What is a great crested newt survey?

A great crested newt.

As great crested newts are a protected species, a survey is needed to establish whether or not they are living near to any prospective development site. A developer must comply with legislation which protects great crested newts and adopt an appropriate mitigation strategy if the species is found on or near to the site in question; as a last resort, compensation measures must be put in place for any harm to them as a result of the scheme.

Survey techniques used to detect newts include torching, pitfall traps, bottle trapping and the newer eDNA (environmental DNA) surveys, which involve analysing water samples from ponds or other water bodies on the site to detect newt DNA.

Why are surveys required?

Great crested newts are listed as a rare and most threatened species under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006), and this must be taken into account in planning decisions. Great crested newts are also protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. It is an offence to:

  • Deliberately kill, injure, disturb or capture them.
  • Deliberately take or destroy their eggs.
  • Damage or destroy their breeding sites and resting places.
  • Possess, control or transport them (dead or alive).
  • It is also an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally or recklessly:
  • Disturb great crested newts while they occupy a sheltering place.
  • Obstruct access to a shelter or protection place.

When is a great crested newt (GCN) survey required?

Whenever it is considered likely that GCN are present in the area of a prospective development; the survey will accompany a planning application and will investigate potentially suitable habitat such as freshwater ponds or aquatic habitats up to 500m from the development site, along with woodland, hedgerows and grassland. A survey may not be needed if the probability of GCN in the area is unlikely, or the planned scheme would not impact on any such population.

Survey methodology

eDNA surveys detect the presence of newts in water. A single survey is usually sufficient to collect water samples and send them off for laboratory analysis. If DNA is identified, a full survey comprising six visits by experienced ecologists may be needed to calculate population sizes.

Traditional newt survey methods include: netting, bottle trapping, torchlight searches and egg searches in vegetation.

For a local planning authority to accept the results of a newt survey for a planning application, and for Natural England to accept the results for a GCN mitigation licence, surveys must take place during the newts’ breeding season, from mid-March to June. eDNA surveys can take place from mid-April to June.

An adult great crested newt.

The Great Crested Newt District Licensing (DLL) Scheme

This is a mitigation licensing scheme which may be granted at local planning authority level or at a wider scale in England; in areas covered by a DLL, developers can choose to make a financial contribution to the scheme instead of carrying out their own newt survey or applying for a separate licence.

Now offered by many local planning authorities, DLL schemes allow developers to make a conservation payment to cover the cost of restoring or creating ponds in areas away from the development site. In some situations, eDNA surveys may be needed to establish the presence or absence of GCN.

A DLL scheme involves:

  • A map indicating key GCN areas.
  • An assessment of development; at either local authority area or wider coverage.
  • A conservation strategy to consider the effects of development and improve the local GCN conservation status.
  • Habitat improvement areas.
  • A strategy for compensatory habitat provision, i.e., replacement of habitat lost to development.
  • A developer contributions scheme to fund the strategy.

Options for developers:

If a developer decides to opt for DLL to satisfy their GCN obligations, they must sign an agreement with Natural England or another DLL operator, which enables them to include their proposal in the scheme, subject to planning consent being granted.

If a developer chooses not to be involved in a DLL scheme, they must provide a newt survey if:

  • There is a possibility that GCN are present on the proposed site according to distribution records.
  • The proposed site has water features such as ponds or ditches within 500m (for smaller developments, 250m may be accepted).
  • The site includes shelters such as grassland, scrub, log piles or hedgerows within 500m of suitable water habitat.
  • A developer choosing not to use a DLL, and where the application is likely to affect GCN, must apply for a Great Crested Newt Mitigation Licence.
Potential newt habitat.

Newt survey requirements:

  • A qualified ecologist who holds a Natural England Great Crested Newt Licence must conduct the survey.
  • The presence or absence survey can involve eDNA sampling.
  • A population size survey.
  • A terrestrial habitat and aquatic habitat survey.

For sites which are not in a DLL scheme, developers should:

Submit information with their planning application about how their scheme avoids or mitigates impact on GCN. If the scheme is likely to have an impact, an assessment will be made of population numbers, the site in relation to other populations, and its importance to local and national GCN populations. A site’s proximity to features such as a Site of Special Scientific Interest may also be considered.

Ponds

If a GCN breeding pond will be destroyed by a development, the developer should compensate by:

  1. Replacing the breeding pond with at least two new ponds on the site of the same size.
  2. Ensuring that these ponds are suitable for GCN before the old pond is destroyed, which may take a full growing season.
  3. Replacing or safeguarding other ponds which are potentially used by GCN within 500m.

Site management

A local planning authority will consider the following management requirements for sites not in a DLL scheme (these may be required by protected species licences).

  • Management of aquatic vegetation in ponds.
  • Clearance of tree or shrub cover around ponds.
  • Leaf fall management; de-silting and clearance.
  • Grazing or mowing of grassland.
  • Management of woodland and scrub.

The maintenance plan

This should consider habitat, including ponds, after development as well as monitoring newts. It should also cover works to habitats to check that mitigation measures are working and ensure that remedial works are carried out if needed. The plan should also assess the effects of introducing fish into ponds, leakage from ponds, rubbish dumping, fires or other damage, for instance to fences, along with tunnel silting or blockages.

How to start a great crested newt survey

The first step is to contact a suitably qualified ecological consultancy like Arbtech. They will be able to tell you what is required and when the survey needs to be done. Getting in touch with an ecological company early on is recommended so that you reduce the chances of delaying your project. Walkover Surveys cost from £399, depending on the size of the proposed development and the individual scheme. Phase 2 survey prices start from £1,699.

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