Amphibian Assemblages and amphibian survey

Too often the concentration today is on the legally protected Great Crested Newt. Formerly the Guidelines for the Selection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest was used to guide surveys and amphibian evaluation and the standard of amphibian identification was higher than today. Ponds in North West England can support up to three native Newt species, as well as Common Frogs and Common Toad, whilst coastal Ponds can support the Natterjack Toad.

Photos: Common Frog, Common Frogspawn, Common Frog tadpole (1) with Toad tadpoles, Common Toad female (side), Common Toad female (underside)

 Common_Frog_maleFrogspawnFrog_and_Toad_tadpolesCommon_Toad_female








The bottle-traps, although having no practical use in presence-absence surveys, are used by Dave Bentley Ecology Services to monitor Great Crested Newt populations. The traps we use are designed to eliminate risks to amphibians and to improve results:

  • Every bottle-trap  has a  grid of holes drilled in the  base to allow  water movement through the bottle improving
oxygen levels and reducing temperatures.
  • Every bottle-trap is set with an air-bubble contained above the grid of holes.
  • Every bottle-trap is set at a measured 2m spacing.
  • Every pond is trapped using complete rings of  bottle-traps  unless absolutely  impossible to do  so due to too
deep water or silt. The number of traps used  is dependent  on pond size, not the number of traps available for

use.
  • Every bottle-trap has a brightly painted cane.
  • Every bottle-trap is removed from site  when the trap is checked,   unless  the  trap  is to be re-immersed that
night. Removal from site reduces (but does not eliminate) the risk of theft or vandalism.
  • Even hard-bottomed  ponds are trapped as our traps can  be weighted  with bricks to keep them  on the  pond base.


Here are some pitfalls that can befall clients by using the wrong ecological consultancy:

If an ecological consultancy sets bottle-traps and leaves them in the field for up to six weeks, perhaps in a pile, or worse suspended for days on end above the water waiting for the next scheduled trap immersion for a trap night then your surveyor is not carrying out work under a Natural England survey licence which prohibits such bad practices.   At one site in Bury where this happened the water levels rose and the traps remained underwater and unchecked for days. This survey was illegal and the client's project was compromised.

If an ecological consultancy lists "tadpoles" on their survey report and does not indicate whether these are Frog or Toad then that is because the surveyor used cannot tell the difference, and hence should not have been undertaking the work in the first place. The ecological survey was compromised and proved a waste of government grant money.

                                                   
Smooth Newt female (terrestrial)                              Smooth Newt male (terrestrial)              
 SmoothfemaleR
SmoothmaleR


 





 



Below: Photos of Smooth Newt male in breeding condition

Smooth_Newt_male_us_wSmooth_Newt_male_sv_w





















Below: Photos of Palmate Newt male in breeding condition (this animal has medium spotting on the throat)

Palmate_Newt_male_fv_w._jpgPalmate_Newt_male_tv_w.Palmate_Newt_with_throat_spotsPalmate_Newt_male_sv_w

















If an ecological consultant provides you with a survey report stating that Palmate Newts are present based on a single female Palmate Newt without further attempts at qualification the site may be being upgraded due to the inability of the surveyor to tell Palmate Newt from Smooth Newt. Relying on handbook descriptions of female Newts which suggests that if the female Newt has an unspotted throat then it is a Palmate Newt and if it has a spotted throat then it is a Smooth Newt is fatally flawed and likely to give false positives, giving your site an extra species that is not present and making it more important than it is. In fact Palmate Newt females are told from Smooth Newt females by the background colouring on the body underside, pink under fore and rear legs, straw-coloured belly and, importantly, an APICULATE tip to the tail. Smooth Newt females could easily be pale and may almost resemble Palmate Newts but for the tip of the tail which always ends in a blob. A handlens may be needed to confirm. There are Palmate Newt populations with heavy spotting, light spotting or no spotting on undersides and throats, told from both male and female Newts.

Palmate Newt female tail end                                                               Smooth Newt female tail end
(note apiculate tip and                                                                           (tip ends in blob of skin
rows of dots down tail)                                                                            without obvious rows of dots)





Palmate Newt female (breeding condition)                                           Smooth Newt female (breeding condition)
Note (above) the lines of spots down tail and apiculate                         This one is heavily spotted.
tail tip. This one has light spotting on the throat (below).
                             


































Photos left to right: 1 Smooth Newt larvae and 2 Great Crested Newt larvae from pond, Smooth Newt juvenile (terrestrial), Great Crested Newt juvenile (terrestrial)


GCNlarvaeWalmersleyGCa

SmoothjuvRGCNjuvenileR
 

  




                      




Great Crested Newt presence-absence surveys

Egg-search and netting has proven itself, in skilled hands, to provide more accurate Great Crested Newt presence-absence records than does the multi-method multi-visit approach in the hands of inadequately-skilled people working for ecological consultancies. The multi-method multi-visit approach fails to find small Great Crested Newt populations in habitats which are difficult to search by torchlight and in which traps are difficult to set and requires a chance encounter of a small Newt population with a trap. Yet in this same habitat in a single visit the skilled surveyor will find newt eggs on fallen leaves after climbing through unstable willow carr and balancing across bare silt-flats to get to the sunlit portion of the otherwise shaded pond. How many projects have been stopped  or delayed because skilled surveyors working on adjacent planning proposal sites have revealed Great Crested Newts on sites previously declared free of Great Crested Newts by inexperienced or unskilled surveyors.

