We didn’t have a particularly cold winter, however amphibians are now starting to move towards their breeding ponds and there is only 2.5 months to get started with your surveys. This is the only window to undertake eDNA, great crested newt presence/absence and population monitoring surveys to support your planning application. If this window is missed, great crested newts can cause significant delays to your project programmes, and can affect your layout.
Here is a quick guide to how you can prevent great crested newts from becoming a headache on your projects.
Why should I consider newts?
In the UK we have three native species of newt and only the largest, the great crested newt is a European Protected Species.
Under the current legislation, it is illegal to deliberately catch, injure or kill this species. In addition both their aquatic and terrestrial habitat is protected. This applies throughout the year whether great created newt are present or not at the time that work is being carried out.
Terrestrial habitat can include grassland, scrub, woodland, hedgerows and stone walls
How should I be considering newts?
Not all sites will require newt surveys. As part of any preliminary ecological assessment the suitability of habitats on site for great crested newts should be considered. Great crested newt surveys are likely to be required if:
- Ponds are present on the site with suitability to support great crested newts (whether they are affected or not) and suitable terrestrial habitat will be affected
- If suitable ponds are located within 500m of the site (even if they aren’t present on the site) and suitable terrestrial habitat present on the site.
Great crested newts breed within ponds, and can use habitat up to 500m from a breeding pond. This means that when assessing whether you need to undertake great crested newt surveys you need to look at a much wider area than the site boundary and immediate surroundings.
What do I need to do?
The first stage of a great crested newt survey is a one off assessment of any ponds on or within 500m the site. This Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment can normally be done in conjunction with a preliminary ecological assessment, providing access to all ponds is granted. These surveys are not time restricted.
If the initial Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment records suitable habitat both on the site and suitable breeding opportunities within the ponds, further great crested newt presence/absence surveys will be required to inform planning.
Presence/Absence or population monitoring surveys can only be undertaken between mid-March and mid-June, with at least half the visits spread out between mid-April and mid-May. They must be completed to inform the planning application and the mitigation licence if required.
Traditional method Vs eDNA testing
eDNA testing was approved last year as an approved technique for determining the presence or likely absence of great crested newts. The survey involves collecting water samples, and can be more cost effective than undertaking traditional presence/absence surveys.
eDNA surveys also have a seasonal restriction, and can only be undertaken between late April and the end of June. They cannot be used for any waterbodies which support an inflow or are flowing watercourses.
Advantages of eDNA testing as an alternative to the presence/absence test:
- More cost effective
- Can produce higher detectability rates
- Can provide quicker results
- If a large number of ponds needs to be surveyed, this could quickly and cost effectively scope some ponds out
- Traditional methods still need to be employed if great crested newt presence is found. If this is the case, a fast turnaround will be needed to ensure that the survey window is not missed
- If a positive result is returned at the end of June, traditional methods will need to be undertaken the following spring which could lead to project delays
- False negative or false positive results can be returned if testing is undertaken in the wrong conditions
More information about this methodology can be found on our Blog