As we are well into March, it only seems right to write about the Great Crested Newt (GCN). Hibernating from October through to February, now is the time they start their migration so, let’s take a look into the GCN, their lifestyle and why they are in such decline.

The Great Crested Newt Profile

What is a Great Crested Newt?

The great crested newt is the largest native species of newt in the UK and, in addition to its size, it is easily distinguishable due to its dark black colouring, warty skin texture and a jagged crest on the males.

Where Do They Live?

The GCN occupies two different habitats depending on the time of year. They spend most of the year within their terrestrial sites which are their permanent areas of refuges; these include rough grassland, scrub, woodland, thick ground cover, under fallen trees, etc. During winter months, the GCN will hibernate and then, when the temperatures reach over 5°C, they will migrate to their non-permanent aquatic residence to breed and lay eggs, typically between March and June.

Their preference for their aquatic habitat is small to medium sized ponds, plus another breeding pond. When it comes to breeding, ponds with extensive vegetation and no fish are desired specifically for egg laying. However, these ponds should also have less vegetated areas for the adult males to display themselves. Another factor when it comes to choosing their pond is that lack of shade on the southern margin is largely preferred.

Why Are Great Crested Newts in Decline?

Unfortunately, GCNs are the most threatened species of newt in the UK and have dramatically declined over the last few decades. This decline seems to coincide with the increase in agricultural intensification which has led to the drop in the number of ponds over the years.

Looking at this more closely, it is mainly the changes in farming practices that has had these impacts on the GCN’s aquatic habitats. The intentional destruction or filling of ponds in order to cater to arable fields, chemical pollution and nutrification of breeding ponds through intensive spraying, and habitat fragmentation are all results of agricultural practices.

As well as this, other factors to their decline include:

  • Introduction of fish
  • Pond loss through natural succession
  • Deterioration of ponds through neglect or misuse
  • Loss of terrestrial habitat

The destruction of their habitats, both terrestrial and aquatic, have completely led to the significant fall in numbers of the GCN. This is exactly why important legislation and conservation has been put into effect, to protect this species.

What Legal Protection is Available for the Great Crested Newt?

The Great Crested Newt is protected by law in the Wildlife and Countryside 1981 Act, the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, and Countryside Right of Way Act 2000. This full legal protection makes it an offence to capture, kill, injure or disturb GCNs; take or destroy their eggs; damage, destroy or obstruct their resting places; possess and sell (including advertising or transporting) GCNs.

These legislations mean it is vital for future developments to undertake the correct Ecology and Great Crested Newt Surveys, so they remain protected. A European Protected Species License and an appropriate mitigation strategy will also be required if GCNs are present on site.

Luckily, Greenlight Environmental Consultancy provide all of these essential protection practices, so you can ensure your project will not be endangering this unique species. Get in touch with us today to find out what we can do for you.