Why are great crested newt surveys needed?
Great crested newts have suffered serious declines in numbers over the last century. Where a development project might impact this species or habitat it uses, great crested newt surveys may be required to determine whether newts are present to assess if they will be affected by the project.
Who can do surveys ?
The great crested newt is protected both under national and European law. An experienced great crested newt surveyor is required to complete the surveys and make this assessment. Our staff have the necessary licences in place to do this and can work efficiently to do the surveys for you.
Where are they found ?
Great crested newts are not only found in ponds, but spend much of their life on land in habitats such as grassland, woodland, hedgerows, and can even spend winter in building foundations. Because they can travel long distances and are found in a range of places, it is typical for all ponds within at least 250m of a proposed development site to be assessed.
The picture on the right shows a pond surveyed in 2014 that had the largest great crested newt population seen by NWS staff for a few years, with a total count of over 120 newts on one night!
How is a survey carried out?
The first stage of a great crested newt survey is normally to carry out a daytime assessment of ponds in the vicinity. We would normally carry out a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment on these water bodies. This is a predictive tool which looks at the likelihood that great crested newts are present, and can be undertaken at any time of the year. Low HSI scores are sometimes sufficient to conclude the likely absence of newts, but for higher scores, further surveys will be needed.
Because great crested newts are nocturnal and can be spread across a large area, surveys take place at night between mid-March to mid-June when they gather in ponds to breed. Four visits are required to determine presence or likely absence, and two of these must take place between mid-April to mid-May during peak breeding activity. If great crested newts are found during these surveys, an additional two visits are needed to estimate the population size more accurately. The survey will involve looking for eggs, searching for adults with a bright torch and netting for adults and larvae. Where there is poor visibility or the site is unsafe to enter at night, then bottle trapping can be used. This technique is more risky as it can potentially drown animals if the traps are not set correctly.
An alternative and new technique to work out if newts are present is to collect water samples from the pond and have them analysed for great crested newt eDNA. This technique can quickly rule out a number of ponds and avoids unnecessary night surveys. However, if the results come back positive, six nocturnal visits will still be required to determine the population size. Water samples can only be collected between mid-April to end-June and must be collected using a strict methodology. We have used this technique in 2014 and can advise you if it is suitable for you.
How is the information used by planners?
The Local Planning Authority responsible for considering a planning application need to know if great crested newts are present, and in what numbers, so they can make sure that the development will not impact the species long-term. Where an impact is likely, a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence from Natural England will be required, which will detail how and when the work can take place. This will usually be conditioned on to any planning decision, but will need to be demonstrated as deliverable prior the planning stage.