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Everything You Need to Know About Newt Surveys in 2023
No matter what kind of newt survey you need – whether it’s a great crested newt survey or an initial assessment for a different variant of this species – we do everything we can to find out if you actually need one before providing you with a quote. Our team carry out this process by talking to you about your development site and gathering information to determine if the necessary protected species survey may be required.
Information that would benefit our ability to gauge if a newt survey is needed includes site plans and development proposals. For further insight into your site, we may also choose to utilise aerial photography prior to sending you a quote. That said, clients are commonly told that they need a newt survey, enabling us to expedite and provide your newt survey quickly.
Speed and efficiency are at the forefront of both our initial and further survey work. Our team boasts of trained, qualified, experienced and licenced ecologists, all with a vast knowledge of habitat surveys for great crested newts and other native newt species present in the UK.
Based on an extensive understanding of European protected species and the corresponding assessments, our team offer a comprehensive overview of relevant factors, such as the breeding area, conservation status, population estimate, methodology, and any further information required about newt species and great crested newt surveys.
Why Have I Been Asked For a Newt Survey?
A newt survey may not have been part of the early planning stage of your project, and as such, you may have lots of questions about what they are and why they are needed. In an effort to avoid encountering any nasty unexpected surprises in your project, we pledge to keep you informed on important factors as we provide traditional survey methods on proposed works where newts are present.
There are three species of newt in the UK, including the great crested newt (triturus cristatus), the palmate newt (lissotriton helveticus) and the smooth newt (lissotriton vulgaris). Although all native newt species are given a level of protection, a devastating decline in abundance and range spanning across the last century has meant that great crested newts have been given particular attention.
More specifically, great crested newts are protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, along with a list of other fully protected species. Applicable to newts, their eggs and their habitats, the regulations enforce that it is against the law to deliberately kill, injure, capture or disturb great crested newts.
Any activities that could breach these laws are applicable, with a development proposal posing particular harm as it may be the location of a breeding site or resting place. During any building and development work, it is important to refer to ecological consultants, as newts may be present and only their insights and expertise will guarantee that the project will go smoothly and no UK laws will be broken.
About Newt Surveys
At a predetermined time, sufficiently experienced ecologists will attend your site to undertake a newt survey. The initial assessment will categorically confirm or deny if newts are present, and based on these findings, the ecologist will be able to determine whether further surveys are needed. If they are, the phase 2 survey will provide the ecologist with more information about the newt species present.
The smooth newt and pale newt aren’t extensively protected and therefore will not cause any limitations in your project or trigger any further surveys on the site. The great crested newt (GCN), however, is protected within multiple existing acts and – if identified on the site – will call for further surveys before local planning authorities will be satisfied enough to grant a planning application.
Below, you will find a detailed explanation of the newt assessments we conduct:
Scoping Newt Survey / Habitat Suitability Index (HSI)
Best known as a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment, an initial newt inspection is a form of scoping survey. Rather than the physical presence or absence of newts on the site, it focuses on habitat quality, and as the assessment revolves around habitats that are unlikely to change with the seasons, HSI surveys can be carried out during daylight hours at any time of the year.
If there are features within 500 metres of aquatic habitats, technically, the development site includes refuges for great crested newts. The habitat suitability for a site will range from poor to excellent, with several points in between that indicate moderate suitability. Sites that are classed with below average or poor habitat suitability will suggest that harm to newts arising from the proposed development is acceptably low and no further surveys will be needed.
Alternatively, however, sites classed with average or higher habitat suitability will indicate a newt or GCN presence, triggering the requirement for a phase 2 survey. In terms of cost, prices for a scoping newt survey / Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) start from £399.
Phase 2 / Population / Trapping Survey
Also commonly titled a newt population survey, a population size class estimate or a newt trapping survey, a phase 2 survey involves a number of strict seasonal restrictions. Often arranged for high-quality habitats and populations, the phase 2 assessment will consist of multiple visits to the site, conducted at dusk and dawn, and between the months of mid-March and mid-June.
Depending on the approach of the ecologist in charge of the assessment, a phase 2 survey can be carried out in a variety of ways. As well as the traditional methods, the ecologist may opt to utilise the following methods instead, such as egg searches in vegetated ponds, hand searches of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, lamping (searching in the water after dark), netting, and trapping (collecting newts with bottle traps and funnel traps).
