Great crested newts (GCN) are a European protected species. Newts, their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are all protected by law. A licence from Natural England or Natural Resources Wales must be obtained for any activity that will negatively impact on newts, including disturbance and the destruction or damage of their habitats (ponds and the land around ponds).
A preliminary ecological appraisal or extended phase 1 survey together with an appropriate desktop survey can determine if GNC are likely to be on site (based on current and historical species records and known distributions, suitable GCN habitat on site, and/or a pond within 500 m of the site, even one that dries out during part of the year).
A formal assessment of any ponds present, measuring the Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) will determine of ponds appear suitable for GCN, in which case further surveys will be required. The survey season is March and June, and the following methodologies are available:
- Environmental DNA (eDNA) testing of pond water to confirm presence/absence. This is costly, but only requires one set of samples to be taken.
Alternatively, traditional field survey methods may be used. These require four site visits (two of which must be between mid-April and mid-May) to confirm presence/absence. At least three of the following methods must be used on each visit:
- Torch survey – using high-powered torches at night to spot GCNs
- Egg searching – examining pond vegetation for eggs (or submerging artificial egg-strips if natural vegetation is absent or scarce)
- Hand-netting – identifying presence by capture
- Bottle-trapping – identifying presence by capture. Requires bottle traps to be left in place overnight and checked early the following morning
If newts are confirmed present (whether by eDNA or traditional survey methods), further surveys must be undertaken to provide an estimate of population size. In total, six site visits using traditional survey techniques (at least three of which must be undertaken between mid-April and mid-May) are required to make the population estimates necessary to inform mitigation and licensing.
Presence of newts in terrestrial habitats (outside the breeding season) can also be assessed by pitfall trapping or by looking under refugia.
Newt surveying is highly seasonal, so forward planning can help prevent delays. Download our ecological survey calendar for more information.