2018 great crested newt eDNA “closes” 30 June

Some of our clients were not aware that you can carry out surveys for the presence of great crested newts using “environmental DNA” until the end of June. This may prevent you having a delay in the planning application for your development until spring 2019 – the next survey window – and is worth considering.

Confirming newts are absent at a development site confirms that a development does not have a significant impact.  Waiting until 2019 for “traditional” surveys may simply confirm absence, but a year later.

Presence from an eDNA survey may be sufficient for planning consent and/or obtaining a licence. This may therefore resolve your planning application in 2018 rather than mid-2019.

The survey technique is not always suitable. Whether to use it needs to consider your particular development and situation. We can advise you whether the technique meets for your needs based on our knowledge of regulations and our years of experience.

We can also assess the impact of your development on newts and say what to do next if they are present, guiding your through any necessary licencing process later and finding solutions for compensatory habitat on or off-site.

If you do want to proceed though, there is a limited window left to make the last Great Crested Newts “last survey date” on 30 June. As such we suggest that you contact us immediately.  We can book a laboratory analysis slot for you now.

If you have more questions about great crested newts, read through our in-depth article or ring us to find out more about survey and assessment options.

 

 

 

Natural England struggle with Discretionary Advice Service and licencing

Brown long-eared bat

Staff shortages at Natural England

European Protected Species Licences ( EPSL) applications to Natural England for bats and great crested newts often peak in the late summer (June-October). This leads to longer response times compared to the 30-working days target.

Since autumn 2017, we have been aware that Natural England have had significant staff shortages for processing licences and been unable to meet this 30-days response target for some time.  Their recent May newsletter admits that: “At present around the country, we [ Natural England] have some Area Teams who are performing well beyond 30 working days (with some upwards of 60 working days)”

Impacts on developers

Working to a reliable response time of 30-days, it is relatively easy for developers to allow for a commencement date in their build-programme.

An unreliable response date can cause last-minute cancellations by needing to either stand-down contractors or cancel and rebook completely. With present national shortages of specialist contractors, there are long lead-in times, and an unpredicted change in response dates for licencing has complex impacts on project.

A key present focus for developers is being able to reliably and accurately programme resourcing; any deviation can cause developers significant financial and time-associated costs. 

Diversion of resources to licencing

As the 2018 seasonal peak approaches, Natural England have decided to divert resources from other areas into meeting their licencing target. 

Natural England have said, based on slippage in meeting the target, they are therefore diverting “all available staff resources” into meeting the demand for new licence applications. There is no firm commitment to meeting their 30 working day target. The expectation is that the diversion of resources will continue for up to 6 months.

Impacts on Discretionary Advice Service

The Discretionary Advice Service ( DAS) is a commercial service from Natural England. Norfolk Wildlife Services often uses it for early discussion about developments, reducing delays and costs for clients.  For Natural England, the service is an early opportunity to provide comments on species mitigation plans. This allows improvements before any application for a licence is made.  Front-loading advice nearly always reduces involvement from statutory agency later on. It also here allows recovery of costs as well.

Similarly “Pre-submission screening” service” checks a licence application before it is made reducing corrections later on in process.

In order to divert resources into licencing, Natural England states Discretionary Advice Service will be reduced, both slowing advice on their existing commissions and leading to them turning down new commissions : “non-statutory PSS and DAS advice to applicants over the coming months and in many instances …will have to be declined. ”

The only exceptions are stated as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) and contractual arrangements “already …in place for larger, long term developments”.

Final comments

Natural England have difficult decisions on utilisation of its limited resources. It will not have taken lightly a decision to effectively moth-ball the Discretionary Advice Service.

Paradoxically Natural England have recently published results on a consultation on charging for wildlife licence applications, stating that they intend to charge for licences in order to “provide a much improved licensing service that delivers the majority of our licence decisions within 30 working days (or an otherwise agreed date)“.

Unfortunately given that the paid-for DAS (and PSS) were similarly meant to provide both certainty to developers and extra resources to Natural England, this sudden diversion of resources does not bode well for “a much improved licensing service”.  It seems unlikely that additional income from charging for licences will resolve a fundamental capacity issue. 

The diversion of staff resources by Natural England from front-loaded “DAS” advice to meeting turnaround for licences appears to be diverting resources from one “priority” task to another.  

Fundamentally Natural England appears to have insufficient staff to deliver even statutory needs and urgently needs more resources. 