Each approach will result in the ecologist visiting the site and reporting back on their findings. A mitigation strategy will then be formulated and sent across to your local planning authority, acting as a method statement that will contain everything needed for their approval. Due to the seasonal restrictions, developers will need to wait until the following year if they have missed the survey season between mid-March and mid-June, with at least three or four survey visits across this period needed to sufficiently convince the local council.
Newts are at peak activity between March and June, and following the assessment, you will have all of the information you need to sail through the planning application process. If necessary, you can then obtain a European Protected Species Licence (EPSL) from Natural England or Natural Resources Wales. Our team will assist with applying for an EPS licence. Due to the amount of work involved, the cost for a phase 2 survey typically starts from £1699.
eDNA Newt Surveys
It is sometimes possible to determine presence or absence of great crested newts by taking water samples and sending them off for environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis. A cheaper alternative to a phase 2 survey and a relatively new method of surveying and supporting great crested newts, if eDNA analysis comes back negative for a site with average or above habitat suitability, you could save thousands of pounds as well as potentially months of delay.
Due to the fact that eDNA newt testing relies upon environmental DNA evidence left behind in pond water secreted through newts’ skin during breeding season, the assessment can only be undertaken between the months of March and June. If planned accordingly, however, a developer would find multiple benefits from arranging an eDNA survey, including receiving the report faster while paying a relatively low cost for eDNA analysis.
For instance, Arbtech have used eDNA detection on a number of sites recently, both in Surrey and Cheshire. In each of these instances, our clients saved a considerable amount of time and money by showing that newts were not present without the need for a further assessment or any other form of survey work on the site.
Great Crested Newt Surveys
As the great crested newt (GCN) is listed as a protected species, subject to species regulations and acts as the only native newt species to feature in all of our newt inspections, our assessments focus heavily on them. In essence, the early stage of the newt surveying process will prioritise confirming if newts are present, but – considering the implications caused by UK legislation – with a particular concern over great crested newts.
For more insight into great crested newts and great crested newt surveys, check out our extensive overview below:
Background – The Life and Times of Great Crested Newts
The great crested newt (triturus cristatus) has an estimated breeding population of less than 400,000, making them the rarest of British newts. Although rarely sighted in Wales and Scotland, great crested newts can be found throughout the UK and all across northern Europe. Found in lowlands, ponds and any other outdoor feature that holds water, great crested newts swim and commonly dwell within water with a high PH balance that contains broad-leaved vegetation, access to sunlight and few predators (e.g. large fish).
Great crested newts are the largest native British newt, growing up to 17cm long when fully grown. They have granular skin texture and use both aquatic and terrestrial habitat. In the terrestrial phase, the great crested newt is black or dark brown over the majority of its body with an orange or bright yellow stomach pattern. You can tell an adult male and female great crested newt from each other, as the male great crested newt has jagged crests running along their bodies.
As well as holding full protection as a listed protected species within the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the great crested newt is also listed as a species of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England and Wales under Sections 41 and 42 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
Great Crested Newt Survey Guidelines
In all of our surveys and assessments, we operate to the highest possible standards for our clients and guarantee a resulting reasoned statement that will satisfy the purpose of the inspection. Between clients that want insight that will contribute to the planning process and clients that require evidence to put forward as part of planning applications, we can provide advice to meet your needs.
Suitably registered in England and Wales, our licensed ecologists are experienced and capable of carrying out assessments and other necessary tasks such as searching historical records for data that will benefit your project. For great crested newt surveys, we will choose an ecologist with the most relevant experience to use a standard methodology on your site and assist you with gaining planning permission from the corresponding local planning authorities.
Great Crested Newt Survey Season
Sharing similarities to other fully protected species, great crested newts are guided by a strict annual cycle that contributes to their survival. Following a dormant period in the winter, great crested newts move into courtship and breeding season, allowing for the adult newts to mature eggs and sperm. A relocation will then take place between February and April which will see the great crested newts move to their chosen pond.
A number of factors such as temperature and rainfall will prompt the moving process. Great crested newts are ectotherms, meaning that they rely on external heat sources to raise their body temperature to a level that facilitates activity. As a result of this, a great crested newt is likely to emerge at night when conditions are wet or damp, and air temperature stands at a minimum of 5°C. To guarantee their own safety, they will ensure that temperatures have been similar for several days before emerging.
At the start of breeding season, a female great crested newt may only lay a few eggs at night, but then go on to lay 10 or more eggs per night in early spring around April due to the rise in temperature. For protection, each egg is enclosed in a jelly-like substance and individually wrapped in leaves. Eggs are kept safely underwater in suitable water bodies and take up to three weeks to hatch. It is a sensitive period, as half of great crested newt embryos die at the tail bud stage.
