Bittern’s Breakfast and Avocet’s Lunch

Ever wondered what Cley’s birds eat for brekkie and lunch ?

Find out by joining us at Cley Marshes on Thursday 17th September. On this full day workshop, we will be looking at what delicacies the bitterns, avocets and other waders, wildfowl and gulls dine on at Cley Marshes in restaurants such as saline pools, reedbed and mudflats, and how coastal ecology provides the menus.

After a morning classroom briefing on coastal ecology and birds, and some “here’s some we prepared earlier” tastings, we will be ‘grubbing’ about in the marshes in a “behind-the-scenes” practical session to look for delicacies on the menu for birds. We will test various sampling methods using nets, forks, spades, buckets and sieves.  Getting covered in mud optional – and sandwiches are available instead of eating the avocet’s lunch !

There will be an afternoon session to examine samples upclose in the lab for a gourmet –
session separating food into their main taxonomic groups and training in using keys to
identify as far as possible.

If you want to see the difference between a ragworm and a lugworm – and a goby and a blenny – and to know a bit more about what Cley’s bird eat, this is a course for you.

The workshop will be lead by Norfolk marine wildlife expert, Rob Spray, who is an enthusiastic and entertaining tutor, ably assisted by NWS invert expert Ben Christie.

STOP PRESS : Ben Moore will present a summary of his thesis on the changes to the marsh invert community due to the storm surge.

Workshop Tutors: Rob Spray, Ben Christie

Date and Time: Thursday 17th September 2015, 10:30 am – 4:00 pm

Location: Cley Nature Reserve

Cost: £75 plus V.A.T., or £45 plus V.A.T. for concessions, including lunch.

Booking: To book a place, contact Ben Christie at Norfolk Wildlife Services by emailing, or by telephoning 01603 625 540.

See also

Great crested newt mitigation and translocation

When should I think about great crested newt mitigation ?

If you are planning on developing a site and have had an ecological survey to assess impacts to wildlife read on. The results of this survey have identified potential impacts on great crested newts in and around the proposed development area.  You need to start thinking about mitigation for great crested newts at this point. For example you may need to create new habitats offsite to offset any damage on site.

What happens if there are great crested newts in an area for proposed development?

You must apply for a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence from Natural England (NE). There is no charge by NE for EPSM licenses, however, the development must pass three legal tests. The activity must be for a purpose of public interest (for example, for providing housing ). There must be no satisfactory alternative that will cause less harm to the species. The activity must not harm the long-term conservation status of the species.

Planning permission for any development of the proposed site should be granted prior to applying for an EPSM licence. Once a licence has been applied for, you can usually expect a licensing decision within 30 days, but NE is currently assessing a large volume of applications.

A mitigation strategy forms part of the licence application. This both safeguards the great crested newt population before and after works and prevents harm to the individual animals. There will be a legally binding Method Statement which will include methods e.g. for translocation to remove individual newts, and a timetable.  Although these can be varied if something unexpected happens, not complying with the licence is a legal offence, so they need to be well thought through.


Sometimes it is not possible to retain newt populations within a development site. In this case they will need to be moved – known as “translocation” or trapping out.  Translocation of Great Crested Newts will always involve a licence application to Natural England.

In the application Natural England will want to see that :

– The translocation site is as near as possible to the original site. In general over a mile would be unacceptable to them except in exceptional circumstances.  This is because the mitigation needs to maintain the populations at a local level, but also due to the risks of spreading chytrid and other amphibian diseases across the countryside.

– Any ponds removed or adversely affected will be replaced, preferably at a least a 2:1 ratio, . This is based on the presumption that not all ponds will be successful for newts.  Sometimes enhancement of existing ponds is possible e.g. old overgrown ponds now unsuitable for newts. SUDS ponds or balancing lagoons are not suitable.  The pond needs to be specifically for the species.

– There will need to be new habitat created or enhanced at least equal in area to that lost and/or of a higher quality. Examples might include arable land being replaced by grassland or improved grass leys replaced by scrub and woodland.

– In general you will need a survey to see if there are newts already at the translocation site. Translocating newts into ponds with existing populations is not acceptable, as there is no net gain for the species, since they just compete with newts already there.

– The management of the site will need to be guaranteed “in perpetuity” – normally by a Section 106 agreement with the landowner.  This is clearly less complex where the land is within the blue line of the development site owner or even with the red line.

Trapping a site out can be a lengthy process and take over a year allowing for licence application and seasons.  Trapping will normally be for 60 suitable days, but with additional requirements for breeding ponds. Suitable days are normally during spring and autumn, when temperatures are warm enough but not too dry for the newts to move around. When conditions are not suitable ( e.g. there is no rain for several days or it is too cold ), then trapping nights become “invalid” and the period of time needs to be extended.  Thus 60 trapping nights could in reality extend over an additional nights say or be caught short by the autumnal frost or a summer drought.

Planning law says that the local planning authority have to assess whether a European Protected Species for a site is likely to be granted by Natural England ( e.g. Morge versus Hants and more recently Elsworthy Farm judgement ) prior to granting permission.

How does the licence work when developing a site?

You need to keep a copy of the licence on site, and you may be inspected by Natural England to see if you are complying with it – they can request to see this copy.  Certain works will be carried out or supervised by your licenced ecologist, but there will be other responsibilities resting on the client. Make sure all contractors coming on site are inducted on it, and stick to what it says. At the end of the works, you need to make a licence return to prove that they have been carried out, and monitoring of any new ponds is necessary to give some measure of success.

For great crested newt legislation, see this post.

Great crested newt nocturnal surveys off to a smooth start

Gravid female Triturus vulgaris

Female Smooth newt Triturus vulgaris

The newt surveying season has got off to a smooth start this year in 2015, once the weather had finally settled.

