The message to those advising anyone with interest in land, however large or small, is loud and clear. If your client has a protected species on its land which they intend to develop, it is absolutely vital that they have the site surveyed by a competent environmental consultant, who will be able to identify any potential risks.
I've seen this same story repeated by a number of news outlets recently and it demonstrates the problem that ecologists frequently face when explaining results to clients and the media.
Problems associated with detectability of a species mean that the number of newts observed during a survey rarely correlates with the population present within a site. The number of animals observed during a survey can depend on a multitude of factors (e.g. water clarity, vegetation, water levels etc). It's much easier to count newts in a pond with clear water than a murky pond full of pond weed.
The number of newts captured during mitigation work frequently exceeds survey predictions. For example, a mitigation project undertaken by Calumma Ecological Services on behalf of Gallagher in 2012 recorded a maximum count of just 6 adult great crested newts in pre-capture survey work. Yet, detectability issues were clearly present in the overgrown target pond and the EPS Licence application stressed that significantly more animals were likely to be captured. In fact Calumma proposed that as many as 750 newts may be captured. Calumma originally wanted to ring fence the pond and capture animals as they migrated back to the pond. Unfortunately, delays in obtaining the licence meant that works could not begin until after animals had returned to the pond to breed. Capture totals were therefore significantly inflated by high numbers of larvae and metamorphs. In fact more than 2100 newts have been captured at this location and work will need to continue in Spring 2013. The actual number of captured adults (484) and juveniles (24) are currently well within the original prediction of 750.
If great crested newts (that can take three years to reach sexual maturity) really could increase their populations by 3000% in one year, I think that not only would the laws of physics need re-examining, but conservation work would be a little easier to achieve.
During the summer Calumma Ecological Services ran a special promotion on great crested newt habitat assessments. Interest was so high we've decided to keep the promotion in place until next year! Great crested newt single pond assessments (including report and KRAG database search) therefore remain available from just £350.
Determing the likely presence of great crested newt is vital when considering planning budgets and timescales. We understand that wildlife surveys can sometimes be expensive and confirming the presence of species such as great crested newt on a site can have important implications for the proposed development. Establishing the presence of great crested newts at an early stage in the planning process can help to reduce overall costs whilst ensuring that the newts are adequately protected.
Remember, wildlife legislation is there to protect the species concerned. It isn't there to stop development.
Assessing the likely presence of great crested newts in ponds can be accomplished relatively easily by examining aquatic habitat features such as the presence of fish, waterfowl and water quality. This information is used to calculate a Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) for a pond that can be represented by a score ranging from poor to excellent. In the right location good or excellent ponds are very likely to be occupied by newts and further survey work may be required. Poor ponds are rarely occupied and further survey work is not usually required. Great crested newt HSI assessments are a very powerful predictive tool - especially when combined with the excellent database search results available from organisations such as KRAG1.
Knowing whether newts are likely to be present can be crucial when submitting planning applications. Full survey work for newts must take place at appropriate times of the year and submission of a planning application that doesn't consider the presence of newts can result in lengthy delays. Why force a planning officer to delay (or even reject) a planning application when a preliminary HSI assessment that may conclude no further survey work is required can be undertaken so cost effectively?!
This year Calumma Ecological Services is offering a special summer sale for clients in SE England. Great crested newt habitat assessments (including report) are available from just £350. That's quite a saving and also quite possibly, the lowest price in the UK. As they say in all the best adverts though, availabilty is limited so hurry whilst stocks last!
(1) No this isn't a hidden cost! As one of KRAG's Corporate Members, Calumma Ecological Services is able to include database search results within survey reports completely free of charge!
... during the 1920’s Alpine Newts were introduced into Southern England. Since then scattered populations have become established across Britain, with colonies reported in Kent, Surrey, London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Sunderland, Shropshire and central Scotland. One reason for this widely scattered distribution is likely to be people deliberately introducing them into parks and gardens, attracted to do so by the newt’s exotic colours and beautiful patterning.
Alpine newts are of particular interest because they are a known carrier of chytridiomycosis (or chytrid for short). Chytrid is a fungal disease that is believed to be a major cause of amphibian population declines across the planet.
There are established populations of alpine newt in Kent. Near Canterbury alpine newts occupy several ponds and the species is believed to be expanding its range. Survey work undertaken in ponds that support alpine newts need to ensure that full biosecurity measures are strictly adhered to. More information on chytrid with advice for fieldworkers is available from ARG UK. This document is currently used by Natural England as the basis for any chytrid related issues associated with great crested newt and natterjack mitigation work. From the ARG UK document:
Translocation of amphibians >2km from point of capture would only be acceptable where (a) a very strong case is made for the benefits of the translocation, (b) there is no satisfactory alternative, and (c) strenuous efforts to analyse and minimise disease risks are taken. Regarding (c), the donor population and – if appropriate, any receptor population - must be demonstrated to be negative for chytrid with a high confidence. Typically this would involve samples of 60 individuals per site using a recognised diagnostic technique.
