Great Crested Newts on Waterways

The fear of finding Great Crested Newts extends to canal restoration, where higher costs and further delays could be possible. Within the UK GCN are relatively widespread and can be found in a wide range of water bodies including garden ponds, disused mineral extractions, water filled ditches, dew ponds and disused canals or waterways. Primary concerns arise when looking to restore derelict canals that have been allowed to scrub over or become standing water, where GCN have had a chance to colonise. Under their EU protected status, killing or injuring a GCN comes with a hefty fine and potential imprisonment. Mitigation for GCN can also be costly depending on population and habitat availability.

Activities that can harm GCN

As with all construction projects restoring and working on canals involve a variety of activities that can harm the GCN some of this includes:

  • Removing dense vegetation and disturbing the ground
  • Excavating the ground
  • Filling in or destroying ponds or other water bodies
  • Disconnecting or isolating habitats
  • Changes to the water table
  • Increases the numbers of people, traffic and pollutants in the area or the amount of chemicals that run off into water bodies

With this in mind appropriate planning and pre-work surveys will reduce the chances of un-intentionally killing a GCN. Methods can also be employed by a qualified person to place barriers, relocate and monitor sites to prevent GCN from recolonizing.

Minimizing the Risk

It is important for all restoration projects to comply to both EU and UK law or risk losing funding, being fined or potentially facing a prison sentence. There following steps should be followed in order the reduce these risks.

1.       Complete a scoping survey and ecological appraisal: Undertake a desk based study and identify if your site has records or reports of protected species and the habitats located on site.

2.       Conduct an Ecological Appraisal: This is a survey that assesses how the project will affect species and habitats present, as well as identify further species or habitat of importance.

3.       Ecological surveys: If the above points indicate the site does have important habitat or protected species then ecological surveys should then follow, depending on species present and their requirements (i.e phenology, seasons, habitat etc.)

4.       Mitigation : If the works carried out will adversely affect either protected species or important habitat, than mitigations will need to be carried out. This includes habitat creation to be replaced with a similar habitat of the same size and condition elsewhere, translocations, alterations to existing plans, species monitoring or restrictions on site.

What do I do if I spot a Great Crested Newt?

If you come across a GCN whilst carrying out restoration or development work, you must alert the appropriate person in charge of heading out the task. Work that will affect the GCN should then be put on hold until the presence of the GCN can be verified. You should not attempt to handle or move the GCN due to its protection status, which could lead to a criminal conviction. You should also notify the appropriate conservation body or authority such as the Wildlife Trust, RSPB, NBN Gateway, Environment Agency, The Biological Records Centre, Natural England or Local Authority. These organisations will be able to give advice on how to move forward with a project. If the GCN has been identified as a constraint on development contact the local ecologist, who will advise on whether mitigation or acquiring further licences will be necessary.

Case Study: The Montgomery Canal

The Montgomery Canal is one site that now has an extensive experience of dealing with GCN. After the discovery of GCN's on a future restoration site beyond Pryce’s Bridge in 2014, The Shropshire Union Canal Society and The Canals and Rivers Trust undertook mitigation works to alleviate this issue to allow for restoration work to recommence.  With newt fencing erected and qualified ecologists assessing the site, it was determined by Natural England that in order to receive the newt licencing that the society would have to create a new habitat equivalent to the size and condition of their existing site. Once redwith pond was completed and stocked with water the translocation program began with the society relocating 70+ newts to their new home. Restoration work at Pryce’s bridge recommenced  in July 2015.

Find out more from the Shropshire Union Canal Society and their work here: http://www.shropshireunion.org.uk/

Disused Canal with good potential for GCNPhoto: The disused Westport Canal with potential to contain Great Crested Newts (photo by: Ken Grainger [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Reporting Protected Species

You should record the presence of protected species on a national database. This can done by contacting the local Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (SNCO).  Alternatively you can record online at the National Biodiversity Network. You should also alert the appropriate land owner, council and or management body to the presence and location of this species. 

Useful information:

Great Crested Newt Habitats Suitability Index Full Info

Identification of Great Crested Newts