Getting stuck in the mud at Cley

With support from members, business and the Heritage Lottery Fund, Norfolk Wildlife Trust acquired 60 hectares of land at NWT Cley Marshes in 2014. Norfolk Wildlife Services carried out baseline studies of the plants and invertebrates with particular focus on the impacts of the January 2014 flooding on the site’s ecology.

We decided to get stuck into the project (literally) to survey the saline lagoons and freshwater dykes across the site for aquatic plants such as Phragmites australis, and aquatic invertebrates such as the water boatman Arctocorisa garmari.  Initial results showed that an increased proportion of the open water on the site was unsurprisingly either brackish or saline. The effect on invertebrate species was evident during surveying as several groups were under-represented such as dragonflies.

In early summer 2015, we will survey the terrestrial invertebrates when they are most active. Some of the terrestrial invertebrates sought for include the Red Data Book ground beetle Pogonus luridipennis, or more commonly found cross spider Araneus diadematus.  Invertebrates like these are key indicators of the habitat quality and conditions present.

NWS will be running a workshop in September next year, looking at how the invertebrate population at Cley supports birds such as bittern, avocet and godwit. Check our website for more details on this “Bittern’s Breakfast and Avocets Lunch” event.

Great Crested Newt Surveys

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.

This great crested newt was found during pitfall trapping in 2014

This great crested newt was found during pitfall trapping in 2014

Smooth newt found during bottle trapping

Smooth newt found during pitfall trapping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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 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.

Great crested newt captured by netting

Great crested newt captured by netting

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alex’s Work Placement Blog

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 !

Rescued cat with Alex

Kitten with good acting skills as Great Crested Newt in training exercise

Picture of Alex with the cat

Alex on placement at the NWS office with bemused kitten

When are reptiles active ?

Reptiles, such as adders, grass snakes, common lizards and slow worms, rely on the heat from the sun to warm their bodies in order to become active, but if it becomes too hot will overheat and seek shelter from the midday sun.

Therefore, these creatures are only active during the warmer months, typically from March to October, but are easiest to spot when the weather is not above about 18 degrees C [ so June and July are often too hot once the sun is fully up]. During suitable times, they can sometimes be seen basking in the sun on south-facing banks, or rocks, or underneath hotspots, such as discarded corrugated iron sheets. They hibernate throughout the colder, winter months, during which time they seek refuge underground or, for example, in log or rubble piles, so called “hibernaculum”.

NWS can undertake reptile surveys on sites, that are proposed to be developed. Where they are discovered on a site, we can advise clients on any mitigation required, for example reptile translocations or habitat creation.

Bat survey – what does it involve ?

Why and when is a survey needed ?

All British species of bats and their roosts are protected by UK and European law.  Local Planning Authorities (LPA) therefore take bats into account when determining planning applications and may request a bat survey.

Bat survey of barn with an endoscope by Stewart

Bat survey of barn with an endoscope by Stewart

A bat survey is required where bats could be affected by a development. Examples include sites such as old barns, buildings close to woodland and water, bridges, and old trees. The presence of bats does not mean that the development cannot go ahead. It just means that more details may be required on their use of the site.

Anyone planning to develop or demolish a building, which might affect bats, should plan for bat surveys and perhaps any mitigation needed.  The bat survey and assessment work will require an experienced, specialist bat consultant, so you need to find someone you can work with and trust.

How is a bat survey carried out ?

The initial stage of a bat survey involves a day time visit. This allows advice on the likelihood of bats being present or using the site.  If bats are potentially present, then summer bat “emergence surveys”, carried out at dawn and dusk, can then tell if the building is used as a roost. This also builds up detail about how any bats are using the site and the wider landscape. Sometimes winter bat surveys are required where there are cellars or suitable places for hibernation (e.g. ice houses ), but this are rare in East Anglia.

A similar method will apply for tree survey, although for woodlands a tree assessment method or transects may be more appropriate.

How is it used ?

The bat survey will be used by the planning authority to determine the application, and this may include attaching conditions such as timing for the development, installing a bat loft or bat boxes. Landscaping works may enhance the habitat for bats around the development.

