Baker Consultants

Great Crested Newt Survey

Ponds, puddles and rubble. Any newts in there?

Great crested newts and their habitats both in water and on land are protected and a licence from Natural England is required to disturb them. Habitats include farmland, woodland, grassland, quarries and brown field sites, wherever there is a suitable waterbody for breeding. If a development will require site clearance, topsoiling, regrading and drainage work, archaeological excavation, construction works or creation/removal of temporary habitats, like piles of rubble, a GCN survey is required. A desk study can identify the likelihood of their presence. Book yours now.

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Protection and survey methods

Great crested newts and their habitats in water and on land are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended by the CRoW Act 2000), and under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. In addition, great crested newt is listed as a Species of Principal Importance under the provisions of the NERC Act 2006.

Great crested newts can be surveyed between March and June using standard methods, and between 15th April and 30th June using eDNA sampling. Following Natural England guidelines, a standard ‘presence/absence’ survey requires four visits to potential breeding open water habitat. These surveys are carried out between April and June, with at least two surveys being carried out between mid-April and mid-May and two additional surveys required to determine population size.

Surveys methods include torchlight surveys, netting, terrestrial search, egg search (on suitable vegetation) and bottle trapping. The latter involves placing plastic bottles set at approximately two metres apart around the margins of the waterbody which are left overnight then checked in the morning by a licensed surveyor. Using bottle traps allows ecologists to record biometric information such as gender and life-stage, before releasing the newts back into the waterbody.

‘eDNA sampling’ is now being used to detect microscopic fragments of DNA biomarkers belonging to great crested newts within waterbodies, where such fragments can persist for one to three weeks, depending on environmental conditions. This method can be used to determine species occupancy in ponds and can increase survey efficiency, saving time and money.

Great Crested Newt survey

Why Baker Consultants?

Baker Consultants has carried out Great Crested Newt surveys and advised on mitigation measures on complex development sites with multiple water bodies. Habitat loss or fragmentation is the most common long-term impact of development but other actions such as changing habitats (tidying up semi-natural habitats or dumping rubbish), introducing fish or invasive plants to breeding ponds, changes to the water table, increased siltation or chemical run-off; and increased shading can cause negative impacts. We can work with you from the initial design phase of your project to advise on the likelihood of GCN and how to incorporate habitat creation into your plans.

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Newts and their habitat

The great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) is the largest of Britain’s three indigenous newt species. They are black in colour with an orange and black spotted belly, and they have characteristic ‘warty’ skin, hence their other English name of Warty Newt. During the breeding season (April-June), male great crested newts develop an enlarged ‘crest’ along the back and a silver streak in the middle of the tail, which they wave and flick to attract females during courtship displays.

Great crested newts are found in a variety of habitats and prefer open water for mating displays, and typically require marginal aquatic vegetation for egg-laying. The female carefully deposits the eggs within leafy vegetation and then folds and seals it using an adhesive-like secretion. Once the eggs have hatched, the larvae will swiftly develop and metamorphose into ‘efts’ (juveniles) over a period of three to six weeks. By August, the immature newts will emerge from the pond and continue to develop in the terrestrial environment.

Great crested newts are carnivorous and will feed upon a range of aquatic invertebrates and the larvae of other organisms. Major habitat loss can cause reduced breeding and recruitment (e.g. fewer young, maturing and adults joining the breeding population leading to fewer breeding adults); fewer foraging opportunities; fewer refuges, leading to exposure to predators or harsh conditions; unsuccessful hibernation; and population fragmentation.

Great Crested Newt survey

eDNA Sampling

eDNA Sampling. For the field sampling, a trained and liscenced great crested newt surveyor identifies where twenty water sub-samples are to be extracted. Particular focus is given to areas with suitable egg-laying vegetation and open water, which may be utilised for mating displays. Specialist kits are used to collect the samples following strict guidelines and then sent to our professional lab for analysis. As eDNA persists in waterbodies (excluding sedimentary deposits) for a relatively short period of time, collected samples should contain the DNA fragments of great crested newts that were recently present within the waterbody. This technique has been supported by Natural England and, where negative results are returned following analysis, the requirement of further survey using the standard bottle trapping, egg search and torchlight methods can be omitted, saving clients time and money. A study published by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and conducted by the Freshwater Habitats Trust, showed that eDNA sampling used to determine the presence of GCN had an accuracy level of 99.3%, compared to only 76% via the standard bottle trapping technique.

Find out more about our Species and Habitat surveys