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May - The Great Crested Newt proves elusive

Posted: Friday 22nd May 2015 by A-sense-of-nature

The survey season is now well under way and whilst myself and my conservation colleagues do not usually do many surveys for great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) we have recently visited seven ponds (in Derby, Alderwasley and Creswell) checking for amphibians especially great crested newt in order to help inform a number of planning or management issues. 

All of these ponds have so far proved negative for great crested newt. None were located in areas known to support large numbers of this species and several of the ponds also had fish. Adult newts try to avoid breeding in these ponds as the fish eat the newt eggs. The conservation of great crested newt has been much debated in recent years and there is a thoughtful review of this issue by Trevor Beebee in the latest edition of British Wildlife. In summary we still lack a coherent conservation strategy for this species at both European and local levels and that includes Derbyshire.

The loss of ponds in some parts of the County over the past 100 years has been huge. Fewer ponds, especially farm ponds, means fewer newts and great crested newts have declined by 50% nationally and continue to decline today. Whilst advising a planner in the last few weeks who had commissioned surveys for great crested newt around part of Swadlincote we identified 6 potential ponds. After initial visits by an ecological consultancy we now know only one of these remains and this looks unlikely to be suitable. The developer may at this point be feeling quite relieved, but these ponds used to contribute to a meta-population of great crested newt that is declining and under threat from further development elsewhere.

We have noted an increase in the use of eDNA analysis to identify the presence of great crested newt in ponds. This method is particularly useful if carried out at an early stage of a project to help inform which ponds should be targeted for detailed surveys to establish population size. The cost of eDNA analysis is slowly reducing.

 

A bottle trap left overnight at one of the ponds we visited to check for great crested newts.

Another aspect of the overall assessment for great crested newts that Trevor Beebee highlighted in his article is the Habitat Suitability Index – ponds with high scores may or may not support newts, but at least indicate where we ought to spend our time looking.

There is a need and potentially new opportunities here for the Trust and others to build a more comprehensive picture of the status of key great crested newt meta-populations within landscapes without incurring huge costs – maybe. But if we did it we might be able to persuade the developers and other partners to build in pond creation as standard to every new eligible planning application and those ponds would be located in and around the meta-population to increase breeding opportunities. It would also give us leverage for the creation of terrestrial habitats that also benefit plants, insects, small mammals and birds. I think we will try and look at this perhaps starting in South Derbyshire where the National Forest could play a key role.


 

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