3:00 pm – Our survey site was in just over the East Sussex border in Kent, over an hour’s drive away, so Rosie Marston and I made sure we had all the equipment we needed. We loaded our van with over 100 bottle traps, as there were six ponds to survey. Both Rosie and I are holders of a licence to survey great crested newts, so are able to carry out bottle trap and torch surveys, as well as searching for newt eggs, within the confines of the law.
6:00 pm – We arrived on site a bit later than hoped, having been caught in rush hour traffic, but luckily I had visited the site before so I knew where to find the ponds!
6:00 pm – After putting on our wellies and gathering the equipment we placed the traps in the ponds. It was already getting dark so we had to get a move on. We started with the least accessible pond. We noticed as we entered the water that a number leaves on aquatic plants such as water mint, were folded over. After unfolding one of the leaves, we discovered a great crested newt egg. We needed only one to confirm that great crested newts were using the pond for breeding, so we left the rest alone. Uncovering a newt egg leaves it at risk to predation, and we hoped to minimise disturbance. We trod carefully when putting the traps in the pond, and moved to the next, but we didn’t find any further eggs.
8:30 pm – We finished placing all our traps in the ponds, and as it was fully dark, we packed up. After a quick cup of coffee from our flasks and putting on a few extra layers, we started the torch survey. Starting with the first pond where we set the traps we instantly spotted an adult male great crested newt amongst the vegetation. He quickly disappeared from view, disturbed by the torch light, so we continued the survey. A total of 13 male and five female great crested newts were recorded in the pond, as well as a small number of smooth newts. We found great crested newts in just one of the remaining five ponds.
10:30 pm – Having finished the torch survey, I had an hour and a half’s drive back home in Brighton before an early start tomorrow to bring the traps in. I was jealous that Rosie lives only 20 minutes from the site!
05:30 am – My alarm went off. I needed to leave by six to make it on site for 7.30am, to meet Rosie.
07:30 am – I met Rosie on site, and we started to bring in the bottle traps. In the first pond we had a huge surprise: a grass snake had wrapped itself around one of the traps and was trying to eat whatever was caught inside! After putting up a bit of a fight for the trap, the snake swam off, and we opened the trap to find an adult male great crested newt (looking relieved). We found a further male and six female great crested newts in the traps in the pond, but none were found in any of the next five ponds, only a few smooth newts and some sticklebacks.
09:30 am – The traps were all in and after a quick coffee we set off back to the office. When I got in I typed up the data and worked on a few reports. As there were another five visits to be carried out at the site, I needed to make sure they were scheduled in our resource planner, so that at least half of the visits were carried out in the peak time of mid-April to mid-May, with the rest completed by the end of May. In reality I was looking forward to heading home at around 3pm for a hot shower and nice dinner, before starting another survey at a different site the following evening.
Over the course of the six survey visits to the ponds we recorded great crested newts in five out of the six ponds surveyed, within which they were recorded breeding in four. We were able to advise the client on how to proceed with the mitigation for great crested newts at the site, producing a report suitable for submission to the planning authority. We continue to work with the client on the project, whilst they secure planning permission for the site.