Great crested newts are fully protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and classified as European Protected Species (EPS) under The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended). It is an offence to kill, injure or disturb great crested newts and to destroy any place used for their rest or shelter.
Great crested newts are a nocturnal species and mostly inhabit terrestrial habitats; however they migrate to breeding ponds from March to mate and lay eggs in the leaves of marginal aquatic plants.
It can be a planning application requirement to undertake a great crested newt survey within a 500 metre radius of a proposed development site, as their presence may pose a development constraint and require mitigation to protect local great crested newt populations.
Habitat Suitability Index:
Before undertaking a great crested newt survey, it may be preferable to carry out a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI), which evaluates a pond’s habitat quality and quantity. If an assessed pond’s HSI provides a high score, the pond is more likely to support great crested newts than a pond with a lower score. However, the HSI only provides an estimated measure of suitability and should not be accepted as a substitute for undertaking an actual species presence/absence survey.
eDNA Water Testing:
Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis is a new method approved by Natural England for assessing the presence or absence of great crested newts in ponds or other water features. Water samples from the pond are obtained by an Ecologist adhering to a specific protocol and using a kit obtained from an approved eDNA testing laboratory. The samples are sent off for analysis and the result should give either a negative or positive result for great crested newt presence. If the results are positive for great crested newt, then a bottle-trap survey may be necessary to inform a population analysis and any subsequent mitigation required.
Wren Ecology has undertaken training in obtaining water samples for eDNA sampling and can advise whether this technique may be suitable for individual ponds/water features in the first instance.
Great Crested Newt Presence/Absence Survey:
Natural England specifies that a minimum of four survey visits per pond must be made; with an additional two visits if great crested newts are present in order to establish a population estimate. In accordance with species survey guidelines, the survey will be programmed between mid-March to mid-June with at least two visits during mid-April to mid-May.
The survey will comprise the following elements:
- Torching; and
- Egg searching.
Plastic bottle-traps are partially submerged and secured into the survey pond during the early evening. Shortly after dusk the pond is searched using high powered torches to identify any nocturnal activity and species presence. Throughout the night, newts swim into the bottle traps and are unable to escape; however an air-bubble in the bottle-trap allows them to breathe.
The bottle-traps are collected early the following morning before they have a chance to warm up as the daytime air temperature increases. The species trapped in the bottles are recorded, then immediately released back into the pond. After the newts have been released, an egg search is carried out within the pond’s aquatic habitat.
Bottle trapping is a highly effective way to confirm great crested newt presence or absence; however this survey methodology must always be carried out by experienced surveyors licenced by Natural England. Wren Ecology is licenced by Natural England to carry out such surveys.