No newts is good news after Nantwich amphibian rescue

More than 30 endangered newts trapped in a deep dark watery prison have been plucked to safety after being spotted on CCTV.

The lost colony of great crested newts was found by water engineers surveying buried drainage channels at Ridley Bank service reservoir, near Nantwich.

The find prompted a delicate rescue involving good old-fashioned engineering ingenuity and licensed ecologists on stand-by.

Senior project engineer Ian Gregory, of water firm United Utilities, said the team knew immediately what they had found. The reservoir is on a known newt migration route between a nearby pond and a wood.

“As soon as we saw them we straight away started a full blown rescue. They’re a protected species so we have an environmental and legal commitment to take their safety seriously.”

But extricating the creatures from a network of narrow drainage channels via shafts which were seven metres deep was not easy. Ian and his team eventually came up with a system of catch nets, buckets, manual pulleys and very gentle jet washing to flush them out safely.

Not one of the more than 30 newts of all ages and sizes were harmed in any way. All were handed over to an ecologist who placed them in a specially prepared area in a nearby wood.

Said Ian: “They must have found something to eat down there but if a newt can be relieved they must have been to be in the daylight. It can’t be pleasant to be in the dark in concrete drains with no means of escape. Newts don’t really like being in water, except to breed.

“It was all done really sympathetically. The ecologist had made a suitable area for them with wood bark and leaf materials for them to squiggle under and hibernate.”

United Utilities survey work was part of a multi-million pound maintenance programme on its 660 water service reservoirs and contact tanks across the North West. Reservoirs like the one at Ridley play a vital role in local water supplies and the drainage channels are an important engineering feature to safely divert rainwater.

After removing the newts, the channels were cleaned and de-silted and fitted with new plastic sealed manhole covers to prevent any future ingress by unwitting amphibians.