− BY SEAN SELBY, ASSISTANT EDUCATION OFFICER −
Meanwood Valley Urban Farm, is a city farm not far from the city centre with sheep, goats, cows, pigs and chickens. Its twenty-four acre site, including three ponds, has an abundance of wildlife, fauna and flora, with a great diversity of species.
In the breeding season (spring) the ponds all attract frogs, toads and newts. In this my first column I am focusing on our resident newts. There are three types of native newt: Great Crested Newt, Palmate Newt, and the one we have at the Farm: the Smooth Newt. Smooth newts frequent our ponds to lay their spawn in spring in decent numbers. The male Smooth Newt is marked on his flanks and belly with dark spots on an orange background, and develops a crest on its back. The female has the same markings as the male but with no crest. It is difficult to tell female Smooth Newts and female Palmates apart as they are both very similar, it is easier with the males as the Palmate male has webbed feet at the back, which gives them the appearance that they are wearing clogs.
I have often watched the male Smooth Newts, swim to the top of the pond, then float down with their crest vividly displayed, giving out the message ‘look at me, look at me’ with view to attracting a female. If they succeed, the male will deposit a sperm capsule, which the female then clasps with her cloaca genital openings. The fertile eggs are then laid singly, each one wrapped in the leaf of a plant. Newt tadpoles resemble the adults except they have no legs and they have feathery external gills. Newts will leave their breeding ponds in search for food so it is essential they have thick cover. Rotting woodpiles are ideal: they are good for feeding and shelter, we encourage this at the farm and have built many such piles around our pond sites.
Palmates seem to prefer slightly acidic ponds and can be found in woodland ponds as in the Adel Wood pond along the Meanwood Trail.
Smooth and Palmate newts are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to sell or trade them in any way. In Northern Ireland they are fully protected against killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance, possession or trade.
Great Crested Newts are a fully protected species. They live throughout Britain but have become absent from Ireland and have disappeared from many sites across Europe.
Nature is forever changing and there is always something of interest to see at the farm with acres to explore making a great family friendly day out.
Meanwood ValleyUrban Farm, 39 Sugar Well Road Leeds LS7 2QG
Open 10-4pm Entrance Adults £2, children £1