Great Crested Newt survey

Great Crested Newt and their habitats are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. In summary it is against the law to:

  • Capture, kill, disturb or injure Great Crested Newts
  • Damage/destroy habitat used by Great Crested Newts for breeding/resting
  • Obstruct access to habitat used for resting/shelter

Great Crested Newts are amphibians which spend a significant portion their life cycle on land where they feed on invertebrates and over-winter in sheltered spots including under logs or rocks, in compost heaps and buried within mud. In the early spring they emerge from their wintering sites and head to ponds to breed. During the breeding season male Great Crested Newts develop a large jagged crest (giving them their name) which they use in their mating displays. Newts lay their eggs on submerged vegetation, gently folding over the leaf to protect the egg. Onced hatched, the larvae spend the early part of their life cycle in ponds, before emerging to forage on land.

Research suggests that the majority of Great Crested Newts normally remain within 250m of their breeding ponds, with some individuals travelling up to 1km in search of new breeding ponds (Froglife, 2001).

Great Crested Newts in the UK as a whole are widely distributed, but populations within this can be patchy, particularly in the South West where they are almost absent from Cornwall and only remaining in isolated populations in Devon. To aid in determining when Great Crested Newts should be considered at development sites, Devon County Council has produced Consultation Zones around existing known populations of the species in Devon (maps showing the extent of these consultation zones can be found at ). Sites with suitable habitats within these zones may require survey work to establish presence of absence of the species and the need for licensing.

The following survey methods can be undertaken at a site:

Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment

This is a type of rapid risk assessment tool designed to quickly assess the suitability of a pond to support populations of Great Crested Newt. It can provide useful supplementary information but is by no means a replacement for other survey techniques. It involves scoring each pond according to a set of criteria (Oldham et al., 2001) including geographical location, size, presence of fish, shade cover, vegetation cover, water quality and the quality of adjacent terrestrial habitat.

eDNA Analysis

This is a relatively new survey technique whereby pond samples are collected by a suitably trained ecologist for laboratory analysis. Environmental DNA (eDNA) occurs as a result of cell shedding by an organism into its environment (for example as a result of deposition of faeces, skin shedding, decomposition of deceased individuals and mucus secretions). In aquatic habitats this phenomenon can be used to test for presence of particular organisms (including Great Crested Newts) via qPCR analysis of water samples. Samples will return positive or negative results for the presence of the species in a particular waterbody. Water samples must be collected between late April and June, and ponds which have in-flows or out-flows are generally considered unsuitable for testing. It is worth noting that whilst this is a useful tool for proving absence at low risk sites, where positive results are returned full population estimate surveys as described below are currently still required by Natural England to support an application for a European Protected Species Licence (EPSL). Burton Reid had staff specially trained in the collection of water samples for eDNA analysis and a good working relationship with local specialist laboratories.

Presence / absence and population estimate surveys

Traditional presence / absence surveys for Great Crested Newt at ponds involve x4 repeated visits between mid-March and mid-June. If presence is confirmed within these visits then an additional x2 survey visits may be required to gain a population estimate to support a licence application to Natural England for works affecting the species.

Survey visits involve an evening visit to deploy bottle traps at ponds and to undertake a torchlight survey during dark hours. An early morning visit is undertaken the following day to empty and collect the bottle traps and search for Great Crested Newt eggs (if breeding has not yet been confirmed at the pond). From these surveys a peak population count can be taken to estimate the total population size.

All members of staff at Burton Reid hold Natural England Level 1 Class licences to survey and handle Great Crested Newts as a minimum.

European Protected Species Licensing

Due to the legal protection received by Great Crested Newts and their habitats, a licence from Natural England is required for any development works resulting in the disturbance or destruction of Great Crested Newt habitat or under circumstances which may reasonably lead to risk of injury or death of individual Great Crested Newts. Licence applications to Natural England must be supported by the full suite of population estimate surveys described above. Applications can only be submitted following receipt of full planning permission (where applicable). Licences granted by Natural England frequently include mitigation measures (to be agreed during the consultation process) to ensure the long-term viability of Great Crested Newt populations. Mitigation measures can include translocation of the resident newt population to retained or adjacent suitable habitat, enhancement of the receptor habitat, creation of new ponds (where ponds are being lost as part of the proposals), and creation of suitable terrestrial habitat in the form of rough grassland or hibernacula.

Burton Reid is well placed to provide expert advice on mitigation schemes for Great Crested Newt, with extensive experience in successfully obtaining EPS licences from Natural England.

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