 

What to do if you find a stag beetle

During work, tree surgeons ( especially while removing decaying tree stump) sometime find large black beetles. They may be concerned that they are Greater Stag Beetle Lucanus cervus and want to know what action to take to protect them.

Greater Stag Beetles are protected against sale in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and are also a Priority Species under the NERC Act and an Annex II European Species.  They do occur in Norfolk, but are much commoner futher south in Ipswich and Suffolk.

Often though they will be stag beetles but the easily confused Lesser Stag Beetle Dorcus parallelipipedus , which is more widely distributed.

Lesser stag beetle Lucanus cervus

Decaying wood is important to all mini-beasts, especially in the “tidier” urban areas like Norwich.  An easy approach if possible is to reduce any stump in large sections and re-sited somewhere safer (something the lesser stag beetle colony will appreciate).

If you do find any text a photograph to us and we are happy to identify for you and let you know what to do.

We are also happy to carry out full invertebrate surveys of sites and make recommendations for managing them for charismatic stag beetles.

What is a root protection area ?

The root protection area

The root protection area is the minimum area around a tree that it is considered is necessary to protect its root system from damage such as construction or compaction.

Arborists calculate it either by a formula or by drawing it manually.

How is a root protection area calculated?

Under the British Standard BS5837 for each tree, the arborist calculates the RPA by multiplying the diameter breast height ( DBH ) of the tree in meters by 12.  A simple circle is then drawn around the centre point of the trunk to this distance.  A maximum RPA of a radius of 15m is assumed.  There are more complex rules for calculating trees with multiple stems.

The arborist can hence provide a simple diagram of the root protection areas for trees, which is easy to calculate and understand.

How is a root protection area estimated manually ?

Although root protection areas are drawn simplistically as a circle, often in practice they are asymetrical or even irregular shapes.

Drawing a root protection area manually is more complicated than the formula approach  and requires input from an experienced arborist. The estimation may also often involve further ground investigations. This might include digging of small test pits to look for roots or other specialist equipment. The arborist will allow for the factors like :

  • hard surfaces,
  • previous trenching works,
  • water sources,
  • soil conditions
  • and the ecology of the tree.

Accurate manual drawing of root protection areas is particularly important on resticted sites or for large trees and important specimens.

How is a root protection area used ?

Architects and planners can use root protection area in site design for buildings and roads, but service trenches as well.  The arborist will use it later for a detailed Arboricultural Method Statement to show how to protect tree roots in constuction.

 

 

TLC for trees : watering in hot weather

Why do trees need TLC in hot weather ?

A newly planted tree arrives from the carefully controlled conditions of a tree nursery into a potentially hostile setting with all the attendant stresses.  Hot dry weather can quickly kill a newly planted tree during the first five years before it becomes established, especially if planted into a hot urban environment.

Birch trees dead from water stress ( not ours !)

The right tree for the right location

Picking the right tree species is key : where a tree is planted into an unsuitable location then it becomes more easily stressed by extremes of weather, especially prior to it becoming fully established in the first five years.

We always suggest to our clients that they make their choice of species based on what we know will thrive in an area rather than what looks nicest in the catalogue.  Whilst you can grow most trees in most locations, an unsuitable location will most likely lead to higher maintenance needs and either potentially slower growth or complete failure.  Obvious examples include many conifer or Japanese maple species planted in chalky soils.

Good preparation

Getting the root environment right for your tree is key to it flourishing in its’ new environment.  The planting pit and surrounds should provide well prepared soil to easily expand into and after planting the surface should be mulched heavily with compost or manure.

How much, how often to water

For your trees survival regular frequent irrigation is more important than the volume, so maintenance plans should include the logistics of staff getting water out to site.  When you consider the “how often” and “how much” of your irrigation regime, you need to consider the water holding capacity of the soils.  These points should be covered in the design stage so that irrigation can be done.  Trees though aren’t fussy, so any water (including grey water sources like washing-up water) will serve in a pinch.

As a rough indication, then 40-60 litres ( 3-4 buckets of water ) twice per month are likely to be required in areas of low rainfall and high temperatures.  When you water a tree, take into account the prevailing weather conditions, soil moisture release characteristics (sandy/ chalky/ clay ) and how that tree species responds to potential water deficits (drought ) or prolonged soil saturation ( flooding ).

Watering creates significant issues where drainage is poor, as adding water will create waterlogging and airless conditions for roots. Poor pit preperation for planting is a frequent cause of this, creating a bucket effect that gathers water.

