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.



[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.

[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.

Woodland Champion Award for our Arboricultural Consultant

Jim Allitt, Woodland Champion Award

Our Arboricultural Consultant Jim Allitt was awarded a 2017 Wildlife and Woodland Champion Award for his work on a joint project run by Bat Conservation Trust and Natural England.  Jim volunteered his time to support the “Woodland Bat Project” which is a pioneering study on how bats use woodlands. 

Jim said “I am delighted to accept this award – it is a great project to be involved with and it is a privilege to work with some delightful people in a very inspiring place”.

Jim brought extensive knowledge of trees and woodland management to the project.  As well as offering his experience as a bat worker, he regularly carried out transects and roost counts within the woodland.   Other survey work associated with the project included vegetation surveys, pitfall trapping, moth and butterfly surveys, bird surveys, and deer impact surveys.  The data collected provides a useful baseline to monitor how the woodland is changing and what effects that climate change will have on the species associated with the woodland.  

The project is always looking for volunteers to help throughout the surveying season.  Transects run regularly throughout the summer and it is a great way to experience and learn about the history, past use and wildlife interest of the woods.  The project has been running for a number of years and recently acquired Heritage Lottery Funding to employ a part time volunteer co-ordinator post.  If you would like to learn more about the project you can contact the Bat Conservation Trust or email sreveley[at]

If you have any questions regarding woodland management or any aspects of bats and trees please contact Jim Allitt via email jamesa[at] or phone 01603 625540.

Spring Newsletter 2017

All our latest wildlife news in our Norfolk Wildlife Services’ Spring Newsletter 2017.

In this issue we bring you :

Or click to download a pdf copy

Blackthorn flowers and hedgerow assessments

March marks the meteorological start of spring and it’s also the time to start looking out for the first blackthorn [Prunus spinosa] flowers.

blackthorn flower

Photo © Ian Calderwood

Blackthorn flowers are easy to spot because they appear before any of the hedgerow leaves.
As soon as you spot the first flowers you’ll suddenly begin to notice whole swathes of them.  At this time of year of you might be forgiven for thinking all hedgerows are predominantly blackthorn, but our hedgerow assessments can offer an insight into the diversity of hedgerows.


Why are hedgerow assessments important?

Hedgerows are protected under the Hedgerows Regulations Act 1997 and these are part of planning regulations. The Regulation was brought into effect due to the changes in agricultural practices which saw a rapid removal of hedgerows from the countryside.

“Hedgerows have their part to play in helping us to respond and adapt to climate change, providing conduits through which wildlife may move, and protecting soil, livestock and property against extreme weather events. They even help to lock up carbon and provide a sustainable source of fuel. ” Hedgerow survey Handbook (2007)

This protection covers hedgerows over 30 years old and over 20 metres long (or if shorter, connected to other hedgerows at both ends or part of a longer hedgerow).

Hedgerow removal is a tricky subject and a landowner who wishes to remove a hedgerow must serve a Hedgerow Removal Notice in writing on their local planning authority. The authority then has to determine whether or not the hedgerow is ‘important’ and whether or not to issue a Hedgerow Retention Notice.

What makes a hedgerow important?

This is where hedgerow assessments come into their own.


Photo – Emily Nobbs

We need to assess how many woody species are within the hedgerow, how old it is and whether the hedgerow is associated with any archaeological sites of interest.

There are lots of different combinations of features that make a hedgerow important, such as being at least 30 years old and have a minimum of 6 woody species and a supporting bank and/or ditch running along its length.

Woody species include alder, wild cherry, dogwood, black-poplar, hawthorn and of course blackthorn.

The NWS Arboriculturist can help

Jim Allitt is our resident Arborculturist and can help with any questions you have regarding hedgerows and what you can and can’t do.  Having a hedgerow assessment early on in any proposed development will allow you to understand more about the hedgerows you are working with and help you to plan any mitigation.

So the next time you see a hedgerow full of blackthorn flower don’t dismiss it, you may be looking at a very important hedge!

Survey season ahoy!

