What's so ‘great’ about great crested newts?

Posted by Sara King BSc (Hons) AIEEM on 30/01/2013

As great crested newt survey season approaches, we ask what is so ‘great’ about great crested newts? And why do they always seem to cause delays and additional expense to development programmes? Do you ever get the feeling they seem to be everywhere in the UK?

In actual fact they are predominantly located in the south west and are Britain’s largest newt species. They are absent from Ireland and from many areas of Europe.  They appear to be almost prehistoric, with their warty appearance and the dinosaur crest on the males. Great crested newts are a European Protected Species. This means that great crested newts themselves are protected, as well as their aquatic and terrestrial habitat. They are protected because their populations are internationally declining.

Great crested newt survey

Newt Surveyor


If a site provides suitable opportunities for great crested newts, then planners usually require at least a presence/absence survey to support planning applications. Even sites which do not contain ponds could require a great crested newt survey. If a site provides suitable terrestrial habitat (e.g. woodland, tussocky grassland, scrub) and there are suitable ponds within 500m of the site, then a great crested newt survey may be required.

The survey season for great crested newts is restricted to a few months when great crested newts use ponds and aquatic habitat for breeding. This is usually between mid-March and mid-June, but is dependant on weather conditions and temperature.

A great crested newt presence/absence survey requires four survey visits. Each survey visit usually includes an evening survey to undertake torch searches, egg searches and to lay bottle traps. A second survey is then undertaken the following morning to collect the bottle traps left within ponds overnight, and record any amphibians caught in the traps. The visits should be spread out over the survey season, with at least half of these visits undertaken during peak survey season, between mid-April and mid-May.

If great crested newts are recorded during the presence/absence surveys, then an additional two survey visits are required to estimate great crested newt population size. A European Protected Species Licence then may be required to allow works to continue on site, and suitable mitigation incorporated within the masterplan.

It is therefore important to schedule in your surveys into project timescales at an early stage to avoid costly delays. This should include the survey period, as well as any licence applications and mitigation required as a result of the surveys.