Great Crested Newt Surveys

Why do I need to consider great crested newts?

Great Crested Newts are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) as amended and the Conservation of Species and Habitat Regulations (2017).  This legislation makes it illegal to:

  • Capture, possess, sell, control or transport live or dead newts, or parts of them
  • Kill, disturb or injure great crested newts
  • Deliberately damage or destroy a breeding pond or resting place
  • Deliberately or recklessly obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places
  • Take great crested newt eggs

Great crested newts are amphibians, but only spend a relatively short amount of the year in water, with the rest of the year normally spent on land in and around their breeding pond.  They can move significant distances between the pond and the surround area, particularly when they emerge from the ponds for the first time as juveniles. 

When do I need to consider great crested newts?

Any plans for proposed development or activity within 500m of a potential or confirmed breeding pond that could harm great crested newts should consider the compensation and mitigation required.

Plans for smaller scale developments, within 500m but further away from the immediate vicinity of the pond, are likely to have less impact on the species and therefore survey requirements and any mitigation or compensation will be reduced.  The loss of breeding ponds or large developments close to breeding ponds are likely to require a greater level of survey, mitigation and compensation to address the impact on the local population. The following activities could affect newts and proposals should consider their presence:

  • excavations and soil stripping.
  • removing vegetation such as grassland, scrub, hedgerows or woodland or making it unsuitable for use by newts.
  • removing potential refuges such as log piles, rocks or building materials piled on the ground
  • maintaining, filling in or destroying ponds or other water bodies, or changing local conditions which could affect ponds such as changing the water table, increasing run off into these wetlands or introducing fish
  • removing functional habitats which link terrestrial areas to breeding ponds.

Our ecologists have provided advice for a large number of different sites with varying levels of impact on great crested newt populations, advising on levels of survey work required, avoidance measures to ensure works can proceed with no impact on local populations, or developing a suitable licensing strategy, along with mitigation and compensation measures, ensuring projects can proceed with minimal impact.

What does a survey consist of?

There are two main ways of surveying for great crested newts:

Environmental DNA is a relatively new technique using advances in DNA coding to detect the presence of newts within ponds during the breeding season.  It has been shown to be more than 99% effective in tests completed by Natural England and can show newts to be present or absent within ponds.  Samples are taken from 20 locations around each pond, mixed together and sent to a specialist laboratory to determine whether great crested newt DNA is present in the sample.  The results of the survey are accepted as being sufficiently robust in showing presence or absence, and in some cases this level of survey effort could be all that is needed to produce an impact assessment.  It will not, however, give any information on population size, nor other species that could be using ponds such as the common toad, which is a national priority species. Sampling to show absence can only be completed between mid- April and the end of June and can only be done by ecologists licenced to work with the species.

Conventional surveys can show presence or absence, but also give information on population size, which is required in some circumstances.  This method requires more survey effort in that, in order to prove the absence of newts from a pond, four surveys to the pond will be needed between mid-March and mid-June. To enable a population estimate to be made 6 visits are required.  During each survey, three methods of survey will be used: searching for eggs, setting traps for the species and nocturnal torchlight surveys of the pond edges.  The trapping method requires two visits to the site, one in the evening and one the following morning.  This method provides more information on the population, and will also provide other information on the use of the pond by other species such as the common toad, common frog, smooth and palmate newts.  It will also allow a population estimate to be made if great crested newts are found.

In addition other methods such as refuge searching and pitfall trapping can be used in specific circumstances to determine the presence of the species.

What OSE can provide

OS Ecology Ltd have extensive knowledge of great crested newt surveys, impact assessments, mitigation and compensation schemes and licensing.  Our directors hold class licences for the species, including a class 2 licence allowing pitfall trapping as a survey method. They have also held numerous great crested newt mitigation licences and one is also a registered consultant on the Low Impact Class Licence for the species.   One of our staff also holds a Scottish Natural Heritage licence for the species.

OS Ecology