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Great crested newt surveys

Great Crested Newt Surveys

Great crested newt survey

Great crested newts (GCN) are the largest of the UK’s three newt species, and have been around for about 40 million years! The UK population is amongst the largest in Europe (where it is threatened in several countries) and it is estimated that there are a total of 18,000 ponds in the UK containing great crested newts, although only 3,000 of these have been identified. Individual newts, their eggs, breeding sites (ponds) and resting places (terrestrial habitat such as rough, tussocky grassland, allotments, hedgerows, scrub and log/stone piles) are protected by law and it is illegal to disturb or harm them.

Where a project requires planning consent, the local planning authority has a duty to consider great crested newts when exercising their functions. Great crested newts are a ‘European Protected Species’ and as such are a material consideration in the planning process. This means information regarding their presence or absence must be provided prior to any consent being granted, and surveys cannot be conditioned within planning approval. Great crested newt surveys must be carried out at the correct time of year, during spring and early summer, and good planning is key.

The Great Crested Newt Survey Process

Risk Assessment

January - December

This is a preliminary daytime inspection to determine the likelihood of great crested newts being present within the site. 

The risk assessment includes a desk based study, with a background data search of known great crested newt records in the area.

A licensed ecologist will visit the site to carry out an assessment of the suitability of the habitat to support great crested newts ( a Habitat Suitability Index, or HSI).

Where the assessment concludes that the site has potential for great crested newts, presence or likely absence can be determined by one of the following methods:


Environmental DNA (eDNA)

15th April - 30th June

eDNA analysis was approved by Natural England in 2014 as a technique to determine the presence or absence of great crested newts in waterbodies. The process involves a single visit to the pond(s) during the day to collect water samples. The samples are then sent to a laboratory, where they are analysed for the presence of great crested newt DNA, which can find its way into the water via skin cells, faeces, mucus, sperm or eggs. eDNA breaks down over time, so the surveys can only detect great crested newts when they are using the pond in the spring and early summer months (great crested newts spend most of their life on land). The test is very accurate (99%), but can only detect presence or absence, and cannot predict the size of the great crested newt population using the pond. If a population assessment is required, the traditional survey method will need to be used.


Durham Dales Ecology are fully trained, licensed and experienced in conducting eDNA surveys. Should a Natural England Protected Species Mitigation Licence be required, Natural England will only accept eDNA results from laboratories who follow their specified testing protocols and who participate in the Proficiency Testing Scheme. Durham Dales Ecology only use laboratories which not only partake in this scheme, but achieve the maximum 100% in these annual accuracy tests.

Great crested newt in trap

Traditional Survey

Mid-March - Mid-June


The traditional method of surveying for great crested newts involves physically searching for newts whilst they are in the pond(s). This method is labour intensive, as four visits must be completed to prove presence or absence. If a population assessment is required, six visits must be undertaken in total. Each visit involves a late evening and early morning visit by a suitably licensed ecologist; traps are set in the water in the evening, and must be retrieved, and any captured newts identified and catalogued, before their release the following morning.


Durham Dales Ecology have been carrying out great crested newt surveys following the traditional methodology since 2007, and have significant experience in the survey and identification of great crested newts.

For further information about great crested newt surveys, please contact us.

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