Great crested newts found in a Coldingham manhole

One of the great crested newts found among telephone cables in Coldingham
One of the great crested newts found among telephone cables in Coldingham

An Openreach engineer found some unexpected visitors in a manhole when he was working in Coldingham - a family of great crested newts.

Broadband network planner Steve Jones, 57, was surveying the manhole prior to Openreach, BT’s local network business, rolling out superfast broadband in the area, and when he opened it he found the family of great crested newts living happily alongside the telephone cables.

Steve immediately recognised them as a protected species and knew that to disturb, injure or kill them is against European law.

He said: “A community of great crested newts was the last thing I expected to find.

“Some of them had climbed onto the cables inside the hole. I recognised them because I was interested in amphibians and reptiles when I was young. So I took a photo and sent it to a friend, who confirmed what they were.”

Steve got in touch with an environmental consultant for advice as well as the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC).

“It’s a new habitat in the area for great crested newts and the conservationists at ARC were really excited to hear they’re spreading to this area,” said Steve.

An environmental consultancy with a licence to work with protected species was also called in. They found seven great crested newts, five smooth and three palmate newts at the top of the manhole but it was impossible to see if there were more because the manhole was full of water so it was carefully drained and checked.

“We recovered two more great crested newts, but the real conundrum is what they were doing there in the first place”, said Steve, who lives in West Sussex.

Peter Leach, a herpetologist (specialist in reptiles and amphibians) and environmental consultant based in North Berwick, provided expert advice, adding: “This was really unusual – how these newts got into the manhole remains a complete mystery. The access points around the manhole are either dry or blocked, so we may never know how they ended up here.

“The species isn’t common in Scotland and weren’t previously known to be present in this area. They need ponds for breeding and suitable habitat for feeding and hibernation.

“The most important thing was to find a safe new home for the newts. Working with ARC and the Scottish Borders Amphibian and Reptile Group, who had recently carried out DNA testing of nearby water pools, we were able to find a suitable pond to relocate the newts.”

Sara Budge, programme director for Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband, said: “Finding these newts was a tad unusual – but all part of a day’s work.”