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

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.

What is Section 28 permission ?

Section 28 is the way in which Natural England offer permission for acts that might potentially damage SSSIs.  It refers to the 1981 Countryside & Wildlife Act, which was amended by the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.  It applies to individual landowners as well as public bodies such as Secretary of State, government departments and agencies, local authorities and statutory undertakers ( water, gas, drainage boards ).

The Act requires people who own or occupy of SSSIs to ask Natural England for permission to carry out operations that may “damage the special interest of the site”.  These operations  (also might be called ‘Operations Likely to Damage’ (OLD) or ‘Potentially Damaging Operations’ ( PDOs) are listed for each SSSI. They might include drainage, excavation or change of use.  [Normally where the site is already under a management agreement or management plan agreed with Natural England then the consent will be implicit in these plans. ].

There are three separate strands, based on who is applying and why :

1. Consents (= Section 28 E)

– applies to SSSI owners/occupiers of an SSSI asking permission to undertake works, including a public body where it isnt part of their functions e.g. where they own a SSSI.

2. Assents (= Section 28 H)

where public bodies are carrying out their functions such as  and they need to undertake works on a site that includes an operation identified in the SSSI notification as likely to damage.

3. Advice (= Section 28 I)

– where a public body, such as a local authority, has powers to grant permission for others to undertake work on an SSSI.  Natural England can advise against giving permission for such operations that may “damage the special interest of the site” or advise that conditions should be attached.

Natural England may grant consent, with or without conditions, or refuse consent on operations, where it is not “compatible with furthering the conservation and enhancement of the special interest of the site”.

More information is available from Natural England : https://www.gov.uk/guidance/protected-areas-sites-of-special-scientific-interest 

Ring us if you need advice or supporting surveys.

Bat licence delays – May update

Brown long-eared bat captured during demolition work

Brown long-eared bat caught in demolition work

Finally some good news for bat licences !  The bat queue seems to be declining and the delays are down from four to three weeks. Not brilliant, but better than nowt. Our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future seems to have been wrong ! We don’t have May data for newts, cos we are too busy doing surveys still.

There are still staff shortages within the species protection teams, so the reduction must be down to the effort of the staff. We suspect that they will now be given a large pay rise in recognition of their efforts.

Natural England delays remain 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 following are based on ‘New’ Application processing time during the four week period 06th April 2015 to 08th May 2015 :

Bat Update (as of 8th May 2015)

  • 202  ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ 368 on 6/4/15 ; 355 on 10/2/15 ; 279 on 22/12/14 ]
  • “New application processing time: Average delay of 14 days (44 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Reduction from 47 days on 6/4/15 ; 48 days in February and 47 days in 22 December ]

Similar processing times were reported for Modifications and Resubmissions.

 

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.

 

Natural England – update on European licences delays : 16/2/15

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.

Natural England – serious delays to European licences

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 ]