It’s that time of year again when we start planning for the forthcoming survey season.

However, don’t think we have been twiddling out thumbs since November!  There have been Phase 1 surveys to carry out and arboricultural impact assessments to write – but now we’re coming up the busy season.

By planning ahead and taking account of various seasonal constraints posed by many protected species we can help project managers avoid potential delays in submitting planning applications or enabling construction works.  For example the breeding season for great crested newts typically starts in mid-March and continues until mid-June (subject to weather), which dictates the optimal window for surveying.

Survey calendar


Click on the image to view a calendar that identifies the seasonal constraints associated with ecological and protected species surveys.


In anticipation of the survey season we’ve been tidying up the equipment shed, ensuring we have all the kit needed for the months ahead:

  • The great crested newt bottle traps have been made making sure all the associated canes all have hazard tape on so we don’t lose any.
  • The bat detector batteries are all on charge and the pencils have been sharpened.
  • There have been trips to the DIY store and roofing felt cut to size for reptile surveys.
  • The life-jackets have been sent for a service ready for water based surveys and our wellies have all been cleaned.

We look forward to working with you during this survey season and throughout the year.  If you have any questions about surveys and when they can be undertaken please do let us know.

What is a Habitat Regulations Assessment?

The UK’s international obligations to biodiversity require our rarest and most irreplaceable wildlife sites – those of international importance – to be stringently protected. This includes sites protected for their habitats and species (Special Areas of Conservation, “SACs”), bird populations (Special Protection Areas, “SPAs”) and wetlands (Ramsar sites).

To meet the UK international commitments means preserving these sites except in cases of overriding national need, so evidence provided must be “beyond all reasonable doubt” of no harm; otherwise permission can be refused under the so-called “precautionary principle”. Where this evidence is absent, the usual National Planning Policy Framework para 14 presumption in favour of development no longer applies and is replaced by para 119.

Where development plans or policies do potentially affect these sites, the effects are considered via a Habitat Regulations Assessment (HRA). An HRA involves screening, scoping and consideration of alternatives – similar to an Environmental Impact Assessment. However, an HRA focuses tightly upon the “integrity” of the site – those features for which the site is designated.

Norfolk Wildlife Services (NWS) has a long track record of dealing with HRAs: as a county Norfolk 8.5% is designated SPA, 5% SACs and 4.2% Ramsar. Within HRAs we often consider hydrology, emissions and recreational disturbance and cumulative and in-combination effects.


Responsibility to complete the HRA rests with the “competent authority” – either the planning authority or the inspector. Ecological effects on international sites are a complex area and frequent showstoppers for developers since the responsibility is on the applicant to provide the proof.

Evidence supplied via a “shadow” HRA supplied by NWS is often used to assist these decisions. Altering site design later is often difficult later on so early advice from NWS is advisable to fully understand the options and whether effects can be avoided.

Calling all recent UEA graduates!

calling all UEA graduatesWe have been working with UEA to develop a Business Development Assistant internship opportunity with us at Norfolk Wildlife Services.

If you are a UEA graduate who is passionate about customer care and looking for some hands-on marketing experience then this could be the role for you.

Apply now for this chance to join the team and help us to deliver ecological and arboricultural consultancy services in the Norfolk area.

Working closely with the Consultancy Manager, you will assist in developing the marketing of the consultancy and also maintaining high quality standards of customer care.

Your role will include helping to design marketing materials as well as identifying and applying for external funding opportunities.

For more information check out the advert

Construction Environmental Management Plans

Recently at NWS we have found ourselves writing more and more
Construction Environmental Management Plans (CEMP).

We’re often asked “what is a CEMP, what does it cover and how Wondering about CEMPwill I know when if my project needs one?”

Well, wonder know more……


What is CEMP?

CEMP = Construction Environmental Management Plan

The purpose of a CEMP is to outline how a construction project will avoid, minimise or mitigate effects on the environment and surrounding area. Local planning authorities have an important role to play in overseeing the implementation of an appropriate CEMP.  This includes powers to enforce conditions during the planning process and to prosecute if any criminal offences occur.

