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Bat Surveys, Ecological Consultancy, Protected Species, Ecological Appraisals, Habitat Surveys, EcIA, Bat Licence, Mitigation, Nottingham, Midlands, UK, Experts, Professional, Bats, Ecology, CIEEM, BCT, Bat Research, PEA, Bat Reports
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Great Crested Newt Surveys

B.A.T. Ecological can help you and your project with great crested newt surveys, reporting, licensing, and mitigation / compensation design and implementation - please get in touch

great crested newt surveys

Photo by Matt Cook

Photo by Matt Cook

Please get in touch if B.A.T. Ecological can help you and your project with any great crested newt surveys, reporting, licensing, or mitigation / compensation design and implementation - info@bat-ecological.co.uk | +44 (0) 7870 157022.

The great crested newt Triturus cristatus - or GCN - is the largest of Britain’s three native newt species. It is very dark in colour, with an orange and black spotted belly, and its characteristic ‘warty’ skin means it is sometimes referred to as the ‘warty newt’. During the breeding season an adult male great crested newt develops an enlarged ‘crest’ along its back and a silver streak in the middle of the tail to attract females.

Great crested newts, their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are protected under both EU and UK law. The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) make the following activities affecting great crested newts illegal:

  • capturing, killing, disturbing or injuring them;

  • damaging or destroying their breeding sites or resting places;

  • obstructing access to their resting or sheltering places;

  • possessing, selling, controlling or transporting live or dead newts (or parts of them); and,

  • taking great crested newt eggs

It is therefore necessary to acquire a European Protected Species (EPS) derogation / development licence from Natural England (NE) or Natural Resources Wales (NRW) if an activity cannot avoid harming or disturbing great crested newts or damaging their habitats.

Great crested newts may breed in fresh water bodies (e.g. ponds and ditches) but spend much of their lives on land and can therefore be found in a variety of habitats including farmland, woodland, grassland, brownfield sites, and quarries; wherever a suitable water body is nearby, a population may be present. If a population is present then building and development work can potentially harm great crested newts if, for example, it:

  • removes habitat or makes it unsuitable for them;

  • fragments or isolates their habitats;

  • significantly changes the habitats of their prey species (aquatic invertebrates);

  • increases shade and silt in ponds or other water bodies used by the species;

  • changes the water table; or,

  • increases the prevalence of pollutants that can run off into ponds, perhaps by increasing the numbers of people or the amount of traffic in an area

A great crested newt  Triturus cristatus  (photo by Matt Cook)

A great crested newt Triturus cristatus (photo by Matt Cook)

As with all protected species, wherever there is a reasonable likelihood of great crested newts being present and affected by a proposed development it is essential that their presence or otherwise is established before your project can acquire planning permission, along with the extent to which they are likely to be affected by the proposals if they are present.

The first step in this process is usually desk study to ascertain whether there are any water bodies that could support great crested newts nearby, and whether there are any local records of the species. If there are any water bodies present within the Zone of Influence of the site (typically 500 m but this can depend on the scale of the development) then the suitability of these water bodies for breeding great crested newts is usually assessed by ascribing them a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) score. This is usually based on ten indices as described in Oldham et al. (2000), which is a reasonable measure of habitat suitability for the species, and can therefore provide a platform for deciding whether great crested newt surveys of the water body are required.

A HSI assessment is not a substitute for presence / likely absence great crested newt surveys (see below) however, and even where HSI scores indicate that a water body is likely to be unsuitable for the species it may still be advisable to undertake presence / likely absence surveys as a precautionary measure to ensure there are no late surprises.

Standard presence / likely absence survey methods for great crested newts are normally considered to comprise bottle-trapping and torching for the animals at night, and egg-searching and hand-netting for the newts by day. Current guidelines in England (and adopted in Wales) dictate that a suite of four survey visits using at least 2-3 of these techniques should be undertaken during the peak great crested newt breeding season from mid-March to mid-June, with at least two of these visits undertaken between mid-April and mid-May. In the event that great crested newts are discovered during these four survey visits then it is usually necessary to undertake two further visits to determine the population size class of these animals for any EPS development licence application.

As an alternative to the standard survey methods described above however, or in some instances to augment them, eDNA (Environmental DNA) sampling of water bodies is now also used to detect the microscopic biomarkers belonging to great crested newts. A 2013 study published by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and conducted by a consortium including the Freshwater Habitats Trust, showed that eDNA sampling used to determine the presence of great crested newts in water bodies had an accuracy level of 99.3% compared to only 76% via the standard bottle trapping technique.

Based on the above research, eDNA sampling for the presence of great crested newts is therefore now recognised by both NE and NRW, which can be good news for developers as this approach is typically less expensive and laborious than the ‘traditional’ 4-6 surveys using ‘standard’ techniques.

It should be noted however, that NE and NRW currently only accept eDNA results for EPS licensing purposes if samples have been collected (by trained and appropriately licensed persons) between 15th April and 30th June, which the research identified as the preferred sampling window for accurate results.

It should also be noted that eDNA sampling cannot provide a population size class assessment, which is often required to apply for an EPS development licence, and therefore where positive eDNA results are returned the full suite of six surveys using ‘standard’ methods is currently still required. To avoid potential delays because a sufficient number of surveys cannot be completed after a positive eDNA result, many developers are therefore guided by their ecologists to undertake at least one or two ‘traditional’ surveys in the first month of the great crested newt survey season (i.e. in the period mid-March to mid-April).

Note that in some areas of the country Natural England has recently introduced ‘District Licensing’ for great crested newts - you can read more about this here and here.

Please get in touch if B.A.T. Ecological can help you and your project with any great crested newt surveys, reporting, licensing, or mitigation / compensation design and implementation - info@bat-ecological.co.uk | +44 (0) 7870 157022.