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canal argy-bargy

Printed From: Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
Category: Herpetofauna Native to the UK
Forum Name: Palmate Newt
Forum Description: Forum for all issues concerning Triturus helveticus
Printed Date: 29 Mar 2020 at 3:59pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 11.06 -

Topic: canal argy-bargy
Posted By: Liz Heard
Subject: canal argy-bargy
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2010 at 2:17am
theres been nothing on palmates for ages so heres a tale while we wait for fresh fruit.

hope you enjoy it and lets hear some of yours.

once, a schoolfriend and i were netting helvs under a hump-backed bridge on the disused thames and severn canal.
we were about 8 or 9 yrs old.
all of a sudden some bigger, rowdier adolescents appeared and barged us out of the way. aggressively staking their claim to our "pitch"

we couldnt "fish" elsewhere nearby since the waterway was completely landfilled/reeded up either side of the bridge/lock.
effectively the breeding habitat was a sunken pond (around 20ft sq) and the water could only be reached by a net from one small spot under the bridge. owing to the high walling/reeds/ landfill everywhere else.
palmate newts were only found in this one spot along our stretch.
good numbers of them though. teeming. the odd frog occasionally but that aside, no other amphibian species.
helveticus domination.

given our pathetic size we knew we couldnt possibly resist the usurpers and so reluctantly we walked away. disgruntled.

as we crossed the bridge, my mate bent down, picked up a fist-sized rock, threw it below and immediately ran.

on seeing his actions i stopped walking, turned and looked to see where the projectile had landed.

i wanted to check his accuracy i suppose.

bad mistake that.

the missile just missed the head of their leader, the son of a local scrap merchant and someone with a nasty reputation for ready violence.

it thumped on the ground beside him attracting his attention. he glared up at me, absolutely fuming that his authority could be so violently challenged by such squirts.

as youve no doubt worked out, he thought it was ME that had thrown the missile.

annoyingly for him though, i was just a little too far away for him to chase and catch.
his pride suffered there in front of his mates. it was clear he was livid.

i was really frightened of pete hayward and so with pulse still racing, i breathed a sigh of relief as we struggled back up the hill home.
soon we were laughing at our "victory".
we got away with it. never seen him down there before.
i dont go down there that often. shouldnt worry i thought.

and so a couple of weeks passed and i returned with my net again. this time solo.

i hoped to keep my profile low and my eye out (for both newts and him) and sure enough, a nightmare.

i looked up and he was striding along the towpath in my direction.
i couldnt believe it.

it was too late to run so i thought id bluff him. i pulled my hood up and stared down at the water.
anything but catch his eye.

other than the previous incident hed never noticed me before and didnt know who i was. chances are he'll walk straight past.
so i told myself.


he made straight for me. he grabbed me by the hair and back and held me over the water.

as i stared down at tangled brickwork and ironmongery, bent prams etc (the pool was FULL of junk) i was petrified.

i couldnt even swim.

"do you wanna go in there? cos thats where youre gonna go one of these days if you ever throw stones at me!" he barked.

"n-n-n-no! it wasnt even me who threw it" i grimaced. squirming for all i was worth.


he pushed my head out a little further from the bank for a few seconds threateningly, then suddenly pulled me back, let go and left.

i ran off as fast as i could in the opposite direction, leaving my net and jar behind.

im in my forties now.

ive seen the guy a couple of times since (hes now a builder) including once on my postal round where a brief interchange between us tempted me to recall the incident to him and see if he remembered it.

but somehow i let it go.

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2010 at 7:01am

Hi Ben

Dunno if this counts, but I was doing a GCN survey on the margins (in every sense) of London back in the 90's when we stumbled across a GCN pond in a farmer's field around 2am.  There were also Koi carp in it.  Following day we knocked on his door to ask for formal permission to survey for 'pond life' (didn't want to give away that we already knew he had GCN there).

Well, the guy was swigging from a whisky bottle and told us he's take us to the pond but he'd supervise us - because he had put koi there.  Pointing to an air rifle on the wall he said he'd rigged the banks with an alarm system which would alert him to any night time thieves, and that he'd blow their heads off if the alarm was ever triggered.  Whisky bottle in one hand, steering wheel of his Land Rover in the other, he drove us along the track we'd walked the night before til we came to the pond.

