I visited the reserve at Wymondham again last weekend to see if the newts had left their hibernation and moved to the ponds. It is a place that holds a special place in my heart for the memory of the first time I went. I grew up with an active interest in birds and other wildlife, indeed one of my earliest memories is looking for newts with my uncle and aunt in the ponds in woods on the Framingham Pigot estate. But by my early twenties, diverted by life’s pleasures (though always with an eye on the skies and a general delight in being outside) I no longer actively sought opportunities to observe nature.
One university Easter holiday, and in a slough of my own making, I by chance heard about the reserve established to compensate for the new Wymondham bypass intersecting a significant amphibian breeding site. On a whim I headed down there one bright spring day. I finally found the reserve tucked away down a cul-de-sac beyond the railway line and parked up by the newly constructed footbridge linking the ponds on either side of the A11, with its special fencing to prevent amphibian road-crossing. As I approached the large pond on the west side, the surface seemed to bubble and move. Closer still, I could see the multitude of toads that clambered and grappled in their breeding frenzy. The sheer vitality within meters of rumbling traffic amazed me, and I walked around the pond delighted by this fecund spectacle.
Knowing that the official reserve was over the bridge, I expected that this was simply the appetiser and that a newt spectacular lay ahead. When I found the smaller set of sandy-bottomed ponds that lie to the east of the road I was initially disappointed to see them devoid of writhing limbs. Standing for a few minutes, looking into their clear waters, my eyes started to adjust and focus beyond the surface-reflected glare, and I discerned dark shapes outlined against the sand. After a time I realised that amongst the leaves and twigs, hanging spread-eagled in the water as if set in a display cabinet, was the unmistakeable shape of a newt. Once I had seen one, they became easier to spot and I realised that the water was thick with them. I experienced for the first time in years the joy of finding what I had sought, and the realisation that this natural phenomenon was both ancient and new each year, and ran along regardless of my preoccupations. And though threatened by humanity’s actions, there was a vigour to these little creatures that gave me hope that this annual moot would continue long after the road and I were gone.
I have returned several times over the years, though my timing is never quite right. I have never again seen the multitude of amphibians that I did on that first visit, and that enchanted and moved me so. Beautiful, and strangely tranquil as it is, I doubt I shall ever again be transported and gently healed as I was on that April morning in the dying days of the last millennium.