Thursday, February 24, 2011

Catch and Release Dilemma

       Over the last couple of years, as the daylight hours lengthen and with the flora and fauna beginning to slowly shake off the shackles of winter, I have found myself in somewhat of a dilemma. The dilemma is a direct consequence of my place of work, and its affects upon a certain creature at this time of the year. Now before you start assuming that this is to be yet another thinly veiled tirade upon my beloved employers and their attempts to grind my bones for cattle feed, I’ll hasten to say it has nothing to do with them.

        No, the dilemma is connected in a way to my growing love of nature and the need to be able to do more to encourage it to flourish and to be able to interact with it where and when I can. Bear with me while I explain myself and my dilemma. At the rear of the factory building, where I while away the long hours of ‘the grind’, there is a large expanse of concreted road surface for the unloading of materials, storage of base product and general access etc. At this time of year the half observant person may notice several areas across the ‘yard’ which have little mounds of dark flattened debris, oozing a dark liquid,  or alternatively twisted, dried out husks that make a sound similar to dried leaves when underfoot. Closer investigation reveals that these remains are of a small creature either flatted by traffic, foot or vehicles, or those that have failed to reach shade in their nightly endeavor to cross the yard and have been dried by the now warming sun.

        If you are fortunate enough to have time to wander the factory yard upon these slowly warming evenings you’ll be able to spot these creatures before they’re flattened by traffic or dehydrated to a husk by the unforgiving sun. Your first impression may be that you’ve spotted a small lizard, but if you have a care to look closer at the creature that sits on this desert of concrete it proves to be an amphibian, the Smooth newt (Triturus vulgaris) to be correct.

Cute aren't they?

Had to belly crawl for this shot at 2am this morning

       This would explain the high numbers of flat or dried remains for this creature is certainly not the fastest around and coupled with its amphibious need to retain a moist skin, then been caught out on the unforgiving desert of the yard spells certain and slow death for it. I mention the word desert when describing the yard, and yes what may seem to be just a large expanse of hard surface necessary for the day to day function of a factory is indeed akin to a huge and unforgiving desert to these miniscule creatures. Why do they throw themselves, lemming like, onto the yard? Well I can only surmise that it’s the attraction of the factory lights that draw these delicate newts to their inevitable doom, there is now other reason that I can see for their suicidal behavior, certainly no source of food, moisture or shelter that would sustain them is available here. They make this journey from waste ground upon the factory’s parameter, an area with is out of reach to minions like myself being behind secure fencing and any expedition towards it is looked upon by paranoid higher beings with more than a little suspicion. The waste ground I assume has all the necessary needs for a happy newt but without fail at this time of year the procession of the doomed 'Lemming' newt is repeated once more.

        Here we come to my dilemma, I firmly believe that nature should be fully left to her own devices, the less humankind interferes with the natural process the more successful, resourceful and enchanting nature proves to be. Those who recall some of my earlier posts will know that my rear garden is the size of a postage stamp but within this small space I’m always looking to encourage nature to use it, whether just in passing or as a permanent home. At the same time I’m also trying to utilize the space to grow a small number of edible crops for my ever demanding plate, and combing the two is demanding but ever so rewarding at the same time. So how does this cause me my dilemma? When faced with the scenes of carnage on the factory yard my heart told my to save as many as these newts that were hell bent upon their own destruction whilst my head spoke of leaving well alone and let nature run its course. Whether rightly or wrongly my heart in this case won out and I resolved to save at least some of these newts last year. Normally I would not have removed a plant from its natural habitat let alone a living creature, true I will take a wild plant or animal for the pot upon occasion, but this brings me, I feel closer to nature and the way that I’d love to live, hypocritical? Perhaps, but what I’m trying to say here is that when I can I try to avoid interfering with the flow of nature but by, upon occasion, when taking and consuming wildlife (being flora or fauna) I feel that I’m being more a part of the flow than when eating a cellophane wrapped piece of meat harvested off a shop's shelf. Anyway moving on from this where I may be making not much sense, back to the newts.

