within Oak Plain and Frog ponds. The lowest numbers appear to breed in Lily and Speakman’s ponds, the latter (close to the King’s Oak pub) having suffered in recent years due to low water levels.

In addition, Laurence has spent time examining the effects of predatory fish on the eggs and aquatic larvae. Great Crested Newts lay eggs individually within a pond plant leaf for protection from predation. However experiments at the Centre have shown that fish, such as stickleback, may induce an increase in egg mortality due to an embryo stress response. This implies that embryos may die prematurely before predatory attack and highlights the importance of keeping the ponds at High Beach free of predatory fish.

This and other aspects of the research over the past few years have helped improve our understanding of the ecology and conservation of this fascinating species and will hopefully result in successful persistence of Great Crested Newts at High Beach for decades to come.

You can help maintain the ponds and other important habitats in the Centre grounds by becoming a volunteer and joining the Grounds Action Team. The Centre also offers company teams the opportunity to be involved in a project within the Centre grounds or buildings. Alternatively you can sponsor a project in the past this has included the development of sensory beds and a butterfly garden. Contact the Centre for more details [email protected] or 02085028500.

Saturday, March 24, 2012