Ring Necked Parakeets at the
Fork's bird patio.

The Secrets of Millstream Fork

This set of articles included a surprising amount of different visiting animals such as ring necked parakeets, kingfishers, peregrine falcon, butterflies, dragonflies, squirrels, mice and voles. Pond animals such as toads, newts, and other flying insects and yellow necked mouse have made their home here. The following article, Dinosaur Relics is a typical example of wildlife in the garden.


'Common Frogs'

Lovers of pond fish dote on their exotic pets such as goldfish, coi-carp and other colourful breeds. By contrast, wild newts are often disliked and discouraged if they also make their home in these ornamental fish ponds. However in a wildlife garden pond we can see newts for exactly what they are - incredible animals that are beautiful in their own small way. I'm sure that if they were larger animals, more people would be absolutely bewitched by them. But I still believe that if we get to know this particular group of salamanders as they are, many people will appreciate these incredible creatures far more than we do with our present everyday knowledge.

At the Millstream Fork wildlife garden ponds, we have the more numerous smooth newt rather than one of the two rare British species, the palmate and the great crested newt. This is also known as the common newt, a name which can be taken as a pejorative nomenclature, as the word 'common' can conjure up pictures, notions and feelings of being widespread and of little value. However many people see such creatures as being equal but different, with each occupying a legitimate niche in the eco-system and having unique beauty or interest.

Even though newts have been studied by scientists for decades, it may come as a shock that some species could become very helpful to humans. It emanates from the newts regenerative features. There are other animals which can also overcome a physical loss by re-growing their body parts to continue living a natural life. For human beings another importance of newts is that they regularly replace their eye lenses once they have been worn out or damaged.

If a newt became partially sighted or even blind, then its chances of living a full life in the wild would be almost zero. Therefore they have evolved this feature from what scientists call 'genetic epistemology' (ie. the information that is innate, or what they are born with). The good news for us is that these re-grown lenses are not just compensations, but are the real thing and are as good as their original set. For newts re-growing eye-lenses is much the same as humans growing hair or fingernails.

Laboratory newts have lived up to 30 years, 5 years longer than those in the wild. This is probably also due to a full, healthy diet, lack of disease and being free from predation. Despite this extra longevity, these newts still manage to re-grow their lenses perfectly well in those extra years. So now scientists are investigating the newt's cell structure. This is because our present generation has a longer lifespan and with it ageing problems including eyesight degeneration.

When I see my newts in the pond, I remind myself of their potential benefits for us and admire their natural abilities. This small animal gives me great pleasure simply by being alive, although I do not think that they appreciate me as much! Why should they? They have more important daily things to contend with, such as finding food, raising the next generation and avoiding predators.

My spirits leap throughout the summer months when I see newts swimming up from the unknown depths to the pond's surface, gulping air and returning to the hidden floor . I notice that their tails swerve from side to side, like fish from which they evolved. Sometimes I allow my imagination to soar because newts seem to belong from the age of the dinosaur, lurking in swamps, ponds and lakes. Their prehistoric appearance gives us a snapshot of animals that once existed in bygone eras.

Recently when I had to take out some of the overgrowing algae and weed that was choking the pond I carefully placed the plants on the edging stones. This allows all of the tiny water insects, shrimps and fry to climb back into the pond and survive. So my advice for other wildlife garden pond owners is not to immediately throw away any excess water plants, but to shelve it on the side of the pond for at least a couple of days.

As I randomly drew out clumps of weed I counted at least 6 baby newts of different lengths. It was great news. (Well at least for me it was, but I'm not sure if the baby newts agreed with me.) This is because it shows that after more than two decades, the colony is well established and breeding annually. I wondered that if I could accidentally draw out so many baby newts without any effort whatsoever, how many were left in such a large and deep pond? I will never know the answer to such a question as numbers vary from year to year. But I hoped that there would be hundreds of them.

Consequently in the next decade or so, many should return to breed, whilst others will move on to other ponds in other gardens. Either way they will all enter the eco-system by feeding on insects but will also become prey to other animals living higher up in the food chain.

A common newt

At the moment newts, being amphibians, are amongst the most threatened groups of animals and could face extermination because of the Chytridiomycota fungus that is sweeping across the planet. Many other amphibians are also in danger as they could become infected with this disease when animals are transferred from one pond to another without careful and protective considerations.

Scientists are still debating what has caused this infectious fungus to become so immediately virulent and lethal. One answer is that global warming has already led to higher temperatures, which has allowed this fungus to proliferate. Many conservationists are scared that it is already too late to put this destructive 'genie back in the bottle' as it has already exterminated a number of species such as the Golden Frog.

Moreover as this detestable worldwide chytrid fungus is already in Britain, it is possible that my pond could become infected. If it does, it may exterminate the colony within weeks. I would be devastated and feel cheated after building it up and then nurturing it for over a quarter of a century.


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 © Andy Mydellton