        So last year I made the conscious (and quite probably illegal) decision to remove a wild creature from its environment, however unnatural, and relocate it elsewhere hoping to promote its survival. But then the next issue arose, where should I release these creatures without altering the balance of another area or even just dooming them to another form of premature death? I considered the edges of the factory, but besides being grilled with a thousand questions of what I’d being doing near the parameter and shouldn’t I have been greasing something or other, there was nothing to stop the little buggers heading back and becoming the smallest mounds of road kill that you’re likely to see. I’m not aware of any local populations of smooth newts where to introduce the recuees and also the introduction of them to an already thriving population may have disastrous effects, tipping the numbers balance, introducing disease for which I cannot test etc. So this left me with a slightly uncomfortably but perhaps viable solution, my garden. Now before some of you go lecturing me upon about self interest whatever, this choice was not taken lightly and although not a perfect solution does have some redeeming points in its favor; Within the confines of my garden there are areas of habitat that are favorable for these amphibians, as well as a well planted pond there are perennial borders continually refreshed with compost and leaf mould which in turn leads to damp areas of cover teaming with invertebrate life, there is an shady area, albeit small, set aside for a rotting woodpile and what ever grows there is left alone which is proving a haven for allsorts of fungi, flora and fauna not usually associated with urban gardens, here also is a pile of half pipes and roof tiles covered with more leaf mould which attracts a mired of fauna. Coupled with the insect attracting plants that I’m endeavoring to increase and areas of shade and damp provided by my mainly container driven food planting area it is an amphibians nirvana, on a small scale. Also the surrounding gardens offer other varied habitats and more diverse possibilities.

Waterfall into pond - plastic you know

Release point

Already amphibians here, point of danger?

No sign after 10 minutes from release this morning

        So at this time last year a total of five Smooth newts were recovered from a premature flattening and released into what I hoped would be a favorable habitat for them. For the majority of the year I saw neither head nor tail of them and to be honest as the summer months stretched towards autumn all thoughts of the immigrants had been forgotten. But then, whilst moving some planters to enable an attempt at crop rotation, there, blinking at his rude exposure to the evening sun was a male smooth newt in what appeared to be excellent health (although I’m probably better at judging the health of a dog than an amphibian!). Watching him closely I finished rearranging the various planters and was lost in wonder for a while as I observed him make his way to the cover of a crack in the flagged step (see Clare, I told you that leaving cracks between the flags was OK). On a couple more occasions I came across newts, definitely a couple of different individuals, whilst tidying up for the onset of autumn which confirmed to me that although maybe not strictly the moral thing to have done I was justified in that the habitat provided was able to support the newts and they had indeed settled, not needing to move away in search of something better. Even saying this I still have a pang of guilt about relocating them and my interference, but given the choice between being flat or discovering new lands I know what I’d pick. This year the newts are at it again, littering the concrete with their tiny corpses, once again I’ve relocated a few, but doubts still nag at me as to whether it’s the right thing to do, after all I advocate mankind to interfere less with nature yet here I am, perhaps playing at a amphibious deity? I tell myself that I’m allowing some small part of nature survive when, if left, it would most certainly be jam but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m right.

        Now perhaps some whom think that they know me might mock or even have the odd titter at this grease monkeys attempt at wildlife preservation, after all surely there are more majestic and deserving animals that would better merit my attention? But, and I’m not exactly what you’d call a tree hugger here, there’s wonderment and awe to be found in all the different faces of Mother Nature. It does not have to be a tiger, panda or elephant to deserve the right to survival, all nature is connected in ways that are far beyond our comprehension and to lose just one species through our ignorant lives is a sad thing indeed. Yes perhaps to some these newts are not worth a second thought and have no place or purpose in our ‘ordered’ world, but I but you a pound to a pinch of salt that if asked, the newt would have something to say about it! Maybe this grease monkey is becoming slightly tree huggerish, who knows, it may not be a bad thing after all. Not my usual ramblings I know, but hey without a poor post how can I tell when I ever manage to present you with a good one? someday I promise it'll happen, someday.....

Your friend,



Casey said...

Excellent post John, and I don't blame you for trying to save a few. And it looks like you did very successfully!

Remember that the act of "you trying to save a few" is an act of nature also. Compared to a concrete warming pad as an act of nature, yours at least is helping the critters. The natural world will sort itself out, if a problem presents itself. It's been doing it for eons.

Anyway, I can see your point of view and respect it very much. At the same time, glad you created a small habitat suitable for them. It's going to come to that soon anyway, isn't it?

Peace and take care -


Gorges Smythe said...

Bothering a wild creature in a wild habitat is one thing, saving him from certain destruction due to man's alteration of the habitat is something entirely different. Just don't get caught; it probably IS illegal.

Damn The Broccoli said...

Excellent Murphy, excellent.

I oft tell the Daughter there is nothing so small as to be insignificant.

I don't know the legalities myself, but I do know the moralities.

