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Natterjack toad

Amphibians & Great Crested Newt Surveys

Great crested newt, natterjack toads and pool frogs are the only British amphibians which are European Protected Species (EPS). These are protected under the Retained EU Reference Directive 1992/43 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora – Annexes 2 and 4.

Natterjack toads and pool frogs are rare and are unlikely to be found on development sites. However, the potential presence of great crested newts impacts many development sites.

There are three native newt species in the UK. Great crested newts, smooth newts, and palmate newts. The adult great crested newt is significantly bigger than the other two, has an orange strip on its toes, and can have a spotty orange belly. The male also has a crest over its body, and a crest on it tail.

The survey season for great crested newt relates to their breeding period when they return to the ponds. They live most of their life in terrestrial habitat, such as rough grassland, hedgerows and woodlands.

Great crested newts can be surveyed from April to June (depending on technique used), although the peak month is from mid April to mid May. Great crested newts are nocturnal and tend to emerge from hibernation when temperatures have risen above 5oC. This can be from February to May. Great crested newt surveys can involve several techniques:

Great crested newt survey techniques include:

  • Bottle traps (laid out at night and collected the following morning)
  • Searching with a torch at night
  • Egg search on vegetation
  • Hand netting, and/or eDNA sampling
Great crested newts


At Phlorum are able to advise on great crested newt issues and liaise with planning authorities. We have experienced surveyors who are licensed to undertake presence/absence and population assessment surveys and in addition we are able to compile European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence applications and District Level License (DLL).

A licence is required to disturb or handle great crested newts. If they are present on a site then a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) license, or a DLL, will be required.

District Level Licence

In parts of the UK there is an alternative to the traditional surveying and licence route – District Level Licensing. The aim of this approach is to offset the impacts of the development at regional level by virtue of a payment system. The developer pays an agreed sum for local conservation measures for great created newts and then the developer, in most cases, does not have to carry out site mitigation (e.g. fencing trapping, and monitoring).

The DLL schemes are operated by either Natural England, the local authority or a third party, such as NatureSpace, on behalf of the local authority. Local authorities are signing up to one of these schemes, as the DLL is rolled out over England. As a result, the provider available for your site varies between areas.


Generally, the scheme involves an initial enquiry/administration cost where the scheme is assessed, and an agreement is drafted which can be submitted with the planning application. Then a later conservation payment is needed, after planning permission has been granted. For some high impact sites there can be a two-stage conservation payments. Then the actual licence is issued allowing the developer to proceed on site.

The advantages of the District Level Licence

This approach is much quicker, and a license can be obtained all year round, without the need for surveys. If a DLL is issued for the site then the developer has approval from Natural England (regardless of which provider is used). No on-site mitigation, trapping or translocation is required, in most cases.

The cost for the DLL varies between the providers. For Natural England the cost is generally based on the number of ponds on site and within a buffer area around the site. This approach assumes all ponds are suitable for great crested newts and the payment is proportional to the number of ponds. As a result, sometimes it can help to have eDNA analysis done of some of the ponds which can show which ponds have or do not have confirmed eDNA of great crested newts. This can sometimes help reduce the payment required.

NatureSpace use a traffic light colour system which represents the spatial risk zone of a site for great crested newts. In the green and amber zones the costs are related to the calculated risk of great crested newts being present based on existing data/records. In the red zone some mitigation requirements on site may be required depending on the level of impact.

The disadvantages of the District Level Licence

This may not be the best option for all sites, and may be more costly. Generally, the District Level License scheme is more cost effective on low impact schemes, with payments rising considerably when ponds are located on, or close to the site.

Some sites are of such ecological significance that a licence would not be possible via either route. This is why developers should engage Phlorum at the outset of any potential project, in order to assess feasibility.

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