Great crested newts : surveys and assessment

Why are great crested newt surveys needed?

Great crested newt surveys are needed if they might be impacted by a development.  Normally this means where there are ponds within 250m of a site.

Great crested newt surveys help determine whether newts are present and what the state of the local populations and habitats are.

Great crested newts have suffered serious declines in numbers over the last century. For this reason, they and their habitat are protected both under both national and European law.

This great crested newt was found during pitfall trapping in 2014

Great crested newt found during pitfall trapping

Smooth newt found during bottle trapping

Smooth newt found during pitfall trapping








Where are they found ?

Although they can disperse long distances and are found in a range of places, they are typically within 250m of a suitable pond.

Adult great crested newts are dependant on high quality aquatic habitats in ponds for breeding.  The adults though spend much of their life on land using grassland, woodland, hedgerows. During winter they will hibernate underground and can even spend winter in building foundations.

This pond in South Norfolk was home to 120 great crested newts, 50 smooth newts and a number of frogs and toads

This pond in South Norfolk was home to 120 great crested newts, 50 smooth newts and a number of frogs and toads

The picture on the right shows a pond surveyed in 2014 that a total count of over 120 newts on one night, which is exceptional.




How is a survey carried out?

There are three stages :

1. A walkover to look at whether habitat is suitable

2. Surveys to identify local populations if habitat is suitable

3. Assessing if there is an impact on these populations from the development

Walkover surveys in daytime

The first stage of a great crested newt survey is normally to carry out a daytime assessment of ponds in the vicinity.  This uses a technique called a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment on any water bodies present.

Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) is a predictive tool which looks at the likelihood that great crested newts are present. It can be undertaken at any time of the year.

Low HSI scores are sometimes sufficient to conclude the likely absence of newts and are helpful in concluding abscence from a site. Where there are good quality ponds and higher scores, further surveys will be needed to say if newts are present.

Great crested newt captured by netting

Great crested newt captured by netting

Surveys for populations

There are two choices for searching for newts, “traditional” nocturnal surveys and the more recent “environmental DNA” technique ( “eDNA” ).

  • For “traditional” nocturnal surveys, these are carried out between mid-March and mid-June.
  • For eDNA surveys, these are carried out upto the end of June.

“Traditional” nocturnal surveys

Since great crested newts are nocturnal and difficult to find on land, 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 which is the peak for breeding activity.

If great crested newts are found during these surveys, an additional two visits estimate the population size more accurately. These are also important if obtaining a licence from Natural England.

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.

Using eDNA techniques

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 eDNA results come back positive, six nocturnal visits will be required to determine the population size.

Water samples can be collected between mid-April to end-June using a set methodology.  We have used this technique extensively and can advise you if it is suitable for your development.

Assessing impacts on great crested newts?

The Local Planning Authority needs to know that the development will not impact the species long-term.

When considering a planning application, generally they will request to know if great crested newts are present, and if so how the population will be affected, so they can consider as a “material consideration”. We can provide that assessment for you, based on years of experience.

Sometimes avoidance of impacts is possible, based on changing the timings of works or altering layouts or locations.  This avoids later needs for a licences and could be conditioned as a “method statement”.

What if there newts are impacted ?

Where there are newts AND an impact is likely, a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence from Natural England will be required. The licence will detail how and when the work can take place, any trapping or use of protective fences, and any compensation measures like new ponds or meadows.

This will usually be conditioned on to any planning decision, but will need to be demonstrated as deliverable prior the planning stage.  The law in this area is complex, so we suggest you seek our advice on your options.

Who can do surveys ?

An experienced great crested newt surveyor is required to survey and make an assessment.  Our staff have the necessary licences and experience to do the surveys for you.

Having set out the above “rules” there are exceptions, but they are complex and we suggest you ring us to discuss.










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