Does a need to assess for ecology still apply to new Permitted Development rights which came into force in April 2014? Continue reading
Since 2000, NWS has worked on development sites that support great crested newts, and in 2014 successfully assisted Saffron Housing in obtaining a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence for this species on a residential development in South Norfolk. Nationally great crested newts have suffered huge declines and so are protected by European and UK law. Norfolk is one of the species’ strongholds, with greatest numbers of breeding ponds found on heavy clay soils.
With great crested newts present in ponds around the area and using the grassland on site to move between these, the EPSM licence was required during construction to protect these amphibians and provide compensatory habitat.
NWS staff supervised the installation of “newt exclusion fencing” and carried out pitfall trapping to remove newts from harm’s way. Great crested newts only use ponds for breeding and spend the rest of the year on land. The team focussed the compensatory habitat on features suitable for use during this “terrestrial phase” and supervised the creation of what was dubbed “Newt Nirvana” by the developer: a wildflower grassland with hedgerows and scrub.
A key feature was the creation of three earth and stone mounds, which newts will use
during winter, called hibernacula. Great crested newts hibernate when winter temperatures drop below 5oC, normally from October or November. They typically hibernate underneath logs, within mammal burrow or tree roots, and even in building foundations. The hibernacula on site were designed to provide a number of sheltered crevices using logs and rubble, topped with turf to prevent exposure, whilst also ensuring newts were safe from flooding. Here the newts can remain protected until they emerge in late February or March to begin breeding in ponds.
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.
We thought an update of statistics on our previous article might be of assistance.
Natural England are still unfortunately experiencing delays in reviewing European Protected Species Licence applications. It looks like the situation with bats has slightly worsened, although the issues with great crested newts now appear to have improved. They are training more staff, but our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future.
Bat Update (as of 16th February 2015)
- 355 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 279 on 22 December ]
- “New application processing time: Average delay of 18 days (48 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Increase from 17 days on 22 December ]
Great Crested Newt Update (as of 16th February 2015)
- 52 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 19 on 22 December ]
- “New” application processing time: Average delay of 2 days (32 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Down from 7 days on 22 December ]
If you are concerned about gaining a licence, please contact us as soon as possible.
There are serious delays in Natural England issuing development (“European”) licences for bats and great crested newts and their normal 30-day turnaround is being missed by upto 3 weeks. Natural England has stated that this follows “the recent introduction of our new IT system”, but this issue appears to be continuous since at least March 2014, and appears to also be anecdotally linked to the number of trained staff available, and has not yet shown signs of improving.
The delays in the processing of Wildlife Licence applications, apply both to acknowledging receipt and the issuing of decisions (see update below for the four week period 24th November to 19th December 2014), and is worst for bats.
Natural England staff are apologetic for this delay, and we have spoken to advisors who have been distressed by the situation. Their office will be closed from 4pm 24th December 2014 until 2nd January 2015, which will mean another 5 days delay to any licences outstanding at Christmas. Area managers have been helpful in advising about delays.
We suggest that any clients requiring licencing in the next few months, engage us as soon as possible so that we can advise.
Great Crested Newts Update (as at 22nd December 2014 )
- 19 ‘New’ Applications outstanding.
- ‘New’ Application processing time : Average delay of 7 days [37 days versus 30 working day decision deadline ]
Bat Update (as at 22nd December 2014)
- 279 ‘New’ Applications outstanding.
- ‘New’ Application processing time : Average delay of 17 days [47 days versus 30 working day decision deadline ]
At Hellesdon High School, we need to do a work placement in Year 11, so I have been completing work experience in the NWS consultancy office on Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th July 2014. I learned about what the consultancy does to preserve protected species and how developers have to take precautions if they want to develop areas which have been found to contain any protected species in them ( such as bats or great crested newts ).
I also helped during my placement on evening surveys with my dad, which was probably a bit more interesting to get out and about.
The first survey was a night time newt survey at three different ponds with torches and bottle traps. My dad and I enjoyed this so much we went back there in the morning to come and see the results of the bottle trapping. We had caught a great-crested newt and I got to handle it [supervised !] before it was released, which I had never done before and found very exciting. The most enjoyable thing was finding out about how to prove the existence of great-crested newts – they are not very easy to find except by night.
The second survey for the placement was a bat survey on a thatched house at Hickling. In this we counted the numbers of bats coming out of a gap in the thatch. We counted 98 bats from the same place, which means a big roost inside the roof somewhere. This was fantastic to see – so many bats in one night – the person on the other side didn’t see any all night so I was lucky ! I enjoyed learning about bat species – I hadn’t realised before that there were many different species of bat and not just one.
Finally we found a kitten on the riverside on our lunch break, so I also got to look after the rescue kitten for a bit, although I am not sure he was that happy about it. All in a day’s work at NWS !