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

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.

A newt direction for species licencing?

As March and the great crested newt survey season approaches, you may be wondering whether the vote to the leave the European Union changes the surveys required for planning ?

Great crested newt

There are currently no plans to abolish protection of European Protected Species (EPS); protection we presume will be transposed into UK legislation by the Great Reform Bill, although the species was already fully protected under UK law prior to its European designation.

However as part of the Red Tape Challenge, Natural England are reviewing their approach to licences. In December 2016 the agency released the results of a public consultation held in spring 2016 on 4 potential new policies for EPS licensing :

Policy 1: Greater flexibility when excluding and relocating European Protected Species (EPS) from development sites.

Policy 2: Greater flexibility in the location of newly created habitats that compensate for lost habitats through development.

Policy 3: Allowing EPS to have access to temporary habitats that will be developed at a later date.

Policy 4: Appropriate and relevant surveys where the impacts of development can be confidently predicted.

Policy 1 and 2 both look at the idea of “mitigation banking” – which is previously built mitigation that developers can buy into. This changes the emphasis from spending time trapping and removing newts to building a resilient network of pre-planned habitat for them. These two policies should provide developers with more certainty around costs and any delays that might be incurred. However this non-conventional exclusion and relocation technique is controversial and may not yet be approved.

Policy 3 allows newts access to land where development will temporarily create habitat likely to attract EPS, such as mineral extraction. On completion of development it will be necessary to provide well-prepared management plans to ensure gains to the target species. This would only work where the conservation status of the local population would not be detrimentally affected.

Policy 4 is intended to avoid duplicating effort where the distribution of newts is well known and can be inferred from existing data. This policy is intended to reduce costs and increase benefits to EPS through varying licencing approaches to suit site-specific circumstances.

For more information have a look at the pilot in Woking where major urban expansion allows for a planned approach for mitigating for newts.

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.

Summer bat surveys

The bat survey season is well and truly underway and at NWS surveys are taking place almost every day of the week. Initial surveys are undertaken to look for evidence of bats and if found then a minimum of three nocturnal surveys (dawn and dusk) may be required during the main survey season, i.e. May to September.

During a dusk survey, surveyors watch the building from 15 minutes before dusk and 2 hours after dusk to watch for any bats emerging from the building. A bat detector and a recording device are used to record any bat calls which are then analysed to confirm the sightings and to identify species. Target notes are also recorded on a map so any points of entry can be identified.

During a dawn survey, surveyors watch the building for the 2 hours before dawn (which means a very early start!). The same method is used as in a dusk survey but the surveyors are mainly watching for bats to return to roost.

These surveys can be really interesting and exciting if there is lots of activity at the site but they can also be a bit boring if there isn’t much going on (you are essentially staring at a building for 2 hours…. potentially at 2.30am!). It can be worth getting up super early though if you get a close encounter with a bat like at a recent site where Brown Long-eared bats were roosting just above our heads in a barn.

Brown long-eared bat

Brown long-eared bat

Mitigating for great crested newts

Since starting great crested newt surveys in mid-March 2015, about 20% of the 75 ponds surveyed across Norfolk contained newts. For these sites, their development may now require a “European Protected Species Mitigation” ( EPSM ) licence, granted by Natural England after planning permission is given.

Lemonade and great crested newts

Bottle Trap

Bottle trap used in great crested newt surveys

We devise the mitigation strategy for clients based on where and how many newts are present.

To estimate numbers, we make six nocturnal counts via netting, with “bottle traps” (1.5 litre lemonade bottles) and spotlights. This indication of population size is used to devise a proportional strategy, ensuring that your development does not adversely affect newt populations.

Compensatory habitat

The EPSM licence needs to provide “compensatory habitat” at least equal in extent to that lost by development.  Newt habitats include scrub, grassland and woodland, but also often brown field areas, especially near old gravel or brick pits.  Ideas to think about when designing “compensatory habitat” are:

  • Restoring existing ponds to make them more suitable for great crested newts by clearing out shading scrub or desilting.
  • Creating brand new ponds: often also an attractive landscape feature (but no fish please and balancing lagoons aren’t suitable!)
  • Making wildflower meadows: good foraging habitat for newts plus an attractive feature managed well;
  • Planting woodland belts and hedgerows makes excellent shaded habitat for newts with leaf litter and logs, plus good for site landscaping, and corridors for newts to travel along to safely get from one area to another.

The bucket stage

If work cannot avoid impacting great crested newts, the development will need fencing off and trapping out with “pitfall traps” (buckets) to capture them and move them to safety.   Trapping normally takes place in autumn or early spring as it requires both suitably wet weather, but reasonable temperatures for the newt activity.

The number of nights trapping depends on the population, varying between 30 and 90 nights with additional needs where breeding ponds are removed.  If the fencing fails during building, then retrapping may be required, so investment in a decent spec fence is worth some thought. Generally you will need to keep the perimeter up from start to finish.

To create the compensatory habitat for a site near Dereham, we cleared ornamental shrubs and seeded the bare banks with wetland wildflowers around an existing pond, creating excellent refuges and invertebrates to hunt. Enclaves of wildflowers and trees were connected via thick hedgerows running around the boundary of the development, linking to hedges and ponds in the landscape.  Post development, the 2015 recount of newts showed numbers of breeding newts have remained consistent at 85, and that the mitigation had been successful.

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.

Translocation

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.