Firstly - what are newts?
Newts are amphibians with lungs which spend much of their adult life on land over wintering under refuges such as logs, piles of rocks and even drains; only to return to water to breed. Juvenile newts, or ‘efts’, have gills and live in the water until late summer when they metamorphose and come onto land. They will return to the water body they hatched from in two or three years’ time.
In Britain we have three native species; the common or smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris, the palmate newt Lissotriton helveticus and the great crested or warty newt Triturus cristatus.
Where are they found?
Smooth newts are widespread around the UK and breed in most standing waters such as lakes, ponds and ditches. Outside of the breeding season they can be found in deciduous woodland, wet heaths, bogs, gardens and parks.
Palmate newts are widespread but have a patchy distribution. They are common in Scotland, Wales and southern England but almost absent in central England. They have preference for small ponds in acidic soils but outside the breeding season they can be found in heathland and moorland.
The great crested newt also has a widespread but patchy distribution. They favour large ponds and lakes with lots of vegetation and no fish. Outside of the breeding season they can be found in rank grassland, woodland and scrub habitats.
So what does it mean for the construction site?
All of the native species of newt are protected to some degree by the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Full protection is given to the great crested newt which is also a European protected species and listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention and on Annexes II and IV of the EU Natural Habitats Directive. In England and Wales, they are protected under Schedule 2 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and in Scotland under Schedule 2 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 2012 (as amended). These activities would involve you breaking the law:
- capturing, killing, disturbing or injuring great crested newts deliberately
- damaging or destroying a breeding or resting place
- obstructing access to their resting or sheltering places (deliberately or by not taking enough care)
- possessing, selling, controlling or transporting live or dead newts, or parts of them
- taking great crested newt eggs
As for smooth newts and palmate newts they too are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 but only in so far as Schedule 5, Section 9:
Part 5 (a) selling, offering for sale, possessing or transporting for the purpose of sale (live or dead animal, part or derivative)
Part 5 (b) advertising for buying or selling such things
If newts are on your construction site, you may have a fully protected species of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in England and Wales, under section 41 and 42 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC)2006 and Section 2 of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. It is vital that, if your site has waterbodies within the site boundary and up to 500m from the site, you have a survey conducted for great crested newt. This must be done in the breeding season prior to construction so that mitigation can be designed and implemented.
Initially it is important to determine if great crested newts are present in any of the waterbodies on site and up to 500m from the site. This can be done in two ways, traditionally a bottle trap survey with egg searches and torch light searches is carried out on each waterbody up to four times. If no great crested newts are found then work can begin. If they are found a further two surveys are carried out which will determine the population estimate, this will help in designing mitigation. More recently a quicker, but more expensive, survey has been approved which involves taking water samples from all identified waterbodies and the samples tested for great crested newt DNA. This can save time as it can quickly identify those waterbodies without great crested newts with a high degree of accuracy. If great crested newts are identified in any of the waterbodies, then a full six visit bottle trapping survey must be carried out to determine the population size.
To conduct battle trapping, egg searches and torch searches requires a licence from an SNCO.
What can Nevis do?
Nevis has licenced surveyors who can conduct great crested newt surveys. Each survey has an optimum window for surveying as shown below from the governments website:
Nevis can manage the issue of great crested newts on site by working with the client to create mitigation solutions prior to construction beginning and for this to happen work must begin on surveying and exploring options a year in advance of construction, or before planning has been approved. It is essential that all potential great crested newt habitats are surveyed thoroughly prior to planning consent to avoid delays and the risk of fines. To disturb, handle or translocate great crested newts requires a conservation licence from either Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or Natural Resource Wales.