We're using pioneering Environmental DNA (eDNA) techniques to monitor Great Crested Newts and other aquatic animals in key locations across England.

Hand holding a white box with the words 'Great Crested Newt eDNA testing kit' in orange. Grass in the background.

eDNA monitoring for Great Crested Newt

The PondNet eDNA survey for Great Crested Newts is an annual survey of 131 randomly selected 1Km grid squares spread throughout England. It is the biggest species survey using this cutting-edge technique.

Volunteers and project officer survey 380 ponds using eDNA (environmental DNA). They collect water samples using a standardised methodology from each pond during May and June, which is the newt breeding season. Laboratory analysis of the samples can detect the presence of Great Crested Newt. This is helping to build a national picture of the breeding locations for this protected species.

The results are used to monitor status and change of England’s Great Crested Newt population. Because it is a European protected species, this reporting is required by the Habitats Directive.


Man and woman sitting outside. Woman wearing blue surgical gloves, holding a water testing kit.

- National Trust staff help with the PondNet eDNA survey

What is eDNA?

Environmental DNA (eDNA for short) is DNA that’s released into the water by plants and animals in a host of ways: from their skin, faeces, mucous, hair, eggs and sperm, or when they die. It is now possible to monitor the freshwater species that live in ponds, streams and other waterbodies simply by collecting a water sample, and analysing it for traces of DNA.

Freshwater Habitats Trust was involved in the first large scale application of this exciting new technique – investigating its potential to survey ponds for Great Crested Newts across England and Wales in 2013.  With the help of many volunteers, we collected the first national data set as part of PondNet 2015.

About eDNA
Bag of water with debris in it next to a pond.

Pilot study - 100 volunteers

In 2013, we carried out a pilot study to monitor Great Crested Newt eDNA. The results showed that the eDNA technique was both remarkably effective for detecting newts, and that the water samples could be easily collected by untrained volunteers.

We provided 100 volunteers across the UK with test kits and a simple instruction sheet. Without further training or need for a survey licence, they collected and preserved a single water sample from 250 ponds where Great Crested Newts were known to occur and posted the kit back for analysis. Subsequent laboratory testing showed that the eDNA techniques correctly detected newts in 91% of these ponds.

Man leaning over pond with water testing kit.

Detailed study - monitoring Great Crested Newt eDNA

A more detailed study of 35 ponds in Hampshire and North Wales looked at how well the eDNA test detected newts over time. These intensive studies showed that a single water sample taken at any time during the newt breeding season is almost certain to detect newts when they are present. eDNA detected the animals on 139 out of 140 occasions when the ponds were visited – a 99.3% rate of detection.

Both the volunteer and detailed surveys were better than any combination of traditional survey methods for finding Great Crested Newts, including torch counting at night, bottle trapping or searching for eggs.

Great Crested Newt on a log.