Great Crested Newt

Great crested newt (GCN) are one of our most protected species and can have significant impacts to the timescales and planning of projects. Here we explain why they can have an impact on developments, and how getting a head start when it comes to GCN, can help keep projects on track.

Great crested newt: ecology

Great crested newt © Thomsonec
Great crested newt © Thomsonec

Great crested newt spend some of their life cycle in aquatic habitats where they breed, and other time on land. As aquatic species, they’re vulnerable to changes in pollution and habitat fragmentation. They’re present throughout England, Wales and southern Scotland, with a range that extends across much of Europe. They can be found in a variety of wetland habitats including farm ponds, drainage ditches and even garden ponds.

They’re easily identified by their large size (up to 16cm) and warty skin, with the males sporting their large iconic crest in the breeding season. Read about the private life of GCN for more information on the lifecycle of great crested newt.

Will great crested newt and their habitat impact my development plans?

There’s a chance that great crested newt could affect your development if there are ponds or wetland habitat within 500m of the proposed works. Identifying whether the land you propose to develop can support the species, starts with a survey.

Great crested newt: surveys

an ecologist holding a female great crested newt © Thomsonec
an ecologist holding a female great crested newt © Thomsonec

During a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA), all habitats on site can be assessed for potential to support protected species. If suitable habitat for great crested newt is found, a variety of survey methods can be used to determine presence and, if required, to assess population size.
The survey window for great crested newt runs for a short time between mid-March and mid-June and Thomson employ several methods to survey for them, including conventional bottle trapping, torching and egg searching, as well as eDNA.

The survey window for great crested newt runs for a short time between mid-March and mid-June and Thomson employ several methods to survey for them, including conventional bottle trapping, torching and egg searching, as well as eDNA.

Great crested newt: eDNA survey method

Environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys can be used to detect great crested newt through sampling and testing pond water. Any newts using the ponds will shed DNA, and this is tested for when the samples are sent to the lab. This method can be used to determine presence or absence of newts in a pond. If they’re confirmed, other methods for surveying are required to establish the populations size. This eDNA method can save time and survey effort by scoping out ponds without newts in the first instance.

Great crested newt: legal protection

Despite their wide range, great crested newt has suffered a decline in population since the 1940s due to habitat loss and pollution. Consequently, legislation has been put in place to prevent numbers dropping further. Great crested newt are a European protected species under the EU Habitats Directive (92/43/ECC) and are protected, along with their habitat, in UK law under the Habitats Regulations 2017 & Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as amended.

It is an offence to deliberately kill or injure a great crested newt and to damage or obstruct their habitat. In addition, the great crested newt is a priority species in England, Wales and Scotland. Government policy is that local planning authorities should consider such priority species when determining planning applications.

Licensing requirements for great crested newt

Natural England licensing

As a fully protected species, the presence of great crested newt can lead to planning permission being refused if the applicant cannot clearly demonstrate that the species will be adequately protected during the development process.

Development that could impact great crested newt habitat within 500m of a breeding pond will also usually require a European Protected Species Licence (EPSL) for mitigation, issued by Natural England. An ecologist would advise on mitigation options for securing the licence.

Methods required to mitigate impacts could include changes to development designs to avoid damaging ponds, timing the works to avoid the breeding season, and creating new ponds and habitat. Licences can only be applied for once planning permission has been granted, so it’s important to ensure early consideration to coordinate with timescales for surveys, licensing, habitat creation, translocation and other mitigation works.

District level licensing

The Natural England district level licensing scheme for great crested newt aims to streamline the licence process. Under this scheme, developers in certain areas can pay to join the scheme and have to provide much less documentation in comparison to the usual licence application process.

As part of the scheme, developers will not normally have to undertake their own surveys and are required to do significantly less mitigation works.

Survey data is collected at the district level and the fee for joining the scheme goes toward mitigation for the district. There are schemes in Kent and Cheshire, but it’s open to the whole country and is likely to be rolled out nationwide by 2020.

Great crested newt: mitigation

When following conventional methods for GCN mitigation under license, translocation is usually required.

Great crested newt mitigation works, M1
Great crested newt mitigation works, M1 © Thomsonec

Translocation

Translocating GCN helps to ensure that local populations remain intact. Where re-location of great crested newt is required prior to the removal of ponds, creation and management of new ponds is usually also required.This provides suitable habitat before any translocation takes place. There are several mitigation methods available, depending on what suits a project best.

The optimal time for new pond and hibernacula creation is between March and October. Pond management can usually only be carried out between mid-November and February, due to great crested newt hibernating.

How we can help

As experts in environmental compliance, we’re experienced in great crested newt surveys, licensing requirements and appropriate mitigation works. If you have a project that we can help with, get in touch with us to discuss your needs and the most cost effective and timely options available.

Arrange a preliminary ecological appraisal with us today

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