Natural England and Woking Borough Council have launched a pilot scheme to explore whether a new system can be implemented to save developers time and money whilst providing more comprehensive mitigation and compensation for great crested newts. The main changes will include:
great crested newt survey
At a time that most ecological consultants are out undertaking great crested newt surveys and developers are squeezing in last minute commissions for 2016 the BBC News and Ecosulis are also considering what the future holds for this European Protected Species (EPS).
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.
Pre-submission Screening Service (PSS) for Wildlife Licensing
Great crested newts (Tritiurus cristatus) are well known within ecological consultancy as they are a protected species which often crop up within areas of proposed development. They are sensitive creatures which are vulnerable to water changes and therefore suffer due to natural forces including; ponds overgrowing, shallowing and eutrophication, as well as non-natural forces; industrial water pollution, destruction and drainage of ponds, introduced predatory fish and habitat fragmentation. But there may be another force to add into the mix…
Environmental DNA (eDNA) is DNA which is collected from water in which plants or animals live rather than from the organism directly. A method has been developed in ponds in the UK to use eDNA to determine presence or absence of Great Crested Newts within a waterbody.
Great crested newts have a very limited survey season. Presence/absence and population surveys can only be undertaken when newts are in the ponds for breeding, which is usually between mid-March and mid-June. At least half the surveys must be undertaken between mid-April and mid-May. Surveys comprise between 4 and 6 survey visits, and torch searches, bottle trapping and egg searches are usually required. Habitat assessments can be undertaken all year round.
The Ranavirus, first reported in the UK in the 1980s, is responsible for killing thousands of frogs, toads and newts in the UK every year. The cause of the spread of the disease is as yet unknown, however some populations have recovered following an outbreak. The second disease is the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which was first discovered in the UK in 2004 and is thought to be the main threat to amphibian populations worldwide and can destroy entire populations of amphibians.
Natural England has recently been looking to reduce the amount of Further Information Requests with regard to great crested newt (GCN) licensing. The reason for this is that these requests often slow down the application process and this change helps to make it more efficient, particularly where only minor issues need to be resolved following assessment of the method statement.
Although the cold weather is still upon us, spring will soon be descending and amphibians will be beginning to wake up from hibernation.
Natural England is launching a detailed great crested newt survey programme across England. The first phase of the programme includes habitat suitability surveys and water quality assessment of a sample of ponds.