After two to three months of development, the larvae metamorphose process will see each surviving great crested newt transition from larvae to juvenile and emerge from the pond and onto the surrounding habitat over a two-month period. At this stage, each great crested newt will be developed enough to hibernate over winter months, emerging the following year as adults ready to perform the next cycle. Adult males will often return to the same breeding sites, but with the option of skipping a breeding season to relocate elsewhere – a process known as programmed movements.
Great Crested Newt Survey Window
With a limited opportunity for newt assessments based on the season, our trained and experienced ecologists are only given a certain time period for assessing a site for the presence of great crested newts. Once a great crested newt has been identified on a development site, four visits to known inhabited ponds and any other ponds within 500m during dusk and dawn will be needed.
For further insight into great crested newt occupancy and increased scientific validity, the number of visits may be extended from four to six. Four of the visits need to be performed within the season of mid-March to mid-June. At least two visits, however, must be performed between mid-April and mid-May, as it will allow for ecologists to confirm the locations of their breeding ponds.
Great Crested Newt Survey Techniques
Across several stages of the assessment process, specialised techniques are utilised to retrieve information from the site. From exercises to confirm the presence or likely absence of great crested newts as part of a phase 1 survey, to the need to collect water samples as part of an eDNA survey, our ecologists arrive with the necessary survey equipment and an advanced understanding of the suitable techniques.
Techniques involved in a survey on great crested newt occupancy include:
- Bottle trapping
- DNA analysis
- Egg searching
- Funnel trapping
- Torchlight surveying
- Water sampling
An inspection on great crested newts also involves a thorough inspection of the site. Ponds and bodies of water are top priority, but newts may also appear near to water body in burrows, grassland, hedgerow, log piles, rubble, rocks, scrub, woodland, and among tree stumps and roots.
In terms of the equipment used during an assessment, an ecologist would usually need bottle traps, callipers, dewsbury traps, drift fences, high powered torches, nets and pitfall traps, as well as the necessary clothing such as protective gloves and waders.
Great Crested Newt Mitigation and Licencing
If you have a presence of great crested newts on your site, you will need to offer the required mitigation measures under licence. Without a suitable mitigation licence, not only will your local planning authority deny a planning application, but you will also be breaching the legislation that protects the newts.
For you to correctly meet the requirements of a European Protected Species (EPS) licence application, you will need to follow the suitable protocols and meet certain criteria of the licensing body. Based on your location, the mitigation licence will come from Natural England or Natural Resources Wales, and following countless projects we’ve worked on, we can help simplify and facilitate the process on behalf of clients.
With a mitigation licence, newt mitigation measures and compensation measures can be conducted with the consent of the law. Examples of these mitigation and compensation protocols include:
- Creation of aquatic and terrestrial habitat
- Educating of contractors on site
- Hand searching your site
- Identification of suitable holding and receptor areas
- Installing great crested newt fencing
- Modifying the development plans to avoid newts
- Physical translocation of the newts
- Post-development population and habitat monitoring
- Supervision of contractors on site
Alternatively, under certain circumstances, you may be required to apply for a District Level Licensing (DLL) scheme if the site is situated within an area designated by the local council.
Starting the Newt Survey Process
You may have been told that you need an assessment, or an assessment may be required after seeing indications of newts on the site. Either way, our experienced ecologists are ready and prepared to attend your site, and as they are registered in England and Wales, they can attend almost any location throughout the UK.
All you need to do to start the survey process is get in touch with our team and give us the specifications of your site and project. From there, we will work with you to assist on your proposed works and guarantee that you are following the necessary great crested newt mitigation measures and precautionary measures to operate within UK law, eliminate any negative effects to protected species, successfully pass a planning application, and allow your development to move forwards as planned.
Get in Touch with Our Ecologists
Developers are encouraged to contact us via any of our selection of communication options. You can call us using the number at the top of this page or fill out an enquiry form. All we ask is that you give us as much information about your site and project as possible, as it will contribute to an accurate quote. We will then send you a free quote for you to look at, and if you are happy to continue, let us know and we will get the wheels in motion.
On a chosen date, an ecologist will visit your site to carry out the required cost-effective newt / great crested newt surveys on present aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Following initiation of the suitable survey methods, we will send across the completed ecology report featuring the survey results for submission to your local council and, if necessary, assist you with the application for an EPS licence to benefit your proposed works.