Techniques for avoiding drought stress in trees

Tree planting will normally be designed with a watering pipe or tube, embedded underground, which allows water to quickly reach the roots rather than flow down the pavement. This also avoids disturbing roots during watering and reduces risk of fungal infection.

Where the soil becomes hard baked ( as in many clay soils in East Anglia ) then mulches can help not only be reducing evaporation, but by increasing organic content of the soil.  They may need a top up regularly post planting.  Gaiter bags and mulch mats can reduce water stress by reducing evaporation.

Good tree stakes and ties with appropriate irrigation system.

Monitoring tree stress is especially important if there are prolonged high temperatures. As a guideline for East Anglia, check trees when there are ten consecutive days during the growing season with temperatures of 25 oC or greater.  When monitoring be aware of the visual signs, something we come back to below.

Overwatering for some species can be as deleterious as underwatering as roots will waterlog and rot.  The symptoms of waterlogging are easily confused with those of water stress, includiong wilting. A waterlogged plant actually is water stressed due to roots drowning and not functioning to absorb any water or nutrients for the tree.

What does this mean in practice ?

Looking after trees in the first few years whilst they become established is critical to their survival and water stress can either quickly kill them or lead to die-back causing later poor growth or fungal infection.

Pick the right tree for the right location and consider their watering needs.

Once established with a well-established root system, trees are drought-proof and will not generally need watering. Getting them to this stage is critical for successful establishment.

How can we help ?

We can help you with a full planting plan for your site, including :

  • Soil testing and ground preparation
  • Choice of species and sizes
  • Design of planting pits
  • Costings for plantings
  • Alternatives to pit planting
  • Planting and aftercare
  • Monitoring

If you have issues with your existing plantings, then please do call us as we may still be able to offer advice.

 

 

Photo gallery for newts

Can eDNA detect great crested newts later in year?

Natural England [1] only accept “negative” eDNA results for newt licencing where efficacy has been proven ( e.g. between the above dates and by trained personnel ) . “Positive” results clearly have no such limitation.

The pilot work [2] on using eDNA for detecting newts relied on comparing conventional field survey techniques to eDNA and comparative results were therefore only available during their sampling period i.e. mid-April and late June. Detection rates for sites where newts were known to be present were 99.3% using professionals and 91.2% using volunteers.

The report [ 2 ] states that “Overall, collecting eDNA appears to be a highly effective method for determining whether Great Crested Newts are present or absent during the breeding season. We do not know how effective the method is outside this period.”

Natural England indicates the peak season for surveying for larvae is August, so in theory these should be detected by later eDNA tests.

eDNA declined rapidly once great crested newts were removed from experimental ponds [3] – to undetectable levels over 1-2 weeks. Ponds could therefore have been utilised by adults earlier in the season e.g. for foraging, but the absence of larvae would point towards absence of successful breeding.

References

[1] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/great-crested-newts-surveys-and-mitigation-for-development-projects

[2] Biggs, J., Ewald, N., Valentini, A., Gaboriaud, C., Griffiths, R.A., Foster, J., Wilkinson, J., Arnett, A., Williams, P. and Dunn, F., 2014. Analytical and methodological development for improved surveillance of the Great Crested Newt. Defra Project WC1067. Freshwater Habitats Trust: Oxford. http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&ProjectID=18650&FromSearch=Y&Publisher=1&SearchText=wc1067&SortString=ProjectCode&SortOrder=Asc&Paging=10#Description

http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Default.aspx?Menu=Menu&Module=More&Location=None&ProjectID=18650&FromSearch=Y&Publisher=1&SearchText=wc1067&SortString=ProjectCode&SortOrder=Asc&Paging=10#Description

[3] Thomsen, P., Kielgast, J.O.S., Iversen, L.L., Wiuf, C., Rasmussen, M., Gilbert, M.T.P., Orlando, L. and Willerslev, E., 2012. Monitoring endangered freshwater biodiversity using environmental DNA. Molecular ecology, 21(11), pp.2565-2573.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/34355462/Thomsen_Kielgast_et_al._2012_Monitoring_endangered_freshwater_biodiversity_using_environmental_DNA.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1502361592&Signature=Mjs46Dii13qt4xOQn90M6w5u72M%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3Dpapers.pdf

What chemicals can I use in bat roosts ?

Natural England guidance on chemicals not affecting bats is hard to find on gov.uk. We have uploaded a copy of “Natural England Technical Information Note TIN092 Bat roosts and timber treatment products” [TIN092_Bat_Friendly_Timber_Treatment], which is the First edition dated 15 March 2011. This gives a list of those commonly available products currently approved as remedial timber treatment chemicals and products in bat roosts. This was an update to the information in the 3rd edition of the Bat Workers Manual.

