Here at Acer Ecology, we understand that protected species surveys and the regulations behind them can sometimes be a little confusing for our clients. This article on Great Crested Newts aims to provide some advice and clarification on the species which, if not considered early in the planning process, can cause substantial delays and extra costs to your development.

Why might I need a great crested newt survey?

Great Crested Newts are given full protection under both the UK and European legislation. This protection extends to the habitats which support great crested newts. It is generally assumed that the species might be present in terrestrial habitats up to 500m away from a breeding pond, depending on habitat quality, connectivity and population size.

This means that you are committing a criminal offence if you kill or injure great crested newts or damage or destroy their habitat. Because of this, if a project or development is deemed likely to affect a great crested newt population, a great crested newt survey and impact assessment will be required by your local planning authority before they grant planning consent. It is your responsibility as a developer seeking planning consent to organise and fund the survey.

Stage 1: Conduct a preliminary ecological survey for great crested newts and other protected species

Being prepared and planning protected species surveys in advance will prevent delays and the associated costs during the planning process. Therefore, before commencing with the planning process, it is important to determine the potential presence of great crested newts and other protected species on your site. This usually takes the form of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal. This stage will identify a broad range of issues relevant to the project such as the number and quality of possible great crested newt breeding ponds on and within 500m of a site. This information will go on to inform the latter stages of the process. This stage usually involves a site visit and a desk study.

Acer Ecology can carry out this initial survey across the proposed area of your development site. This will assess the potential of the existing habitat to support great crested newts and other protected species. Appropriate advice upon the outcome of the survey results will be promptly provided. Where the potential for great crested newt presence is found on, or within 500m of your development site, further targeted surveys may be required.

Sometimes a preliminary ecological appraisal is not required and the local authority may specifically request targeted surveys for great crested newts.

Stage 2: Targeted great crested newt surveys

Where impacts from your proposed works are likely to affect great crested newt habitat, a survey specifically for great crested newts must be undertaken. This will establish if there are any great crested newt breeding ponds present and determine the size of any populations present.

Either four or six separate survey visits are required to either confirm likely absence from a site or to give a population size estimate. The timing of the surveys is seasonally constrained from mid-March to mid-June when animals are present in their breeding ponds. At least half of the survey visits must be undertaken between mid-April and mid-May. If this survey period is missed, there will be a delay before the surveys can be carried out the following year. This would result in a significant setback in the timescale and cost of your development project.

We also offer eDNA surveys for newts. eDNA surveys for great crested newts can be undertaken between 15 April and 30 June. While this method of surveying is generally quicker than the more traditional survey efforts described above, this method only produces a presence/absence result and cannot be used to estimate population sizes. Please note that where the presence of newts is found through eDNA surveys, traditional surveys may also be required to establish the population size.

Stage 3: Survey report

Once the size and distribution of the great crested newt population on your development site is understood, Acer Ecology will provide a detailed report specifying the impacts that the development may have on the great crested newt population. The report will also set out a mitigation strategy. This will include a precise method statement, outlining the mitigation procedures that will be implemented as part of your development proposals. This will mitigate for the loss of any great crested newt habitat and help to avoid the injury or killing of individual newts. This is a legal requirement when dealing with protected species such as great crested newts and bats.

Planning consent

The method statement will be included within your planning application to the relevant Planning Authority. The statement is required to gain planning consent and will form part of your development licence submitted to the appropriate regulatory body (Natural Resources Wales, Natural England or Scottish Natural Heritage).

Complete and submit a great crested newt licence application

As European Protected Species Licences (EPSL) is required to gain planning consent and start works, failing to complete the EPSL applications correctly, or submitting them late will cause significant setbacks in the timescale of your project.

Acer Ecology can prevent such setbacks by promptly completing and submitting your great crested newt and other EPSL applications (for example, bats and dormice).

Provide on-site advice during the construction phase of your development

Upon approval of your great crested newt licence (and other European Protected Species licenses), it is important you adhere absolutely to the stipulations of the licence. Should the relevant authority (NRW, NE or SNH) carry out an inspection of the licensed activity on your development site and stop works as a result of non-adherence, further delays and expense will be incurred.

To prevent unexpected delays and costs, Acer Ecology can provide on-going assistance to help you ensure the terms of the licence are adhered to. This could include giving protected species briefings to site workers and supervising on-site work.

Click for more information about great crested newt surveys and eDNA surveys, or find out what great crested newts are up to throughout the year. To learn about our other ecological services, call us on 029 2065 0331.

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