When do you need a CEMP?

© Copyright Evelyn Simak

For small projects a method statement setting out specific restrictions and controls is often adequate to safeguard biodiversity interests. However, for larger and/or more complex developments the preparation and implementation of a CEMP is considered as most appropriate.

As suggested above, the planning authority may condition the need for a CEMP to be submitted before construction can begin. However, it is good practice to have one in place before this stage, so contact NWS if you are unsure and we can advise on the best way forward.

What information is included in a CEMP?

The CEMP sets out all necessary practical measures to ensure that biodiversity features are protected during construction and development implementation.

A CEMP is tailored to each specific site but all cover the same principles:

  • Risk assessment of potentially damaging construction-type activities
  • Identification of biodiversity protection zones
  • Identification of practical measures to avoid impacts during development.  This includes the use of exclusion fences, protective barriers and warning signs
  • The location and timing of sensitive works to avoid harm to biodiversity features
  • The times during construction when particular specialists (e.g. an ecologist) need to be present on site to oversee works as well as an overall view on responsible persons and lines of communication.

We follow the guidance in the British Standard 42020:2013 when compiling our CEMP documentation so our clients are assured that everything relevant is covered.

If you have any questions or require a CEMP of your own do let us know.

A winter view of field margins

Back in October our Ecological Consultant Sally McColl posted about the work she has been doing for the Jordan’s Farm Partnership and ever since then I can’t go past an arable field without checking out its field margins.  The environmental management plans that Sally has been working on aim to make a tenth of each farm used specifically to support nature.  This includes well managed hedgerows and arable field margins.

Walking round my local patch in North Norfolk there are plenty of areas where the hedgerows seem to be all you see and now its winter those hedgerows are without leaves.  This means you can peer through the bare twigs to the fields beyond and see the field margins.

In the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), cereal field margins, in particular, are a priority habitat and are managed specifically to provide benefits for wildlife, such as providing:

Arable field margin

Photo © Richard Webb

  • nectar sources for bumblebees and butterflies;
  • corridors of long grasses used as cover by beetles and grasshoppers, as well as mammals such as brown hares and field voles;
  • nesting opportunities for skylarks, corn bunting and grey partridge.
  • acting as a filter area to control run-off from fields.

Advice varies as to how wide a field margin should be with some organisations saying even a 1 metre margin can offer benefits to wildlife.  Many of the field margins I see in Norfolk are quite wide but just as many are almost non-existent, the field having been ploughed as close to the boundary as possible.

As well as farm management plans we also incorporate the idea of field margins into other reports we write, for example for residential developments. For each planning proposal we study the plans and make site visits to enable us to recommend tailored enhancements, such as buffer zones of wildflowers or grasses (the residential equivalent of field margins).

I like to think we’re doing our part to maintain and create corridors for our wildlife to thrive

New addition to our Arboricultural Service


Jim Allitt, Arboriculturist

Jim Allitt surveying trees

As introduction I am James “Jim” Allitt – the arboricultural consultant – at Norfolk Wildlife Services, where we can offer you full tree surveys and advice to British Standards BS5837. I am also a fully qualified tree surgeon with a Level 4 diploma, a Lantra Professional Tree Inspection award and full tickets for aerial inspection and MEWPs. I like to think I have a combination of the planning and the practical. I will also be blending these arb skills with ecology advice, where my 8 years working on National Nature Reserves in North and West Norfolk comes in handy.

Our vision is of a fully joined up ecology and tree consultancy service, helping client’s projects to success and sustainability.

Trees and woodlands have been a great fascination to me from the local woods of my youth in Yorkshire to my time in Ireland with Coillte ( the Irish Forestry Board ) as an arborist. Once area I have a specialist interest in is Ancient trees and landscape history. We will be offering a ‘Valuing and managing veteran trees’ lunchtime seminar in March. I hope to meet some of you then. Keep in touch and let me know how I can help you with your projects.

Take a look at our Tree Surveys and Consultancy page for more information on the full range of services we can offer.