The great crested newt, at 16cm in length, is the biggest of the UK’s three native newt species. They are quite dark and reclusive, although their bellies are orange, with black spots that tell potential predators that they’re poisonous! In the breeding season, the males have a big, wavy crest that runs down their spines and tails – hence the name.
These animals live in various types of habitat according to the season. Most of the year is spent in grassland, where the newts eat worms, spiders and slugs, before hibernating from October to February in tree roots or piles of wood. In spring they return to the pond they hatched in, where they breed. The females lay up to 300 eggs in underwater plants, which hatch out over the summer.
Unfortunately this interesting amphibian has seen a steep decline in numbers in the last 10 years, with an estimated rate of loss of between 0.5 per cent and four per cent each year from the 1960s to the 1990s. Around 40,000 breeding ponds have been lost to development in this time, and although the great crested newt is spread throughout the UK, it’s considered to be under threat as populations are still being damaged. These newts don’t move more than a kilometre from their “home” pond, so if that pond is filled in or damaged, they might not be able to find a new one nearby.
No-one knows what the true UK population of great crested newts is, and because of this many habitation sites have been or could be destroyed. It’s thought that there are around 18,000 ponds supporting these newts in the UK, but only a fifth has been positively identified. This is when you need to head to Middlemarch Environmental.com to find out more about their great crested newt surveys.
As these newts are protected by British and European conservation laws, it’s illegal to harm, kill or disturb one of these animals. It’s also illegal to damage or destroy a potential habitat of theirs.
If you’re a developer and you want to build on a site containing water bodies like ponds, you need to find out if the pond is home to great crested newts. If you’re a farmer planning to fill in a pond on your land, you also need to know. You can’t go ahead with this work without a licence, and so you’ll need to commission a survey to see if you have newts.
It’s not the end of your plans if it turns out these animals are living or breeding on your land, as Middlemarch Environmental’s ecological consultants may be able to relocate the population to a safe area
If a development site does contain newts, a more detailed survey is needed. The population will probably need to be moved – which can take up to three months – or it may be able to live alongside the development if building and landscaping works are done in a way that’s sympathetic to the newts.
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