Moral of the story - best to get permission before surveying ponds or alternatively best not to call on the owner the following day?



Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2010 at 9:10am
Wow who would think newting could be so dangerous (exciting?!).


Posted By: will
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2010 at 9:57am

Too true!  it did occur to me at the time that losing my life for the sake of a GCN record might be a pond too far...  But then again, we also got a GCN record from a pond in the grounds of a gangland criminal, and we were warned beforehand that he wouldn't be likely to swallow a tale about 'searching for newts' should we be caught with torches in the garden in the middle of the night.  I don't think I'd be up for that one now I'm older (and wiser?)

Also got stopped by the Law one night climbing over a wall into a stately home, to look for GCN.  When the officer found out what we were doing, he said 'best place to get in is the hole in the wall about 100 yards on, I've always liked newts'.  Well done, that policeman.


Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2010 at 1:37pm
thanks will.

i thoroughly enjoyed your yarns!

i used to conduct agricultural surveys and so ive met thousands of farmers and landowners. as youve illustrated some of them are a rum bunch and they can be VERY set in their ways too.
for example, excessive HOARDING of crapp is a noted behavioural trait of the species.

last year a neighbour (who claims to be an animal lover) called from over the fence (thick GLOS accent) "'ere oi've got 1 of yer TOADS in moi gardun".

knowing she dislikes amphibians i offered to rescue it back.
when i got over it was a CRESTED NEWT.

its great that the british public can distinguish their native animals so well.

how about some more stories members?

Posted By: administrator
Date Posted: 11 Jun 2010 at 2:57pm
Leaving out the 'modern' tales of newt surveys which
include having my car door blocked by an over ambitious
security guard one night amongst other things and the
usual 'have you lost something' inquiries whilst
searching the vegetation, of which I have about 40
replies to now,(my favourite being I work for British
Nuclear Fuels Limited and I'm checking on a reported
leak) my earliest recollection of a herping confrontation
was when I was about 13 years old.

I had found a couple of toad corpses on the road outside
a local fishing pit so planned a night trip to find the

This turned out much easier than I had expected as the
male's calls gave them away immediately and I shone my
torch to see their little faces poking out of the water.

Whilst enjoying this new herping experience I heard a car
approaching on the road, soon I was dazzled by the
headlights of the car and a voice shouting from the
driving seat 'wot ya doing??'.

At first expecting the bailiff of the fishing pits it
soon became apparent that it was actually a local youth
who went by the delightful name of 'skull'. Now skull, or
Mr. Skull as it was best to call him, wasn't known for
being terribly bright nor particularly pleasant so I was
now wishing I was hiding in the reeds with the toads as
there was little chance of outrunning him.

After several attempts at trying to explain away my
reason for being at the pits in the middle of the night
with a powerful torch I gave up and told him why I was

Having seen the toads for himself he left with a smile, I
had survived and I honestly think Mr. Skull had a new
found interest in wildlife!

Posted By: lalchitri
Date Posted: 12 Jun 2010 at 7:16am
Ken Livingstones 'criminal' record also involves newts AKAIK.
On LBC during a mayoral debate he was asked about his criminal past and I remember him saying it involved rescuing newts from a drying up pond where they would otherwise have died.
They must have been GCN's and he must have been unlicensed.

Reformed Teetotaller

Posted By: Suzi
Date Posted: 12 Jun 2010 at 9:54am
Lovely story Gemma. Brave girl you were - expect you still are!


Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 12 Jun 2010 at 4:43pm
Lal, i saw a tv prog once about Red Ken and his lifelong herp interest. at one point during the show he was removing GCN's from a swimming pool somewhere in suburbia. home counties. i know he had a licence then at least because he reached into his pocket, unfolded it and held it up to the camera to show us.

if hes ever contravened the WCA to save newts then personally i admire his honesty in admitting it as a public figure with a lot to lose. in my humble opinion, as far as protecting the future of GCNs goes, the act makes life difficult legally for those who can help the species - such as people with them in their garden ponds like me. at the other end of the scale (and where its full weight is needed most desperately) its woefully ineffectual at deterring/punishing developers etc. as RAUKers know all too well.

given that his political enemies would no doubt leap to point out his "criminality" in "interfering", leaving him open to lost votes, i think it was a brave and honest admission if true.

sounds like he put the animals first in spite of all this. good on him i reckon.
i dont obey laws that dont make sense either and he obviously knows enough about amphibians to carry out a simple rescue.

hes been quite instrumental in developing amphibian habitat (inc GCNs) in central london too. cant remember the name of the site but it was also featured in the prog.

incidentally, another famous person and one of kens biggest supporters politically also shares his love of salamanders and the like. namely the brilliant poet ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER. ive even known him to incorporate newt puppets amusingly into his live show.

