Great Crested Newt Conservation

Update: Latest news on Year 1 of the South Midlands District Level Licensing scheme.

Freshwater Habitats Trust is part of a consortium of organisations testing a new approach to great crested newt conservation known as ‘district licensing’. Since February 2018, great crested newt District Licences have been granted to 16 District Councils across the South Midlands. Here we introduce the project and provide links to further information.

At present Britain’s laws aim to protect every pond where great crested newts are found, as well as every individual animal and the dry land habitats where the newts live outside the breeding season. Where newts are found in places targeted for building houses and roads, this can lead to substantial delays for construction work while surveys are carried out and newts removed from areas that will be built on. This is often very expensive and often fails to protect the newts in the long term. Ponds may be left behind in little pockets of green space in otherwise urbanised areas, becoming polluted by runoff from roads and buildings, and squeezed into unsuitable landscaped surroundings which provide poor quality habitat. Alternatively, newts may be moved to new locations which, even when purposely designed, have often turned out to be unsuitable for them in the longer term, simply postponing for a few years their inevitable demise.

Great Crested Newt (c) David Orchard

Great Crested Newt (c) David Orchard

The new approach focuses on making sure that newt populations are healthy across the countryside as a whole by providing enough high quality, clean water ponds, with natural meadows and woodland, to ensure that the newts can breed and thrive. The construction and management of ponds and their surroundings will be funded by developers, and follow the principles developed and tested in the Million Ponds Project and described in The Pond Book and the Amphibian Habitat Management Handbook. As population numbers grow, newts should be able to easily spread from place to place – essential for healthy thriving populations – through a network of high quality habitat. In the new approach, rather than trying to protect every existing pond where the animals are found, however poor in quality or even those supporting small populations, the aim is to ensure that the countryside is once again full of clean, unpolluted, ponds with more good quality terrestrial habitat so the animals can once again become common and abundant.

Trials of this approach are being undertaken in several parts of England, and Freshwater Habitats Trust is part of a consortium, coordinated by Naturespace Partnership, working in the south Midlands in an area running from Oxfordshire in the west to Bedford in the east. The consortium also includes Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, one of the UK’s main amphibian conservation organisations, NatureMetrics, a specialist eDNA company, and Associated British Foods, which works with farmers and the food industry. Our trial complements work being undertaken by Natural England themselves in Kent, Cheshire and Shropshire, and a third pilot being undertaken by Warwickshire County Council.

The first stage of this work was to assess the factors affecting the distribution of great crested newts across the project area using environmental DNA survey methods to quickly assess whether newts are present or absent from a large representative sample of sites. Samples were collected in May and June 2017 from sites chosen at random in the project area. The data collected was used to make a computer model of newt distribution across the South Midlands to underpin the new newt conservation strategy. Subsequent stages of the project during 2017 included:

  1. Creating a model and map of habitat suitability for great crested newts throughout the pilot area – one of the key tools in assessing impacts from developments on newts.
  2. Identifying great crested newt priority zones throughout the project area, where the creation of management of newt habitat would most benefit the newts at the landscape scale.
  3. Developing a monitoring/ surveillance programme that provides sustainable long-term monitoring and transparent reporting of newt status at site and landscape levels.
  4. Developing  a costed programme of high quality habitat creation and management – including both aquatic and terrestrial habitat – to achieve the net gain in conservation status in the pilot area, and strengthen existing populations.

    eDNA sample collecting

    eDNA sample collecting

In February 2018, great crested newt District Licenses were granted to Aylesbury, Bedford Borough, Bedford Central, Milton Keynes, Oxford City, South Oxfordshire, and Vale of White Horse District Councils. Nine new district councils joined the scheme in August 2019, including Cherwell District, Cotswold District, Cheltenham Borough, Forest of Dean, Gloucester City, South Northamptonshire, Tewkesbury Borough, Stroud District and West Oxfordshire District Councils.

A new, community-benefit society was set up by the consortium with the sole purpose of creating and managing habitat for great crested newts with licence fees paid by developers: The Newt Conservation Partnership

More information about the project can be seen in various locations including the Natural England website and in the media, such as here and here.

Developers: Please see the NatureSpace website to find out how the great crested newt District Licensing scheme works for developers.

Landowners: If you are interested in new ponds or pond management for great crested newts, please complete the below contact form:

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