On our very first nocturnal surveys, we came across beautiful smooth newts like the one below. This is a heavily “gravid” female, which was evidently preparing to lay its bellyfull of eggs on submerged plants.  The species is smaller than great crested newts, shares its spotted belly, but lacks its dark warty skin.  The two species often live together in the same ponds, although the smooth newts are more widespread and seem to prefer shallower and smaller sites.

Hopefully next week we will find the first great crested newt of the season!

Great crested newts and the law

Legal protection

Great crested newts and their habitats are protected under both UK and European Law via the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and great crested newts are also classified as European Protected Species (EPS) under The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended).   This protection applies both to the individual animals and to the places they live, so includes ponds and rough grassland used by them at different times of year.

Great crested newt

Great crested newt in the hand

You’re breaking the law if you:

  • capture, kill, disturb or injure great crested newts (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • damage or destroy a breeding or resting place (even accidentally)
  • obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • possess, sell, control or transport live or dead newts, or parts of them
  • take great crested newt eggs

Some of these offences apply regardless of whether it was either as a result of a deliberate or reckless action (by not taking enough care ).  The offences are criminal and not civil and people suspected of carrying them out can be arrested for questionning by a police constable.

Using bright torches to look for newts is regarded as serious disturbance for great crested newts. All the Norfolk Wildlife Services team are able to carry out surveys for newts, because we have licences issued by Natural England, which we renew annually.

In order to carry out works (e.g. residential development and a change of land use) that might affect newts or newt habitat, you will need a licence from Natural England.  Before this can be granted  can take place, great crested newt mitigation may be required.

For more information about great crested newt mitigation and licences, see this post.

Further reading

Natural England provide a lot of helpful advice for developers and individuals who want to know more about protected species and the law.

If you want to read more around great crested newt protection, significant wildlife legislation includes:

  • Bern convention 1979 : Appendix III;
  • Wildlife & Countryside Act (as Amended) 1981 : Schedule 5;
  • European Commission Habitats Directive 1992 : Annex II and IV;
  • Conservation Regulations 1994 : Schedule 2;
  • Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW 2000).

In Bern 1979, the eponymous convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats took place to ensure the conservation and protection of wild plant and animal species and their natural habitats. The UK ratified the Bern convention in 1982. The obligations of the convention have been put into national law by means of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.

Similarly the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) are the transposition of the European Commission Habitats Directive 1992.

£50,000 pond restoration at Downham Market nature reserve

Norfolk Wildlife Services has been advising the King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council on a £50,000 pond restoration project at the Willows Nature Reserve in Downham Market.

The Willows Nature Reserve County Wildlife Site is a fantastic area, adjacent to the pond restoration project area, with thick stands of common reed and bulrush. In 2007, water vole presence within the reedbed was discovered, showing the importance of this small site to fenland wildlife.

Working closely with the Borough Council, we have arrived at a plan, which will restore the pond by removing build up of silt, but not impact on existing wildlife such as reedbeds and water voles. The Fen Group, who have worked with us on a number of other projects, will be undertaking the desilting work under our method statement.  Further drainage work and pipework repairs in the nature reserve will also bring in rainwater and surface water from the reed bed and regulate the new levels within the pond.

Silt will often build up within old ponds and may require removal mechanically. However the silt needs a considerable area to put it in, meaning that area will be buried under nutrient rich slops. As such it needs to be made sure in pond restoration, that in restoring one habitat another isn’t destroyed. In this case, we were able to find an ideal location for a temporary bund to allow the silt to settle out.

Work has commenced and we look forward to seeing the results this summer with abundant fish and invertebrates.

You can read more about it on


Winter 2015 Newsletter available online


Our Winter Newsletter is available to download now as a pdf.

In this issue, our newsletter bring you highlights of some of our recent projects, changes to our team, and offer advice on key ecological dates not to miss in the spring. We look forward to working with you through 2015! Inside:

  • New winter homes for great crested newts, and new survey techniques for 2015
  • Creating habitats for feeding winter birds on solar farms
  • Creating a bespoke bat boudoir in downtown Bowthorpe
  • Getting stuck in the mud at Pope’s Marsh, Cley


Solar panels

Autumnal Temperatures

Following the driest September in the UK since records began in 1910, with the leaves finally turning brown and red, and with high winds and soaking showers, a wet and chilly autumn has slowly sunk upon us in October.

Since the 18th October, we have been using TinyTag data loggers to monitor the temperatures  on a site near Reepham, Norfolk – this to ensure overnight temperatures are suitable for the trapping of great crested newts [ we are using small enclosures with pitfall traps ]. Over two days, we recorded a descent of over 10°C in minimum temperature, with a lowest temperature of 3.5°C on the 21 October and also a jump in humidity from the low 80%s to almost 100%.

Temeprates for Salle 18-22.10.14

Figure 1: Graph showing minimum temperature and humidity data between 20 – 22/10/2014 recorded on a site near Reepham, Norfolk using a Tinytag data logger.

The outlook for November looks varied and unsettled, with high pressure expected to be dominant early in the month. The high pressure will probably bring dry, but frosty weather with the chance of heavy fog too. Later on in the month far more unsettled conditions will prevail, such as strong winds with gales at times and the risk of heavy rain.

I saw the first redwings, winter visiting thrushes, arriving on the 13 October.  On the 18 and 19 October, there were large numbers of chaffinch, greenfinch and brent geese blown across from the east. The arrival of these Scandinavian migrants always signifies the end of summer for me, and what a good summer it has been!

For our surveys, this onset of cold and wet weather means the end of the summer survey and newt trapping season, but having the first frosts will make surveys for badgers easier.