Posted By: Donny
Date Posted: 12 Jun 2010 at 5:48pm
I also saw that Ken Livingstone herping documentary with the GCNs in the swimming pool, it was great.

I also remember running away from quite a few farmers, gamekeepers etc as a youngster ("Hey!@! Don't you know this is private property?!?!").

Wonder what would have happened if I had stood my ground and told them I was simply looking for frogs?

Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 17 Jun 2010 at 7:13pm
had enough of TRUE stories?

click away then.

fancy another?

strong stomach?

ok, lets RAUK!

its lunchtime at school. given that its summer, 2nd year pupils flock down the playing field to play their little games of trying to impress one another or simply kick a ball in the sunshine.

a group of us are standing around when one spots a dead frog in the grass.

it was far from fully grown though certainly not a metamorph. its innards were exposed and, in retrospect, i suspect that it had been assualted by an avian.

a youth bends down and, taking a piece of string from his pocket, ties one end around one of the frogs legs. then, in an attempt to win the crowd over with a brand new "trick", he stands up and begins to swing the ensemble around his head like some crazed and misinformed cowboy.

well boys will be boys.

after a few orbits however, and with all of us looking on, the string must have worked its way loose. because to everyones astonishment and utter hilarity, the frog suddenly flew off and went straight............ into the open mouth of a mesmerised onlooker.

you dont need me to tell you how he reacted.

a sick story with a foul ending. ok.

but what a shot.


Posted By: herpetologic2
Date Posted: 18 Jun 2010 at 1:34pm
Originally posted by lalchitri lalchitri wrote:

Ken Livingstones 'criminal' record also
involves newts AKAIK.On LBC during a mayoral debate he was
asked about his criminal past and I remember him saying it
involved rescuing newts from a drying up pond where they
would otherwise have died.They must have been GCN's and he
must have been unlicensed.

So where is the crime in that? - rescues do not need


Report your sightings to the Record Pool" rel="nofollow -

Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 18 Jun 2010 at 2:37pm
why did ken say that if it wasnt illegal? it suggests that he thought it was. (so did i). thanks for the info then j. though this prompts the question of how a "rescue" is defined legally.

Posted By: will
Date Posted: 19 Jun 2010 at 8:55am
Good Q Ben; I was told a few years ago that rescuing a GCN from the path of an oncoming car would not require a licence, provided it was immediately released on the other side of the road.  Likewise a pond with lots of well grown larvae which was in imminent danger of drying out could also have its larvae taken to a nearby pond so they could complete their metamorphosis as an emergency action without a licence.  But what if this act were to become an annual event, ie the translocation of larvae from one pond (known to be liable to desiccation) to another was planned in advance ?  my interpretation is that this would then be licensable, but I don't know what others think?

Posted By: Liz Heard
Date Posted: 19 Jun 2010 at 4:40pm
thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts will. good points there.

heres another angle;

a wealthy landowner dug a lake outside his home in nearby tetbury. he put large fish in it. probably carp.
the following year quite a few adult GCNS turned up there to breed (no-one knew from where). so this was colonisation of NEW breeding habitat, not established. he broke no laws reg GCN.

it seems accepted that GCNs and predatory fish do not make equal bedfellows with the formers larvae losing out heavily to fish predation.

i knew this and was concerned but given that i was only the mate of the shepherd there, it wasnt my place to inform any herp body of the situation and go through proper channels. or even say or do anything since its my mates boss.
but given that the long-term survival of a BAP species at the pool was in jeopardy to possibly not even a native species, could i have removed them unlicensed since they surely needed "rescue" from plight?

or is it "tough luck newts" and let what will be, be? despite their "1981 special protection"?

and if i can remove, to where? a pond of my choice?
it would have to be far enough away that they couldnt return.

cheers will,

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