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Great crested newt

Background

Male great crested newt (copyright Dave Kilbey)The great crested newt Triturus cristatus is the UK’s largest newt species.  Great crested newts spend the majority of their lives on land, but migrate to water in the spring to breed.  Females lay their eggs on the submerged leaves of aquatic plants.  The newt larvae (efts) take around four months to develop into young newts, at which point they leave the pond and spend up to four years in suitable terrestrial habitats developing into sexually mature adults.  Rank grassland, woodland and scrub provide optimal conditions for terrestrial newts, but built structures and other man-made features can also be very important places of shelter.  Terrestrial newts tend to use suitable habitats within 250 m of their breeding ponds.

Great crested newts use ponds and a variety of other standing water bodies for breeding purposes.  The photos below show examples of non-typical aquatic habitat in which Applied Ecology Ltd ecologists have recorded large breeding populations i.e. where we have captured 100 or more great crested newts on any one survey occasion.

Former vehicle wheel wash pit in Oxfordshire

Derelict swimming pool in Cambridge

Ornamental pond in Peterborough

Small but very deep garden pond Northamptonshire

Conservation status

Great crested newts are widespread throughout England and Wales, but are localised in Scotland and absent from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  It is estimated that there are about 75,000 populations in the UK.

Great crested newts declined throughout Europe in the latter part of the 20th century as a result of agricultural intensification and the consequent loss, degradation and fragmentation of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Ponds that were once used for watering livestock have been replaced with piped water supply and livestock drinking troughs, resulting in pond management neglect and eventual pond loss through hydro-seral succession to dry land.

Aquatic great crested newts are particularly conspicuous to predators as a result of their habit of “hanging about” in open water, and newt larvae, particularly, are very vulnerable to predation by fish.  Although we have found great crested newt populations coexisting with fish (typically when broad-leaved pond weeds of the family Potamogeton are abundant and may provide cover for newts) fish and great crested newts rarely coexist.

Legislation

Great crested newt emerging from a wall

Torchlight survey confirming great crested newt use of a wall for shelter

Great crested newts 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 the great crested newt is 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).  In Scotland, great crested newts are protected under Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended).

It is an offence, with certain exceptions, to:

  • Intentionally or deliberately capture, kill, or injure GCN;
  • Intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy, and disturb GCN in a place used for shelter or protection, or obstruct access to such areas;
  • Damage or destroy a GCN breeding site or resting place;
  • Possess a GCN, or any part of it, unless acquired lawfully; and
  • Sell, barter, exchange, transport, or offer for sale GCN or parts of them.

The legislation covers all newt life stages such that eggs, tadpoles and adult newts are all equally protected.  Actions that are prohibited can be made lawful by a licence issued by the appropriate Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation. The GCN is a Priority Species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and has been adopted as a Species of Principal Importance in England under section 41 of the NERC Act 2006 (section 42 in Wales) and in Scotland under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

Licensing

Setting newt trapsA survey licence is required for completing survey work using standard survey techniques at any site where there is a reasonable likelihood that great crested newts are present.  Applied Ecology Ltd ecologists have extensive experience of completing small and large scale great crested newts surveys across the UK and have the necessary licences to carry out great crested newt survey.

If significant negative impacts on great crested newts are predicted as a result of development, a European Protected Species development licence is also required.  In order to issue the licence, the relevant SNCO would need to be provided with sufficient evidence (as part of the licence application) that the development is either for the purpose of ‘Preserving public health or public safety‘ or for ‘Imperative reasons of overriding public interest‘.  It must also be demonstrated that the favourable conservation status of great crested newts would be maintained and that there is no satisfactory alternative to the proposed development.

Survey

Survey methodology for great crested newt is most frequently based on confirming newt presence and population size in water bodies during the amphibian breeding period, and should follow the methodology described in English Nature’s Great Crested Newt Mitigation Guidelines (2001).  The recognised survey window is from mid-March to mid-June, and should involve well-spaced repeat survey visits of all suitable and accessible water bodies within the development site and off site up to 500 m away.  At least 50% of the repeat survey visits (four to prove presence/absence, and six to assess population size if present) should be completed in the time period mid-April to mid-May when most newts are likely to be in their breeding ponds.

 

Great crested newt egg

Great crested newt egg

 

Standard survey techniques include netting, overnight funnel or bottle trapping, after-dark torchlight survey, egg searches of submerged aquatic vegetation and hand searches of terrestrial refugia.  The use of drift fencing and pitfall traps can also be employed to verify the presence of newts in terrestrial habitats.

 

Great crested newt belly patterns

Great crested newts have unique belly patterns which can assist with population “mark-recapture” surveys

 

Mitigation

Newts in a funnel trapIf survey confirms the presence of great crested newts on a site, and the development is considered likely to result in significant adverse impacts on newts and their places of shelter, serious consideration should be given to ‘designing out’ potential conflicts (e.g. by retaining and protecting key newt-friendly habitat features) both to minimise the impact on newts and reduce timing delays and costs associated with implementing often very onerous mitigation measures under the auspices of an European Protected Species (EPS) licence.

Where significant adverse impacts are unavoidable, a mitigation strategy will need to be developed and (ultimately) an EPS licence obtained before the mitigation work involving newt capture can proceed.  Typically mitigation would be based on replacement habitat creation and the capture and relocation of newts to safe receptor areas using amphibian proof drift fencing and pitfall traps during the newt active season.  The amount of capture effort required to effectively clear an area of newts is dependent upon the size of the newt population that is impacted.

Applied Ecology Ltd has extensive experience in designing and implementing great crested newt mitigation strategies under EPS licence, and would be able to advise on the most appropriate strategy to follow based on over 12 years first hand experience working for a range if clients from individual householders to multinational companies.

See Survey Calendar for survey timings.

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