News article created on 12 December 2019

Students create a brand 'newt' home

We've enlisted the help of 30 students from Gloucestershire College to create new habitat for the great crested newt.

Great crested newt Great crested newt

The great crested newt, scientifially known as triturus cristatus, look like miniature dinosaurs with their warty reptilian skin and jagged appearance. They are a protected species and are often found in canals. 

The students from Gloucester, whose work to dig out seven tonnes of earth, and landscape a pond, at Saul Junction on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, reached a key stage when it was filled with 12,500 litres (or nearly 1,000 buckets full) of water in December.

Since September the students from the Cheltenham and Forest of Dean campuses of Gloucestershire College have been working with us on a ‘build a pond’ project, through support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The students from Foundation Studies, who have mild learning difficulties, have been involved in a wide range of activities including: clearing the site, fence-building, digging out the pond and preparing it for filling with water. They will also be planting wildflowers on the surrounding bunds.

Laura Mullholland ecologist for the Trust explains: "Great crested newts are a protected species and we know they are in the local area. They cannot survive in the canal alone so, by creating this pond specifically for them, we hope they will take up residence. We’ve tailored it for them, including having plants with large leaves in which they like to wrap their eggs. Whilst we wait for the newts to get settled-in, we can look forward to dragonflies and damselflies making the pond home and we’re excited to see what other exciting creatures are attracted. 

"Thanks to the support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery and to the students who have worked with us, we are delighted to have been able to create this special haven for the newts, away from the fishy predators in the canal. Not only is it great news for wildlife it will be a fascinating nature-spotting addition for the many people who enjoy this stretch of the canal."

Building employability skills

All the tasks have given the young people invaluable experience of volunteering within their community, as well as building employability skills. Madeleine Burgess, employability development coordinator at the college describes what the experience means: "Through this challenging pond project, the students have had to listen and follow instructions to work as a team. Without working together, the project could not have been completed. They have had to build up their resilience, as the task at times was really difficult when it rained continuously.

"They persevered and were determined to complete the project within the timed schedule and are proud of their achievements. Through the support and guidance from the Canal & River Trust team the students have all matured and gained in confidence, whilst developing many new and transferable skills."

The students are undertaking the project as part of their Prince’s Trust E3 award. They are also working towards their John Muir Award, which has helped them to appreciate the overall purpose of the project. They have now gained a deeper understanding of the importance of conservation and how they can contribute towards it.   

Work with the Trust will continue as the college has a community adoption from Fretherne Bridge to just north of Junction Bridge so there will be plenty of opportunities for them to take on additional roles and responsibilities, maintaining the pond site and helping to develop further activities for their peers and the wider community.