We have a lot to learn about nature but pond newts a start

We have a lot to learn about nature but pond newts a start
A pond, with heat pump. Created in a large garden in West Cork, an ecologically friendly home for pond life and heating for a human home as well. Picture: Damien Enright

Last Sunday afternoon, I went to see newts in a pond created by an ecologically-minded doctor and his family in West Cork.

The pond was a marvel. These days, a small body of water swarming with frogs and newts is a rarity indeed, not only because it is teeming with this and other wildlife but is also providing geothermal heating to a family home.

Its creation is a tribute to the doctor and his family. 

It was created 25 years ago, when such enlightenment was largely unknown in this country and, as the founders realised, would progress to becoming more and more part of local nature as the years passed. 

Looking at it now, one would think it to be primal.

Would that we could all create such ponds generating heating systems at no cost to the environment in fossil fuels or carbon emissions and providing what has become an absolutely natural habitat for creatures that need and deserve refuges and which are in some cases under threat.

However, our houses are already built, we can’t go ripping up the floors and, anyway, we don’t have gardens big enough for ponds and piping.

However, for couples fortunate enough to be able to buy an acre site, the cost of creating from the start a unique and ecologically sustainable world around their home is not out of reach if plans are made from the start.

The pond measures 8m by 5m, but can be half as large, and is lined with butyl, ecologically acceptable rubber, stone and gravel. 

Pipes run through it and are buried in the land nearby. The result is priceless, not only in its ecological value but commercial one. 

Electricity is needed solely for lighting and to run water through the radiators in the house. 

Birds nest in the trees around it, a song thrush sings in the evenings, bats fly at dusk, tadpoles swim in the pond; it is an Eden for children and adults.

Of the newts I came to see, I spotted only a few: it was the wrong time of day, the sun high in the sky, and hours to wait before dusk. 

Those that I saw seemed to be bright blue in colour: this had to be, I think, the blue of the sky above reflected on their skin: it was a warm, cloudless day.

Newts, increasing rare amphibian lizards, are very beautiful creatures, especially during the breeding season when the male develops a conspicuous crest along his back from his head to the tip of his tail and takes to the ponds. 

There, he becomes green or brown in colour, speckled with dark spots. His belly turns bright gold or red, with a silver stripe on his tail.

We have a lot to learn about nature but pond newts a start

As he swims through the elaborate courtship rituals demanded by his harem, this crest ripples like a furling and unfurling sail. 

For the sake of future newt-dom, the female remains drab, the colour of the brown weeds around her. 

She may carry up to 350 eggs so it is better she keeps a low profile.

In Britain, there are three species of newts but in Ireland we have just one, the common newt, Lissotriton vulgaris, so called by Carl Linnaeus, a Swede, in 1758. 

Linnaeus was the most important zoologist of his time, identifying, naming and classifying thousands of organisms (plants, animals, bacteria and fungi.)

The philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, a contemporary, said of him “I know no greater man on earth.”

Swedish author, August Strindberg wrote: “Linnaeus was in reality a poet who happened to become a naturalist.” 

He collected and classified animals, plants, and minerals, and published several definitive volumes on natural history. 

He was one of the most acclaimed scientists in Europe at the time of his death.

Now, while Linnaeus has long since gone, his system of naming continues. All names must meet standards set by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. 

Zoologists apply the code “to avoid the chaos that would result if the naming of animals was not regulated.” 

The preface to the code’s first edition states: “Languages grow in innumerable directions, but biological nomenclature has to be an exact tool that will convey a precise meaning for persons in all generations,”

Of the more than 8.6 million species that live on this planet, only just over a million have been described. 

It would seem eminently sensible, with the serious threat of global warming, that we study as many as possible for in some may lie our redemption.

It’s best of all if we can conserve and study the nature around us, as in the newt pond. 

We have a lot to learn.

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