This puts a significant constraint on mitigation projects and the risk of disease transmission needs to be fully evaluated before licence applications are submitted to NE. One quibble I do have with the guidelines is that they stipulate samples of 60 individuals per site. However, my understanding of current monitoring work is that only 30 samples are actually required. The suggested 60 samples could be a dealbreaker for fieldworkers at sites with small populations and the ARG UK document needs to be updated to better reflect current requirements.
Fieldworkers undertaking survey work in Kent should submit any records of alpine newts to KRAG where the information will be used to develop a risk assessment.
“Many of the ponds have not been managed for Great Crested Newts for more than 5-10 years. For some sites, as local communities and volunteer groups change, people have forgotten that these species ever used the site,” explains Sivi Sivanesan from Froglife. “It would be a shame to see this trend continue across London, and for us to slowly lose this wonderful and protected species from all but a few key sites.”
The great crested newt is a species that can very rapidly disappear from areas where habitat conditions become unfavourable. A network of high quality ponds that are linked by suitable terrestrial habitat is key to maintaining populations at a favourable conservation status. Pond management work becomes even more important in fragmented landscapes such as those found around London. In such locations urban features such as roads and high density housing prevent newts from easily dispersing between ponds.
Ponds situated in the remaining areas of green provide an important oasis within which newts can breed. Ponds most likely to support breeding newts are those that score good or excellent on the Habitat Suitability Index first developed by Rob Oldham and colleagues at De Montfort University. A simplified version of this methodology has been published by ARG UK and more details on its use are available from Calumma Ecological Services.
We don't have the details of what happened to the slow-worms or the industrial development. But what really strikes me is that it is not only a question of the choice between slow-worms and job creation. It is also the dithering for months before making that choice.
If the applicant had undertaken a protected species risk assessment in advance of the planning application the presence of slow-worms would have been revealed and appropriate mitigation works could have been undertaken in a timely manner. It appears that the planning authority did their job correctly and requested appropriate survey and mitigation be undertaken. The applicant failed to supply the correct information at the time of their application resulting in delay to their project.
Calumma Ecological Services urges developers to commission a biodiversity assessment as early as possible. Applicants should not wait for Local Planning Authorities to request protected species information, since this will enevitably result in delays to projects.
Members are reminded that it is a breach of the NBN Gateway Terms and Conditions to “make any financial profit from use of the material, data and/or information on this [the NBN] website or from any products you derive without first obtaining written permission from the relevant Data Provider” ...and or to “republish wholesale the material, data and/or information made available to you, or exploit it for commercial or academic research purposes without first obtaining written permission from the relevant Data Provider [the contact details of which are provided within the metadata of the relevant dataset].” The way to access the most up-to-date biological and geological records should be via Local Records Centres. Records on the Gateway are often ‘blurred’ to a low resolution, e.g. 2 km or 10 km squares, which is usually not detailed enough for ecological survey uses. Furthermore, although the Gateway is updated every month, many data providers only submit updated datasets on an annual basis or even less frequently. As local representatives of the NBN, Local Records Centres are a ‘one-stop-shop’ for information on species, sites, habitats and geological data, able to provide access to the highest resolution and most up-to-date information available.
A number of reports written by ecological consultants working in Kent appear not to follow the NBN terms and conditions. Since few records collected in Kent are submitted to NBN (partly because of concerns over continued abuse of the NBN system), such consultants are putting their clients under considerable risk. Projects may be significantly delayed if protected species issues are discovered late in the development project.
If you are a developer commissioning an ecolgical risk assessment please ensure that your ecological consultant includes an appropriate local records centre data search.
In Kent, the correct procedure is to obtain a database search from Kent and Medway Biological Records Centre (KMBRC). Reports prepared by KMBRC will have the most complete and up-to date local information. This includes herpetofauna data held on a system managed on behalf of Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group by Calumma Ecological Services. Consultants that undertake records searches receive exactly the same herpetofauna data whether they enquire through KMBRC or KRAG. Consultants who need access only to herpetofauna data can request searches directly from KRAG and this may represent a more cost-effective option.
Ecological consultants that work to best practice and are approved as Corporate Members of KRAG can request database searches completely free of charge - provided the consultancy contributes its own records to KRAG.
As principal ecologist for Calumma Ecological Services, I am able to put my interest in reptiles and amphibians to good effect. Like most folks that work with wildlife, my activities extend beyond just 'the job' and I am also involved with several local conservation groups. Being the county recorder for reptiles and amphibians in Kent certainly helps me to fill in those spare moments when I'm not busy with the kids!
Calumma Ecological Services is a Kent based ecological consultancy that specialises in protected species surveys and habitat assessments.
Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group
For more information about Kent's reptiles and amphibians visit the Kent Reptile and Amphibian Group's website.
Submit a Record Have you seen a frog in your garden pond? Better yet an adder while out walking?! If you would like to let KRAG know about an amphibian or reptile observation, please complete the online recording card.
Recording Diary KRAG organises a full programme of events throughout the year. For more details about forthcoming attractions, visit the KRAG web site.
Old Blog Posts Still Available Archived posts in the old blog are still available - and will be for ever if I don't work out how to import them into this new site!
Amphibian and Reptile Group of South Lancashire
For more information about the reptiles and amphibians found in Lancashire, visit the ARGSL website.