Natural England (NE) has announced a step forward in the detection and protection of Great Crested Newts (GCN), which could save developers time and money, yet agb Environmental reminds developers that GCN surveys are still required.
Research released from Defra explains that eDNA has been proven to reliably detect the presence of GCN in water samples. The Freshwater Habitats Trust (FHT) looked at whether eDNA could be an effective method of surveying for the presence of GCN, and with 99.3% accuracy recorded, this discovery could be ground-breaking for consultants and developers.
This new technology will mean huge financial savings and decreased time-delays, especially for strategic developments that take years to work through the planning system, incurring several updates to out of date GCN surveys, yet agb Environmental reminds developers that the new surveys are not able to reveal their population size.
The most important factor for developers is that the DNA can be taken at any time of day, which means that the elusive GCN no longer needs to be surveyed during the traditional, labour-intensive nocturnal torch counting, and setting traps in an evening to be collected the next morning.
The conventional method, consisting of multiple visits, can seriously delay plans. eDNA testing will be useful for developers who need newt surveys in May, but have missed the survey season and currently have to wait almost a year to before the next opportunity to complete newt surveys. With DNA remaining in the water for up to 20 days, consultants will be able to find out quickly if there has been recent GCN activity.
Natural England is prepared to accept eDNA test results as evidence of GCN presence from consultants and developers, provided they follow the method set out in the technical advice note, which can be found on the Defra website.
At the moment the samples must be taken in the breeding season by a GCN-licensed ecologist, but further research will determine how long eDNA can be detected after the GCN leave the water. Once this has been done, the sample period could be extended.
agb Environmental is encouraged by this announcement but expresses that a survey is still needed to avoid lengthy delays to planning applications. If eDNA finds evidence of GCN, then a traditional survey must be employed to establish population size for licensing or precautionary methods.
For advice relating to a GCN surveys, contact Alex Brearley at agb Environmental on 01638 663226 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.