The great crested newt is an amphibian commonly encountered by developers and, in view of its protected status, a great crested newt survey may be required if the species is likely to be present on or near a site.
The great crested newt is a widely distributed amphibian in lowland Britain, with the exception of much of Cornwall and parts of Devon where it has a patchy distribution. It has declined significantly during the past century as a result of pond loss, habitat fragmentation and habitat deterioration; the latter largely as a result of changes in land management associated with post-war agricultural intensification.
Great crested newts are strictly protected under several pieces of legislation. Notably, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it offence to kill, injure, capture or disturb great crested newts, damage or destroy their habitat or possess, sell or trade them. Further, as a result of a population decline in Europe, the species is also listed on the Habitats Directive which is transposed into UK law by the Conservation Regulations. As a European protected species, therefore, a licence may be required before any site clearance can take place that would affect newts or their habitat.
What does a great crested newt survey involve?
For the most part, a great crested newt survey is likely to focus upon the aquatic environment, since this is where adult newts are most often found in spring, when they return to their breeding ponds. It is worth noting, however, that the species terrestrial habitats (such as rough grassland, scrub and rubble) are also protected as these animals spend a considerable proportion of their lives out of water.
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Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment
If, following a desk study (which is often undertaken as part of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal), records of the species are found locally, and if there are ponds within 500m of affected habitats, then these ponds should ideally first be subjected to a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) assessment. This is a simple matrix-style appraisal which uses a number of pond parameters (such as size, presence of fish etc.) to assess whether the water body has potential to support great crested newts.
Surveys of aquatic habitats
If the HSI assessment suggests that a pond may be suitable for this species, then a full great crested newt survey may be needed - assuming of course that access permission is possible. A great crested newt survey would be undertaken to check for presence of newts and if present to determine population size. The latter information is required for the purposes of European protected species licensing.
Great crested newt surveys in Devon
As a result of the patchy and rather uncertain distribution of great crested newt in Devon, Devon County Council have prepared guidance to assist developers and consultants in deciding when this species should be considered in a planning context. The guidance is based upon great crested newt survey consultation zones; these are 2km radius circles drawn around existing and historic records (i.e. post 1970). In the event that a development falls within or close to one of these zones, and provided there is suitable habitat present within the development that could be affected, a survey is likely to be required of any suitable pond within 500m. It is worth noting that if a site falls well outside such a zone, it does not mean that great crested newts are definitely absent. A balanced view needs to be made regarding whether a survey is in fact required, based upon the distance of the nearest local record, type of habitat present and the abundance of ponds in the local landscape. For more information see the Devon County Council Guidance for Developers: http://www.devon.gov.uk/devon-gcn-guidance-june-2012.pdf
Get specialist advice
Andrew McCarthy Ecology can help and advise you with your great crested newt survey. Call 01392 833345 or email email@example.com.