Natural England - Good ‘newts’ for development and conservation

Good ‘newts’ for development and conservation

1 March 2013

This month, detailed pond survey work will be carried out as part of a major project to develop robust evidence around the distribution of great crested newts (GCN) across England, creating a high-resolution model capable of accurately predicting their population levels in different habitats.

Great crested newt
Great crested newt © Peter Wakely / Natural England

It is hoped that this investment in science will ultimately enable GCN issues to be addressed earlier and more flexibly in the planning process, minimising the costs and delays which developments can sometimes face, when one-off newt surveys need to be carried out and subsequent mitigation measures developed. The improved evidence base will also create benefits to help conserve this special, highly-protected species.

Hyder-Cresswell consultancies has been awarded the contract for the first phase of the GCN Evidence Enhancement Project, which involves collection of extensive habitat suitability and water quality data from ponds across seven pilot areas in Dorset, Kent, Gloucestershire, Milton Keynes, Epping Forest, Lincolnshire and Cheshire. Using Land Registry and Ordnance Survey data to locate ponds and identify their owners, ecological consultants have now contacted landowners across these areas, requesting permission to access. This been carried out in liaison with the NFU and CLA.

Britain is a stronghold for GCNs, but their population, although widespread and locally common, is generally declining. Habitat loss - particularly of the ponds that adult newts require for breeding - and intensive agriculture are the key threats to their conservation.

Great crested newts are fully protected under domestic and European law, making it an offence to capture, kill, injure or disturb them or to damage key elements of their habitat. Despite the high level of protection afforded to GCNs, their continued decline indicates that current conservation approaches are not sufficiently effective. Natural England believes that a deeper understanding of their habits will allow more effective maintenance of their favourable conservation status across the country, providing the opportunity to more proportionately address some of the impacts they can have on developments.

This project forms part of our work with Government and others to consider some of the wider challenges associated with the Habitats Directives and improve how we deliver our role as an adviser and regulator, when interpreting laws which protect European Protected Species. Subsequent phases of the project will see suitable ponds surveyed for the presence or absence of GCNs.