The Ecology Consultancy is gearing up for the first surveys of the year. Unfortunately for our ecologists, one European Protected Species thinks it is fine to wake up during the cold wet muddy days of late winter – the great crested newt (GCN).
This intriguing member of the salamander family has a huge range, extending from the UK and east across much of Europe. Their distribution in the UK is broad, with the highest populations occurring in England and south Wales, though they have been recorded at the furthest points of Scotland and in North Wales. They may be locally abundant in parts of lowland England, but occur less frequently throughout much of the country. Over the last century, GCN have suffered a major decline in the UK. This is largely due to habitat loss through agricultural expansion and land urbanisation.
The GCN is the biggest of the three newt species found in the British Isles and is fully protected by UK and European legislation. Throughout October to March, GCNs hibernate in log piles, disused mammal burrows, brick/rubble piles as well as in the mud at the bottom of their breeding ponds.
Surveys begin as they come out of hibernation in early March, and they continue well into June. GCN survey methods include cutting-edge environmental DNA sampling of the water to confirm presence/likely absence of GCN and pond surveys, which are the standard technique to survey for presence/likely absence of GCN and GCN population assessment. If GCN presence is confirmed on a development site, a full set of pond surveys (which involves six site visits) will be required to assess the population of GCN onsite. The results will be used to inform the application of a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) Licence to allow development works to proceed lawfully. A thorough mitigation plan has to be designed and agreed with Natural England.
GCNs are thought to inhabit natural and semi-natural aquatic habitats such as marshes, reed beds, spring fed ponds and bog pools. However, our ecologists have encountered them in rather unorthodox habitat such as roadside concrete drains and even in an ornamental fountain. It is an offence to damage any GCN habitat, be it aquatic or terrestrial. We urge developers to get in touch so that essential GCN surveys can be undertaken early in the season to avoid any unnecessary delays to your project.
Check the Protected Species Survey Calendar for the best time to do all your ecological surveys.