There are three species of newt native to the UK, smooth newts, palmate newts and great crested newts. Out of the three newt species only great crested newts are specially protected.
Great crested newts are amphibians which means they spend part of their life in water (breeding) and part on land. Great crested newts lay their eggs in ponds onto vegetation which they fold into packets with their hind legs. The larva hatch within 3 weeks and stay in the pond until they go through metamorphosis and become sub-adults. At this point most of the newts leave the pond, although some stay in the pond longer than others. The adult newts spend most of their time on land.
Great crested newts take their name from the large crest males develop during the breeding period. Females do not have a crest.
If the presence of great crested newts is a possibility due to previous records, a nearby pond and/or suitable terrestrial habitat, surveys should be carried out to establish presence or absence and population size.
Habitat Suitability Index - HSI
The Habitat Suitability Index is a measure of habitat suitability for great crested newts developed by Oldham et al. (2000). It is not a substitute for newt surveys but can give an indication of the likelihood of newts being present. However, the system is not sufficiently precise to allow the conclusion that any particular pond with a high score will support newts, or that any pond with a low score will not do so.
HSI can be a useful tool in combination with other methods.
Newts are easiest recorded during the breeding season when they migrate to their breeding ponds to mate. The breeding season typically last from mid-March to mid-June.
at least 4 survey visits are required to establish absence
2 of the visits should be carried out during peak season (mid-April to mid-May)
surveys employ at least 3 different methods (preferably torch survey, bottle trapping, egg searching)
Population Size Class Assessment (ponds)
If great crested newts are found, a further 2 survey visits are required to collect sufficient information about the population size.
at least 6 visits are required to estimate population size
at least 3 of the visits should be carried during the peak season (mid-April to mid-May)
Pitfall trapping can be used to establish presence of newts where a pond cannot be surveyed, however this method is not reliable for confirming absence.
Environmental DNA (eDNA)
This technique involves collecting water samples from the pond and testing them for the presence of GCN DNA.
Natural England will only accept eDNA survey results from samples collected between 15 April and 30 June each year. eDNA can be a useful tool under some circumstances, for example if the newt survey season is almost over and a pond was not surveyed.
Under this scenario the eDNA analysis may show the absence of GCN and the development can proceed.
However, if the presence of newts is detected, it will be too late to carry out the 6 required visits to establish population size.
For these reasons it is important to plan ahead if wishing to use this technique instead of the traditional pond surveys.
Great Crested Newts
Great Crested Newts and their habitat are protected under British and European law due to the major decline in their numbers. Taken together the European Union’s ‘Habitats Directive’ transposed into British law by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, and The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) make it illegal to:
Intentionally or deliberately capture or kill, or intentionally injure a Great Crested Newt
Deliberately disturb Great Crested Newts or intentionally recklessly disturb them in a place used for shelter or protection
Damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place
Intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to a place used for shelter or protection
This legislation applies to the Great Crested Newt in all life stages.
If the proposed development results in damage or disturbance of Great Crested Newts or their habitats a licence from the relevant authority is required to allow the activity to progress lawfully.
Please see our section on EPS Mitigation licences.
Mitigation & Compensation
If GCN are present and will be affected by the development appropriate mitigation and compensation measures have to be taken to minimise any negative impact on the GCN population. Mitigation measures are typically practices which aim to reduce or remove damage (e.g. by changing the layout of a scheme, or altering the timing of the work). Compensation refers to the creation of new features to offset the damage that was caused by the activities.
Activities which result in damage and therefore require mitigation and compensation measures typically have to be carried out under a licence.