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

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.

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.

How many surveys for great crested newts ?

Great Crested Newt on handGreat crested newt captured by nettingGreat crested newt fence with bucket

We thought it helpful for clients to have set out what actual Natural England requirements are for licencing – how old your survey can be  – and how many surveys are necessary.

Natural England guidance

Natural England guidance on presently acceptable levels of survey effort is set out in their EPSL method statement form – which we present below – slightly tweaked.  This sets out both the type and age of data viewed as acceptable.  You can use the filters to find your project type.

This is our Excel table here : Great crested – survey effort and age

Deconstructing this gives some interesting insights about the age of data required, but also whether as to whether a full six surveys or repeat surveys are necessary.

Low impact licences and survey data

If we read through this table, you will find that low impact or temporary development can often use presence/absence data alone, which makes sense.  You may only need four instead of six visits ( or possibly only one if you find them first time ! ). Newt numbers decline rapidly away from ponds ( either the creatures are too unfit or simply due to dispersion effects ). The effect a long way from ponds can therefore be predicted as being low, based on their presence alone.  Far enough away and you can assume de minimus effects, and possibly avoid surveys all together.

The age of data is based on spring/summer survey seasons elapsed ( but see also later for a potential complexity here ):

Survey done Age of survey (before May[?] 2015)
March to May 2015 0 (before May 15)
2014 1
2013 2
2012 3
2011 4
2010 5
2009 6

So this year, data from the 2011 summer season is 4 years old, assuming you apply before end of May[?] 2015.  This also means that for some low impact schemes, older data will be helpful.  There are various caveats to this.

It is not 100% clear from the footnote on the NE guidance whether the age of the survey is the number of survey seasons missed, inclusive or exclusive of the present year.  It would seem more logical that 2015 data is 0 years old until March 2016, but in fact it appears to be 1 after May this year. However it would be impossible to survey, get planning and apply in the time period. We will take this point up with Natural England for clarity [ thanks to someone for pointing this out to me ].

What survey effort is most helpful ?

This raises for us an interesting question about proportionality and efficiency – what solution for survey effort allows most accurate information most efficiently ?

Given that most ponds are in the small or medium range and that large counts are generally from aggregation across ponds, should we focus more on the number of ponds involved and their functional nature ?

eDNA difficulties for presence/abscence

A difficulty of eDNA for results is that it shows us nothing of the pond’s function.

Four nocturnal visits will not only give a very good guide for impact assessment,  but also should generally reveal if the animals are breeding successfully and may turn up eggs or efts dependant on timing.

Many ponds around a breeding pond have occasional newts, but are not of high enough quality for breeding – this issue was never tackled by HSI.  Vice versa large numbers of males lecking at a pond indicate one thing.  Knowledge about successful breeding at a pond seems to us essential in stating the effects on the population.

Conclusions

So to return to the question only four surveys with presence or possibly even eDNA to prove absence could be sufficient for your needs, or you may be able to rely on existing older data. However really your consultant needs to have some understanding of population ecology to advise you on mitigation and obtaining a licence. Following guidance verbatim is not a good solution and could waste your money – sorry that slipped out.

With this in mind we advise you not to rely on this article for formal advice, but let us discuss with you how it applies to your suituation – please contact us directly if you have a licencing query or you have some observations about the article.

There is more Natural England advice on their website : https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-crested-newts-apply-for-a-mitigation-licence

New EPSLs – reduced paperwork

Natural England have updated their European Protected Species licence forms, reducing some of the paperwork burdens on applicants.

New application form for bats

There is a new EPSL application form, which we think makes a lot more sense.  We are not sure if it is editable in all versions of Adobe Reader, but you can certainly use Foxit.  There are seperate forms for <3 species and >3 species, with a lot of tick boxes replacing the need to repeat text in and squeeze stuff up. It should make it more accessible for clients and easier to complete, plus indicates that NE may be streaming licences into low and high impact schemes, which makes a lot of sense.

Applications for home improvements and small scale housing developments

The guidance on the need for a Reasoned Statement has changed, making it only necessary for more complicated applications.  This doesn’t imply that you don’t need a licence – simply that the paperwork is becoming more proportional to the situation.  You need to read the details, but this means no more 20 page documents justifying a loft conversion or putting in a dormer window from NPPF. It also may reduce the paperwork burden on barn conversions under Permitted Development rights.

The exemptions are below.

Exemptions for Bats

“The following categories of work for all bat species and their roosts*:
i. repairs and maintenance, roof replacements, loft conversions, extensions and renovations of existing domestic dwellings and associated structures (eg garages).
ii. small-scale housing developments, including those that may require the demolition of existing buildings (whether domestic dwellings or other types of building).
*Unless the population is of regional or national importance – in which case please contact Natural England (see below) to discuss whether a Reasoned Statement is required.”

Exemptions for Great crested newts
“The following categories of works:
i. repairs and maintenance, extensions and renovations of existing domestic dwellings and associated structures (e.g. garages).
ii. small-scale housing developments within the curtilage of developed or previously developed (brownfield) sites, including those that may require the demolition of existing buildings (whether domestic dwellings or other types of building).”

There are also similar improvements around applications to conserve and protect Listed Buildings, Scheduled Monuments and places of worship.

You will need to read the fine print to see if this applies to you or contact us for advice.

A very sensible development from Natural England.

The document from Natural England is attached below :

Does my application need supported by a Reasoned Statement April 2015

Bat and newt licence delays – April

We thought an update of European Protected Licence delays for bats and great crested newts on our previous February stats article might be of assistance.

Natural England are still unfortunately experiencing delays in reviewing European Protected Species Licence applications. If you need to gaining a licence and how it might affect your project, please contact us as soon as possible.

The Natural England FCS test are also now processed and signed off at a regional level, which may have lead to some teething issues.  It has helped by improving lines of communication once an advisor has been allocated.  Generally discussion on allocation dates are “vague”, but once the licence is allocated and processed this is generally quick. As a corollary, then it is difficult for clients to plan with certainty when a licence will arrive, except at short notice.

Delays with bat licences have not worsened, but remain steady at around three to four weeks.  Hopefully newly trained staff should be assisting now, but our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future.

With respect to Great Crested Newts, we would forecast that there will be additional delays, which are shown by the lengthening queue, due to the normal “spring surge” of new applications.

The following are based on ‘New’ Application processing time during the four week period 2nd March 2015 to 3rd April 2015 :

Bat Update (as of 6th April 2015)

  • 368  ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 355 on 10 February, 279 on 22 December ]
  • “New application processing time: Average delay of 17 days (47 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ No change from 48 days on February and 47 days on 22 December ]

Similar processing times were reported for Modifications and Resubmissions.

Great Crested Newt Update (as of 6th April 2015 )

  • 162 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 52 in February, 19 on 22 December ]
  • “New” application processing time: Average delay of 5 days (35 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ 32 days on February, 37 days on 22 December ]

There were similar processing times for Modifications and Resubmissions.