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Youngest Newt surveyor presents his work at Edinburgh Herpetological Symposium

16th October 2014

Photograph of Youngest Newt surveyor presents his work at Edinburgh Herpetological Symposium

Young Highlander Callum Ullman-Smith, a pupil Auchtertyre Primary School, is only 12 years old and has been surveying for Palmate Newts (Lissotriton helveticus), Slow Worms and other amphibians and reptiles since he was seven years old.

Recently Callum's time has been taken up with surveying a set of nine rock pools on the shore near Reraig, on Loch Alsh near the Isle of Skye, every month he can, for the past three years. In this unlikely environment Callum has found a breeding population of Palmate Newts. He has been recording the total number of adults and their young (called efts) at each visit he makes. It is an unusual find because; as everyone knows you find amphibians, like newts, in freshwater. We are more familiar with them breeding in our local ponds and even in water filled wheel ruts. Some of the guidebooks do mention that occasionally an adult can be spotted on the coast, but no mention is made of them breeding there. The fact that there is a population of newts that can cope with the conditions these rock pools face every day is staggering. Often this part of the coast is lashed by high waves, the rock pools often flooded by wave tossed seaweeds or left dry and baked in the hottest of summers. Yet every month from April onwards newts come to do their breeding dance and lay their eggs.

Three years of hard work started with an email to Callum, from David O'Brien, Herpetological Recorder for the Highlands. David had received a letter from Dr Guntram Deichsel that he had found the larval stage (efts) of Palmate Newts beside Loch Linhe near Fort William in April 2011, whilst on Holiday. Callum hot footed it down there with his Mum as driver, and found adult newts in two tiny rock pools on the Loch side. After this Callum’s interest was pricked, were there newts in other sea loch locations? This was when, after a friend had said she had seen an adult newt beside the sea near Reraig, Callum found his rock pool newts and three years of observation began.

Callum has been asked to present his results at the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Symposium at the Royal Botanic Garden’s, Edinburgh, Sunday 19th October 2014. The event has been organised by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC). Pete Minting, ARC’s Scottish Project Officer, has organised this event and has known of Callum’s work for the last two years. When Callum got the phone call from Pete, asking if he’d present a poster showing his work and give a presentation about it to the Symposium, Callum said: "I’m kind of nervous about it, but very honoured".

Callum has presented talks before to the Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG), of which he is the youngest member and for the Highland Seashore Survey Project, where he is again the youngest of the Seashore Surveyors. He recently gave a presentation on Seals and Whales to a visiting group of Eastern Europeans when they visited Lochalsh in the spring with the HBRG. He also recently did a run through of his latest talk with his classmates at Auchtertyre Primary with the support of his class teacher Mrs Finlayson. Callum said: "There were lots of questions from my friends and I was really grateful to my teacher for allowing me a dry run".

Pete Minting of ARC and Callum would like to know if you have seen any Palmate Newts on the coast. If you have seen newts please go to www.recordpool.org.uk at ARC or email the Highland Seashore Project Coordinator via the Highland Seashore Project at janet[AT]highlandseashore.org.uk. Including, if possible, where and when you saw the newts, with OS coordinates or GPS included. Any information will be very helpful to the project.

Photo
Callum Ullman-Smith at nine years old as he began his three year survey, 2012, with one of his first Palmate Newts.
Photographer - Janet Ullman

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