Natural England releases the results from the most comprehensive investigation into the population status and distribution of great crested newts in Britain.
The one year study commissioned by Natural England and carried out by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, sheds new light on the status of great crested newts, but conservationists are concerned by some of the results.
Great crested newts have declined dramatically in the last 40 years and although still widespread across lowland England they are now uncommon. Despite protection under UK and European wildlife law, numbers are still declining overall, and deterioration of habitat remains their biggest threat.
Conservation of the species has previously been difficult due to patchy and inconsistent data. The latest research provides the most comprehensive picture of where newts can be found, but shows that many of the ponds that newts call home are in fact of poor quality and unlikely to sustain them, or other species, in the coming years. The results from the study, which used innovative computer modelling techniques and the Habitat Suitability Index will help better protect the newts and focus future conservation efforts.
Andrew Wood, Natural England’s Director for Science and Evidence said: “This survey shows that although great crested newts remain quite widespread, they are still in decline and their long-term future remains uncertain. The comprehensive picture this survey provides will be essential for informing future efforts to help conserve this charismatic, but vulnerable native species.”
Dr. John Wilkinson of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation said: “We very much hope that this report will lead to better, bigger, more and joined up conservation approaches for UK great crested newts – this will deliver real benefits for the species and its habitat.”
Historical research has shown that a century ago there were around one million ponds in our countryside. That has shrunk to around 478,000 ponds now – a decline that has been compounded by poor water quality and too much shade. With only a quarter of the ponds occupied by newts in good condition, the progressive loss of suitable habitat is a cause for real concern. Initiatives such as the Million Ponds Project, led by Freshwater Habitats Trust (then Pond Conservation) and supported by Natural England, aim to put high quality ponds back in the countryside.
Dr Jeremy Biggs from FHT (then Pond Conservation) said:
“Great crested newts rely on networks of good quality ponds for their survival. The Million Ponds Project is currently creating thousands of new clean-water ponds across the UK to help not only great crested newts, but also many other pond dwellers, such as dragonflies, water bugs and our rarest water plants. All of these groups are declining because of poor water quality, so improving the quality and quantity of ponds across the UK landscape needs to become a key national conservation priority.”