Great-crested newt surveys
Great-crested newts (Triturus cristatus) are the largest newt species in the UK; the other two native species being the palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) and the smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). Once common across a large part of Europe, the great-crested newt has declined significantly across it's range, due to farming intensification and the gradual loss of breeding ponds.
Newt Legal Status
Great-crested newts and their habitats are strongly protected under UK and European law, with a penalty of 6 months imprisonment or an unlimited fine for committing an offence.
Great-Crested Newt Surveys
In order to establish the presence of great-crested newts on a site, a newt survey will be required. Newt surveys are seasonal, and should be undertaken between mid-March and mid-June. However, scoping surveys for newts can be undertaken outside of this season.
Licensing and Mitigation
In order to permit a development on a site that has an active great-crested newt population a development licence from the national authority (such as Natural England) may be required.
In this instance, a mitigation plan will be required to ensure that the favourable conservation status of the species is not significantly impacted.
Case Study: Ropsley Quarry, Lincolnshire
SK Environmental Solutions Limited were asked to produce a European Protected Species (EPS) mitigation licence in order to translocate a population of great crested newts out of a quarry in Lincolnshire, in order for minerals excavation to proceed.
Great-crested newts (Triturus cristatus) are the largest newt species in the UK; the other two native species being the palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) and the smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). Once common across a large part of Europe, the great-crested newt has declined significantly across it's range, due to farming intensification and the gradual loss of breeding ponds. The UK has therefore become one of the great-crested newt strongholds, the population being preserved by the legislation put in place to protect them.
Newts are usually found associated with small to medium sized ponds with rough vegetation in close proximity. They can be relatively vulnerable to predation, being preyed on by both birds and fish. Therefore, ponds with heavy wildfowl or fish presence are considered less suitable for newt populations. Being amphibious, the terrestrial vegetation can be as important as the aquatic habitat. If a site has good access to hedgerows, rough grassland or woodland, then it may be suitable for great crested newts. Typical great-crested newt sites are field-edge ponds within mixed or less intensively managed farmland. However, great crested newts can also be found within urban environments and even industrial locations.
The adult newts move into the ponds in the spring to breed and lay eggs. The females attach the eggs to aquatic or floating vegetation. These eggs then hatch into small newt larvae, similar to a tadpole, which develop within the pond until they metamorpose into their adult form and leave the pond, usually in late summer.
Great-crested newts hibernate in the winter and therefore access to refuge locations is also important. Newts can be found amongst wood piles, stones, or even buildings and building rubble. These hibernacular are usually within 250m of their summer breeding ponds. As newts are not very mobile in the winter, they are often not seen and their presence can easily go unnoticed.
Great-Crested Newt Legal Status
Great-crested newts are protected in UK and European law. They are listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention and on Annexes II and IV of the EU Natural Habitats Directive.
In England and Wales they are also protected under Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), while in Scotland, great crested newts are protected under Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended).
These acts make it an offence to:
Intentionally or deliberately capture, kill, or injure great-crested newt;
Intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy, and disturb great-crested newts whilst they are in a place used for shelter or protection, or obstruct access to such areas;
Damage or destroy a great-crested newt breeding site or resting place;
Possess a great-crested newt, or any part of it, unless acquired lawfully; and
Sell, barter, exchange, transport, or offer for sale great-crested newt or parts of them.
These laws apply to all life stages of a great-crested newt, including eggs, larva and tadpoles. Breaking these laws is classed as an 'Absolute Offence'. This means that if an offence is committed, the person can be found guilty by the act alone, even if he/she had no intention. Essentially, negligence is not an excuse and there is no requirement for the prosecution to establish intent or fault.
This highlights the importance of ecological survey work so that offences are not accidentally committed by well-meaning developers who have not established the status of great-crested newts on a site.
Great-Crested Newt Survey
Great-crested newts move into small and medium sized ponds in the spring in order to breed; this is when they are easiest to survey. SK Environmental Solutions undertake great-crested newt surveys in accordance with English Nature’s Great Crested Newt Mitigation Guidelines (2001).
A newt survey involves techniques such as direct netting of adult newts or larvae, observing newts under torchlight at night, checking aquatic foliage for eggs, checking terrestrial regugia, such as under logs or rocks or setting traps to catch the adult newts over night.
The accepted great-crested newt survey season runs from mid-March to mid-June. Survey visits should be well spaced out, in order to ensure that a suitable sample of the site is taken. At least half of the survey visits should be undertaken between mid-April to mid-May, which is the peak period for newt activity.
Great -crested newt surveys should be carried out on any pond within a development area, as well as any pond up to 500m from the boundary of the site. An initial newt survey (to establish the presence of likly absence of great-crested newts) requires 4 visits. However, if Great crested newts are found then two further visits (making 6 in total) will be required to establish a population estimate of the site.
Newt Licensing and Mitigation
As great-crested newts are a European Protected Species (EPS), work which would have a significant negative impact on the welfare or favourable conservation status of any individual or population of newts, would require a European Protected Species development licence from the Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural Resources Wales or Northern Ireland Environment Agency).
In order for the relevant SNCO to issue the EPS licence, the SNCO would need to be provided with sufficient evidence that the development is necessary, either through ‘Preserving public health or public safety‘ or for ‘Imperative reasons of overriding public interest‘.
As part of the application, which is usually handles by your ecologist, a great crested newt mitigation plan or method statement must be produced. SK Environmental Solutions are very experienced in producing these statements and brokering a compromise so that developments can progress with minimal disruption to both the project and to the newts involved.
Mitigation may include trapping newts out of an area and setting up receptor sites within which the trapped newts can be relocated into. This receptor site is often improved for newts and will include new ponds, artificial refuge areas and habitat piles and improved vegetation. SK Environmental Solutions provide advice and assistance to construct these areas, including liaising with the ground staff to ensure a successful end product.