In nature let nature take it's course, do not intefer. True.

However, that bloody great expanse of world eater isn't nature, it's mankind interfering. Therefore all rules are off and a little interference is ok.

One little note with Amphibians, certainly frogs and toads but not sure about newts. They will often return to the same pond to spawn so moving them could ultimately do nothing if they decide to go back!

When I was younger there was a road near me that every spring was the bane of the frog and toad population. I used to go out on a night with a bucket get as many as possible and return them to a local woodland environment, much to the derision of the parental unit and some friends. I saved so few and the ones that died are unfortunate wastage, but every year there were thousands of the little buggers left to make the crossing afresh.

For all our interference nature does persist, so far anyway, but good for you for caring.

Know that you are not alone.

Rachelradiostar said...

Hey there St Newt,
As always - an excellent post. I think you are RIGHT to save the newts. Perhaps you could write to the British Newt Association ( sorry I do not know if this exists - I will find out now......)it doesn't appear to however I did find this site

and in particular you should note what it says...through the magic of copy and paste I bring it yo you now..
"The Smooth Newt, like the Common Frog is often found in garden ponds, frequently arriving of its own accord. As with frogs, its tadpoles will be eaten by fish if they are present. Garden ponds have become extremely important for this species, as ponds in the wider countryside have become fewer and increasingly polluted."
I have a toad in my garden who frightened the living daylights out of me as I was weeding my border ( Note the singular ) and there he was in his massive ugly beauty! I have no idea when he arrived but as long as he keeps eating my slugs he can stay free of charge for as long as he likes!

Le Loup said...

A true hunter (not a shooter) knows more and cares more for the environment than anyone. People find it strange than a hunter can find a wounded animal, care for it and release it knowing that at a later date he may need to hunt it.

I have been where you are more times than I can remember. It is something I just have to do.
One can hardly consider a large concrete slab a natural environment! Well done.
Good post.

Rachelradiostar said...

This is a good site too for anyone who is interested!

Shoreman said...

Morning John. Here's what I think. If you relocate a few newt's a year and they survive, it's better than them becoming one with the pavement. Apparently they aren't smart enough to stay away from the light, so we intelligent humans sometimes have to do for them, when they can't do for themselves. Bravo.


Anonymous said...

Hi John mate
it good to see hows things have changed over the years only 10 years ago you would have been lying on the floor at 2am in the morning "Pissed" as a newt. Joking apart I think in this day and age it,s good to see you taking the time and effort to re-home this species ,as all creatures are part of the chain of life

Helene Burnett said...

I'm thinking if the newts thrive, then your habitat suits them, and you've done a goodness. If not, it's a signal not to try again. Sounds like a good thing, though.
My hubby and I rescue turtles from the highway if we can do it without getting killed by the trucks leaving the coal mines or oil wells nearby.
However, the hogs in Texas are something else again; not originally native and crossbred with domestics. Destructive and dangerous... but ever so tasty if not greater than 200 pounds or so!

Murphyfish said...

Hi all, sorry about the delay in answering your comments, time has not been upon my side this weekend so briefly here we go;-

Casey my friend,
Yes, I do think that ‘natural’ habitats are becoming smaller and fewer as we spread over the planets surface. Things is when they’ve gone it’ll be the final toll of the bell for us lot.

Mr. Smythe,
Have looked it up and yes it looks as if I’m on the run, sometimes the law really is an Ass.

Eh up Damn,
Don’t think that newts migrate back to ‘home’ spawning areas, I know that toads do as do frogs. Saying that, the pond, in my pittance of a garden was installed about 6 years ago, and didn’t replace any other source of water. But we’ve had frogs spawn in it a few times now (even got pictures this year ha ha next post me thinks). So perhaps when the devil drives they take what they can?

St newt eh?, I am beginning to worry me dear . Thanks you for the link, when time is less pressing I’ll give it a look, tough it does look encouraging.

Thank you for your support, I respect your opinion highly indeed my friend so again thanks.

Evening Mark,
Thank you my good man.

Anon (that’ll be Rob then!)
10 years ago is a long time past my man, although I’m still known to indulge upon occasion. Good to see that you’re getting the point about nature might get you out of that garage one day.

Judging by last year I think that the habitat may indeed suit, time will tell. Not sure that I’d be as brave to dice with trucks for turtles – hats off to you, hog meat mmmmm.

Thank you all for the support and comment, really was not sure how this 'off tangent' post would go down compared to the usual drivel!