Great Crested Newts Return To Plantlife's Derbyshire Nature Reserve
In a landscape largely devoid of standing water, dew-ponds can support a surprisingly rich assortment of aquatic life. Most famously, they can provide a home for the Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus).
As such, we were delighted when we received news that Great Crested Newts had been spotted at a dew-pond we had recently restored at Plantlife's Deep Dale nature reserve in Derbyshire.
Dew-ponds are not natural features. They were created by farmers to provide drinking water for livestock. A functional origin, from which they have developed a surprisingly-rich cultural history; acquiring an aura of mystery and associations with the super-natural; capturing the imagination of poets, folk singers and artists.
Deep Dale, like most dales in the White Peak, is a dry valley so any surface water rapidly percolates into the limestone and is swallowed below ground. A 'sough' (underground tunnel/channel created to drain water from lead mines) outlet partway up the dale can produce torrents of water after winter rains, but generally runs dry in the summer months.
Rearing livestock in such a desiccated landscape raised obvious difficulties. So at Deep Dale, and on adjacent fields, local farmers created dew-ponds (known locally as meres). The traditional method was to first excavate, by hand of course, the characteristic dish shape some 10 to 20 metres across. This would then be lined with a layer of lime ash and then two layers of puddled clay; each layer being beaten down by wooden rammers. Finally the pond would be paved with stone "setts" and then left to fill with water.
We now know that most of their water comes from rainfall, rather than condensing dew. But the fascination remains, and it is certainly the case that ponds were built with dew-catching in mind, many being built on a bed of straw to keep the stone lining insulated from the warmth of the ground beneath.
Of the 2,500 ponds known in the White Peak at the end of the nineteenth century, at least 50% have been filled-in or no longer hold water. The dew-pond at Deep Dale thus provides a rare sanctuary for these Great Crested Newts. Their new home was restored by pond maker Dan Spencer, as part of a project led by Plantlife and supported with funding from the Derbyshire Environmental Trust through the Tarmac Landfill Communities Fund and the PDNPA.
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