Creating a hibernaculum

Edward Ainsworthin Conservation & Ecology

Eddie Ainsworth, Course Manager at Avro Golf Club in Stockport, explains how, by using some rocks, rubble and logs, he was able to create a hibernaculum for amphibians alongside a ditch which needed a bit of TLC.

The word amphibian means two-lives; why? Well, they live the first part of their lives in water and the last part on land. Amphibians are cold-blooded. This means their bodies don't automatically regulate their temperature; they must cool off and warm up by using their surroundings.

Amphibians have adapted to live in a number of different habitats, including streams, forests, meadows, bogs, ponds and lakes. Most of them like to live near water and in damp areas.

Our native amphibians (including species of newts, frogs and toads) are important predators, eating a wide variety of pest and insects. Habitat loss has had an extremely detrimental effect on amphibian populations, and this is one of the reasons I decided to build a hibernaculum for Avro Golf Club.

Hibernacula are underground chambers that amphibians and reptiles use through the winter to protect them from the cold. You can create a hibernaculum from piles of rubble, rock, bracken and logs.

To build a hibernaculum, create a mound containing said materials which will create gaps and allow amphibians to access the centre of the mound. A layer of soil can be laid over the top of the mound as long as it does not block the hibernaculum's access points.

It is a good idea to place rocks on the south side of the hibernaculum; this will also give the amphibians a suitable place to bask.

When building a hibernacula for amphibians, give a thought to planting underwater plants. These will provide egg-laying sites as well as an area of shelter. Plants growing underwater also provide homes and food for the invertebrates upon which newts and their tadpoles feed. Tall emergent vegetation should not dominate the pond to the point where it shades out other less dominant plants, as this will reduce the diversity of the pond.

When creating a hibernaculum, it is better to keep the pond fish free. In general, fish are effective predators of amphibians, particularly their tadpoles.

Even small species, such as the sticklebacks, prey on amphibian eggs and tadpoles.

When managing a golf course, you may not always have the time to build a hibernaculum in this way, so it is important to remember also that brash left over from management work, log piles and debris also provide excellent sheltering, egg laying and hibernation sites for amphibians and reptiles.

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