What happens after planning ?

Where bats are significantly affected then a European Protected Species (EPS) licence will be required from Natural England.  This is issued free, but needs a bat specialist to put together the application and supervise the works. The licence set out how the works must be carried out as well as any monitoring after the development is completed.  Once this is in place the works can proceed on a clear timetable.

Our tip for when planning a development is to seek initial advice for your bat survey and mitigation well in advance to prevents unexpected delays in planning.

Further info

The Bat Conservation Trust has recently published good practice guidelines on the process for bat surveys and mitigation. These are a very helpful guide where bats are affected by development proposals.

Pee of newt and poo of bat – bat identification from droppings and DNA

Droppings, faeces, dung, poo – call it what you will these are a mainstay in the ecologists fieldcraft for id’ing species, and bats are no different.

Finding bat droppings within barns and lofts, at bat access points and under cracks and holes in trees is a good initial indicator of bat presence at a site. Knowing they are bat droppings is relatively easy, as although they look very similar to mouse droppings, when crushed they easily break down to a fine powder, made of insect carapaces.

You can sometimes determine the species or group of bat species present, purely from their droppings. Until recently this has been fairly tough, relying predominantly on how the droppings look….their colour, size, shape and texture.

Pipistrelle droppings are usually very small and regularly oval shaped, but by eye you can’t tell the difference in droppings between the three different species. Brown long-eared bat droppings are usually longer and twisted, but can often break up at the twists to look like smaller droppings. Serotine droppings are usually ‘bullet’ shaped.

However, there can be substantial differences between droppings from individual bats of the same species, with the diet playing the greatest role.

Brave souls have endeavoured to determine bat species by dissecting bat droppings using a microscope, and using the insect fragments that remain to determine what the bat’s diet is. This can then be compared to databases on preferred prey of different species. A taxing and time consuming process.

But more recently, DNA analysis technology has made identification of bat species from their droppings quick, easy and reliable. Specialist labs extract DNA from a single bat dropping (to avoid any risk of cross species contamination), undertake Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to obtain the mitochondrial DNA sequence, allowing identification to species through phylogenetic analysis [ apparently !]. And, as there is no overlap in mitochondrial DNA between species.

In plain English, an almost 100% reliable way of id’ing bats by their poo !

No one squashed in destructive search

During the start of the year, Norfolk Wildlife Services had a busy couple of days, when we were asked to assist at very short notice with an emergency destructive search of a small grass field outside of Norwich, where there was concern about the presence of protected species, but emergency public water supply works were also required.

Working together Abi and Stewart and the JCB drivers used an approved method statement that protected the wildlife, but also kept the ecologists out of risk of injury from being squashed.  So it could be done safety but efficiently, the digger drivers slowly removed grassy vegetation and the top soil, then the ecologists checked closely to find and move any wildlife out of harm’s way, each taking it in turn from the other. Luckily the find was limited to three hairy caterpillar and the site was declared clear for the client to start construction on site the same day.

Jpeg

What are your top tips for a successful project?

  1. Be able to recognise when there might be an issue – protected species, timings of surveys, delays to your project, etc.
  2. Know when to seek professional help – problems from wildlife generally arise when surveys are sought too late, i.e. after plans have been drawn up or builders engaged.
  3. When in doubt, seek an opinion as soon as possible – bring in an expert to ‘eyeball’ your site early on so that you don’t get caught out when it’s too late.
  4. Allow for timings for wildlife surveys and mitigation in your timetable – generally these will be undertaken in the summer months, so plan ahead and make sure you get these scheduled in in good time.
  5. Much of the protection for wildlife is under criminal law and many offences are arrestable, so take it seriously!

What information is needed for a survey?

A site location plan (“red line” plan) will always be required. Also useful are proposals for the finished development, any pre-existing ecology surveys that have been undertaken at the site, a timetable for your project with clear deadlines and details of any effects, e.g. drainage, hydrology, lighting, transport access and construction methods.