The survey period is critical and can only be based on local circumstances and not a National England national handbook. For instance during several Aprils between 2007 and 2011 there were severe droughts. The droughts dried the land and stopped amphibians moving towards their breeding ponds. This may not have been critical in coastal parts of the region, or in southern England, where Newt movement may occur in March, but in higher ground or northern areas where Newts approach breeding ponds later, then surveys conducted wholly in April, whilst satisfying Natural England, would have produced false negatives.

Following the main period of adult Newt activity in the ponds the emphasis shifts to netting for Newt larvae. Again this is a skilled job, often requiring moving into deeper water. Every area needs to be searched as Great Crested Newt tadpoles tend to inhabit deeper water than the smaller species' larvae and hence are better placed to scatter away from the surveyor's net. Great Crested Newt larvae can be found throughout the summer until September in North West England. The smaller species, especially Palmate Newt larvae, often over-winter in ponds.

By hiring the wrong ecological surveyors your survey can be compromised and your project can be harmed. Natural England's Guidelines suggest that Great Crested Newts can only be declared absent from a pond once a multi-method multi-visit approach has been used at least four times between mid April and mid May. They stated this in their guidelines because of the large number of incompetent surveys being undertaken by consultancies who had no idea how to undertake amphibian surveys and had no skill at amphibian survey. Sadly for the reasons set out out above, slavish adherence to a strict methodology without due regard to skill and experience has meant that poor quality consultancies continue to let their clients down by failing to locate protected species that are present, until they are revealed by more skilled surveyors working on adjacent projects.


Dave Bentley has personally found 729 Great Crested Newt ponds.                    

All ponds have been located by:     

  •        Netting for adult Newts
  •        Newt egg-search
  •        Netting for Newt larvae
  •        Terrestrial searches

No additional Great Crested Newt breeding ponds have been located by Torchlight Surveys and no additional Great Crested Newt breeding ponds have been located by Bottle-trapping. The species is located during the first, or exceptionally, a second visit. Whilst Torch and Bottle-trap surveys are invaluable for population assessments they add, in a skilled surveyor's hand, nothing to presence-absence surveys for Great Crested Newts. This has been validated time after time during the last few years when multi-method multi-visit approaches became a requirement.

In conclusion  Dave Bentley  Ecology Services  is able  to offer  rapid  blanket  surveys  of  large  areas  of  countryside for  Great Crested Newts using one,  or 
exceptionally, two visits. The surveys can be carried out between April and September depending on local circumstances. Such blanket surveys include:

  •        Great Crested Newts
  •        Other amphibians depending on season
  •        Lesser Silver Water Beetles
  •        Water Voles
  •        Pond Botany
  •        Basic invertebrate assessments (not full surveys)
  •        Pond descriptions
  •        Waterside birds present
  •        Fish presence

Phase 1 Habitat Surveys can be added cost-effectively.

These sorts of surveys are invaluable to:

  •        Land-holders needing a cost-effective wildlife evaluation
  •        Developers looking at options encompassing large areas
  •        Local Planning Authority Forward Planning Teams (Unitary Development Plans, Local Development Frameworks)

 

 

Plants found to hold Great Crested Newt eggs

Combining the results from four Great Crested Newt blanket surveys in NW England the following plants were found to be used by Great Crested Newts for egg-laying. The number of ponds at which each plant species was used for egg-laying is stated.

This also underlines the fact that  egg-search  surveyors need to be trained and experienced botanists  who have an eye for plant  form,   not just how a plant species 
grows, but how it decays.    

 Great Crested Newt eggs                                    Great Crested Newt eggs left & bottom, Smooth or Palmate Newt eggs right  Water Mint - used for egg-laying late in season after its growth slows
Newt_eggs          















Egg leaf folds on Floating Sweet-grass                                                    Egg leaf folds on Water Mint

                   
Species

Tufted Forget-me-not
Floating Sweet-grass
Creeping Bent      
Water-cress
Bittersweet
Reed Canary-grass
Water Mint                 
Fool’s Water-cress     
Greater Reedmace         
Brooklime                         
Great Willowherb           
Common Water-plantain
Broad-leaved Pondweed
Branched Bur-reed
Amphibious Bistort
Marsh Foxtail
Rough Meadow-grass
Pink Water-speedwell
Lesser Water-parsnip
Gypsywort
Creeping Buttercup
Yellow Iris
Marsh Cinquefoil
Rose
Curled Dock
Broad-leaved Dock
Purple-loosestrife
Lesser Spearwort
Plicate Sweet-grass
Celery-leaved Buttercup
Clustered Dock
Soft Rush
Wild Angelica
Cowbane
Small Sweet-grass
Reed Sweet-grass
Meadow Foxtail
Celery-leaved Buttercup
Cyperus Sedge
Short-fruited Willowherb
Unbranched Bur-reed
Cuckoo-flower
Yorkshire Fog
Oak leaf (live)
Grey Willow leaf (live)
Pendulous Sedge              
Tufted Sedge
Lesser Reedmace
Osier
Marsh Yellow-cress
Hedge Bindweed
Crested Dog's-tail
American Willowherb
Yellow Loosestrife
Water Forget-me-not
Hemlock Water-dropwort
Water-pepper
Curled Pondweed
Bogbean
Greater Spearwort
Red Campion
Cock’s-foot
Grey Club-rush
Intermediate Water-starwort
Fallen leaves
Polythene litter
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For a no obligation chat about your requirements call Dave Bentley Ecology Services on 0161 478 6594 or 07598 742566 (sometimes 07944 122292). We are here to help. Emails and attachments especially welcomed at info1@davebentleyecology.co.uk. If you are sending large files please send them to big2@dave...... In the case of over quota bounce-backs try "big2" before the @ symbol. We are a Bury-based ecological consultancy. 33 years experience in nature conservation!!

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