Newts | Wildlife & Habitats | Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust
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Three species of newt are native to Britain – the great crested, smooth and palmate. All occur naturally in Nottinghamshire, although palmate are rare and currently known at only one site. Great crested newts are one of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and have special legal protection above the common protection under the Countryside Act.


Distinguishing between the species is relatively easy during the breeding season when they are most likely to be encountered, but it becomes more difficult later in the year. Great crested newts are the easiest to identify – they can grow to 16cm in length, and have a rough warty skin, hence their alternative name of “Warty Newt”. The back and sides are very dark, and the belly is orange or yellow with black spots. In the breeding season, the male develops a serrated crest that runs from the head to the base of the tail. Both smooth and palmate newts are much smaller, the former reaching around 10cm in length, the latter rarely more than 8cm – and neither has warty skin.

During the breeding season, male smooth newts have a high undulating crest running from the top of the head to the tip of the tail. They are normally olive-green above, with black blotches, whilst the belly is bright orange spotted with black. Females lack a crest and are usually light brown or sandy yellow above, with a pale orange belly. The male palmate newt can be distinguished from the male smooth newt by its smaller crest, strongly webbed back feet, and by the thin fleshy filament that protrudes several millimetres from the tip of its tail. Females are harder to tell apart, but those of the palmate newt tend to have smaller feet.


On land, newts eat a varied diet of slugs, snails, earthworms and small insects. In the water they eat small invertebrates, fish fry, tadpoles and amphibian eggs.


Newts start to return to their ponds during February and March, although the main breeding period is in April and May. In all three species, there is an elaborate courtship ritual in which the male “dances” in front of the female, undulating his crest and showing off his fine colours. After mating, the female lays her eggs singly – using her hind feet to fold the leaf of an underwater plant around each one.

The newt tadpoles hatch in about two weeks – miniatures of their parents, but with feathery external gills. From the start they are carnivorous, preying upon small aquatic insects, frog and toad tadpoles, and even each other. Other water creatures prey on them in turn. By the time they are ready to leave the pond in August, their numbers are much reduced. In common with frog and toad tadpoles, some may remain in the pond for a further year before undergoing metamorphosis – this can happen if the food supply is poor.

Dispersal and Hibernation

After leaving the pond at the end of the breeding season, the adult newts take up residence under logs and stones, in crevices in walls, and in other similar places. They frequently remain in these during hibernation, although as winter approaches some will bury themselves in the soil or find their way into underground cavities around the foundations of buildings. Several species of newt can often be found hibernating together. They will sometimes share their winter quarters with frogs and toads, too.

Amphibians and the Law

All native British amphibians are protected under The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, and the sale of our native newt species, including their eggs and tadpoles, is prohibited. Great crested newts are a threatened species and receive additional protection – it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure, possess or disturb the animals or to damage their habitat, and a license is required to handle them.

All stages of their life cycle are protected, and a licence is required from English Nature before great crested newts can be caught, even for survey work. 

You can also download and print this Newts fact sheet

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