Too often the concentration today is on the legally protected Great Crested Newt. Formerly the Guidelinesfor 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)
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
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)
Below: Photos of Smooth Newt male in breeding condition
Below: Photos of Palmate Newt male in breeding condition (this animal has medium spotting on the throat)
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)
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
Netting for Newt larvae
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
Basic invertebrate assessments (not full surveys)
Waterside birds present
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 plantform, 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
Egg leaf folds on Floating Sweet-grass Egg leaf folds on Water Mint
Unbranched Bur-reed Cuckoo-flower
Oak leaf (live)
Grey Willow leaf (live)
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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Text and images copyright of Dave Bentley 2007 & 2011. Banner panorama photo H Groth-Andersen 2006.