There are three species of newt in Britain; the Smooth Newt, Palmate Newt and the Great Crested Newt. The Great Crested Newt is the largest of these, with distinctive dark, warty skin when viewed from above, and an orange underside covered in individually unique black markings. In spring, the males develop a crest along their back and their tails. The tail also has a vivid silver blue mark along each side. In contrast, female tails are yellow-orange along the bottom. In spring, once temperatures rise, adults return to ponds to breed. During the rest of the year when temperatures fall, adult newts leave the water and hibernate on land in places such as wood piles, walls, or underground; typically protected from frost, but not dry.
Great Crested Newts do not reach breeding maturity until around their third year. At this point they usually return to their birth pond.
Great Crested Newts require a diverse, dense terrestrial habitat for shelter and food when on land, and use corridors such as hedges and ditches to disperse from the breeding pond. Ponds favoured by Great Crested Newts are usually of a medium size with areas of open water for breeding displays, and emergent or submerged vegetation for egg-laying, with good feeding opportunities.
The Great Crested Newt is protected under European law through Annexes 2 and 4 of the EU Habitats and Species Directive, the Bern Convention and The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010; and in the UK through Schedule 2 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Great Crested Newts are protected in the UK as this country represents their stronghold within Europe.
The presence of Great Crested Newts is a material consideration in the planning process, and development plans should take the presence of ponds into account. As newts are capable of moving substantial distances overland (typically 200-500m from their breeding pond, but up to 1.3km) it’s usually considered necessary to assess the suitability of habitat within 500m of proposed development and survey all suitable ponds for newts during the breeding season.
As newts are largely nocturnal, surveying is best conducted at night and during the breeding period of mid March to mid June. Usually four visits are required to determine presence or absence, or six visits to estimate population size class. In either case, 50% of the visits must take place between mid April and mid May. A combination of techniques is used on each occasion comprising egg searching, torching, netting, bottle trapping and terrestrial searching.
LICENSING AND MITIGATION
Licenses are necessary if a development is planned within 500m of a water body where newts may be present, or if the surrounding habitat may be affected. In order to obtain a licence it has to be clearly demonstrated that any potential damage to newt habitat will be adequately compensated for. Current Natural England advice is that there should be no net loss in local Great Crested Newt status, taking into account factors such as population size, viability and connectivity. Mitigation should aim to maintain a population of equivalent status on or near the original site, and should facilitate links to adjacent populations where present.