We know the list is not comprehensive. If you can’t find what you are looking for, you may be best to get us to ring Natural England on your behalf.  They are very friendly and generally able to make a quick response on the subject.

Consultation shake up for great crested newts

There may be a big shake up in the approach to Great Crested Newts on development sites. Natural England is seeking views about changes in licencing around Great Crested Newts mitigation. Read their document here

Great crested newt fence with bucket

Great crested newt fence with bucket

The policy proposals are quite a radical change and focus on spending more money on habitat creation to secure long-term populations of newts and less on consultants fees to move them. They are related to the Woking pilot :
http://www.woking.gov.uk/environment/greeninf/newt/gcnpilot/gcnpilotconsult

They have 4 new policies for licences they feel could benefit European protected species whilst “improving flexibility for developers” :

  1. Greater flexibility when excluding and relocating EPS from development sites [ not always having to fence or trap out sites ]
  2. Greater flexibility in the location of newly created habitats that compensate for habitats that will be lost [ whether these are nearby or not ]
  3. Allowing EPS to have access to temporary habitats that will be developed at a later date  [ avoids developers excluding them for worrying about colonisation ]
  4. Appropriate and relevant surveys where the impacts of development can be confidently predicted [ avoids unnecessary surveys that add no greater clarity but additional costs ]

You can comment on these proposed new policies for European protected species licences – the consultation closes at 7 April 2016 5:00pm : https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/wildlife-licensing-comment-on-new-policies-for-european-protected-species-licences

Schedule 9 invasive plants and development

Schedule 9 plants are invasive and generally need controlling on a development site. After talking to a client about yellow archangel, we thought a list of schedule 9 would be helpful. It is an offence to “plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild invasive non-native plants listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.”

A lot of the most invasive are aquatic or live in marshy environments e.g. Crassula helmsii, but brownfield sites also harbour species such as knotweed.  We can advise on control methods to incorporate into construction management for you.

Plants listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales

Common Name Latin Name  
Elodea (waterweeds) eg Canadian waterweed Elodea Canadensis All species of the Elodea genus Aquatic – widespread in Norfolk
Curly waterweed Lagarosiphon major Aquatic
Duck potato Sagittaria latifolia Aquatic
Entire-leaved cotoneaster Cotoneaster integrifolius Garden escape
Knotweed Fallopia japonica x Fallopia sachalinensis (a hybrid knotweed) Brownfield sites
False Virginia creeper Parthenocissus inserta Garden escape
Fanwort (Carolina water-shield) Cabomba caroliniana Aquatic
Few-flowered leek Allium paradoxum
Floating pennywort Hydrocotyle ranunculoides Aquatic – highly invasive
Floating water primrose Ludwigia peploides Aquatic
Giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum Fairly commonly encountered
Giant knotweed Fallopia sachalinensis Brownfield sites
Giant rhubarb Gunnera tinctoria Too cold in Norfolk
Giant salvinia Salvinia molesta Aquatic
Green seafingers Codium fragile
Himalayan cotoneaster Cotoneaster simonsii
Hollyberry cotoneaster Cotoneaster bullatus
Hottentot-fig Carpobrotus edulis Too cold in Norfolk
Indian balsam Himalayan balsam Impatiens glandulifera Water courses and rivers
Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica Brownfield sites
Japanese rose Rosa rugosa
Montbretia Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora
New Zealand pigmyweed (Australian swamp-stonecrop) Crassula helmsii Aquatic – highly invasive in Norfolk
Parrot’s-feather Myriophyllum aquaticum Aquatic
Perfoliate Alexanders Smyrnium perfoliatum
Purple dewplant Disphyma crassifolium
Red algae Grateloupia luxurians
Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum Acid soils only
Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum x Rhododendron maximum Acid soils only
Small-leaved cotoneaster Cotoneaster microphyllus Garden escape
Shallon Gaultheria shallon
Three-cornered garlic Allium triquetrum Too cold in Norfolk ?
Variegated yellow archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. argentatum Garden escape
Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia Garden escape
Water fern Azolla filiculoides Aquatic
Water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes Aquatic
Water lettuce Pistia stratiotes Aquatic
Water primrose Ludwigia grandiflora / Ludwigia uruguayensis Aquatic
Yellow azalea Rhododendron luteum Acid soils only