Environmental management – guidance

Great crested newts: protection, surveys and licences

As a developer, find out what you must do to avoid harming great crested newts and when you need a licence.

Natural England moved to GOV.UK in October 2014. The content on this page is in beta and may be updated frequently.

Great crested newts, their breeding sites and resting places are protected by law. The law protects them throughout their lifecycle.

In most cases, you should be able to avoid harming the newts by adjusting your planned work. If you can’t avoid disturbing them or damaging their habitats, you may be able to get a licence from Natural England. If you need to apply for planning permission, your planning authority will assess your application based on the information below.

What you must not do

You’re breaking the law if you:

  • capture, kill, disturb or injure great crested newts (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • damage or destroy a breeding or resting place (even accidentally)
  • obstruct access to their resting or sheltering places (on purpose or by not taking enough care)
  • possess, sell, control or transport live or dead newts, or parts of them
  • take great crested newt eggs

If you’re found guilty of an offence you could be sent to prison for up to 6 months and be fined £5,000 for each offence.

Where great crested newts are found

Check their distribution on the National Biodiversity Network and your local records centre. If there aren’t any records of great crested newts in your area, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Activities that can harm great crested newts

Activities that can affect great crested newts include:

  • maintaining or restoring ponds, woodland, scrub or rough grassland
  • restoring forest areas to lowland heaths
  • ploughing close to breeding ponds or other bodies of water
  • removing dense vegetation and disturbing the ground
  • removing materials like dead wood piled on the ground
  • excavating the ground, for example to renovate a building
  • filling in or destroying ponds or other water bodies

Building and development can harm great crested newts and their habitats, for example by:

  • removing habitat or making it worse
  • fragmenting or isolating habitats
  • changing habitats of other species, reducing the newts’ food sources
  • increasing shade and silt in ponds or other water bodies used by the newts
  • changing the water table
  • increasing the amount of chemicals that run off into ponds
  • introducing fish, which will eat newt eggs or larvae
  • increasing the numbers of people, traffic and pollutants in the area

In most cases you should be able to avoid harming the newts, damaging or blocking access to their habitats. If you can’t avoid this, you can apply for a mitigation licence from Natural England. You will need expert help.

Decide if you need a mitigation licence

It’s up to you to decide if your activity will affect great crested newts or their habitats, and whether you’ll need a licence. You can get expert advice from an ecologist to help you decide. Your ecologist will usually check for great crested newts if:

  • there are historical records of newts on or near the land you’re proposing to develop
  • there is a pond within 500m, even if it only holds water some of the year

There’s usually no need to check for newts if the pond is separated from your site by a barrier the newts can’t cross, such as a major road.

You should try everything else possible to avoid disturbing the newts, blocking access to or damaging their habitats. In most cases you should be able to plan the work to achieve this.

If this isn’t possible and your activity will affect the newts, you can apply for a mitigation licence. Applying for a licence should be your last resort and only applies to a minority of cases. Your ecologist should help you with your application.

Your ecologist will conduct surveys to show how the newts use the area, and develop mitigation plans to reduce any negative effects. You’ll need to include the survey findings, impact assessments and mitigation plans (to reduce harm to newts) with your mitigation licence application.

You can only get a mitigation licence if your application passes these 3 legal tests:

  • the activity must be for a certain purpose (for example, for scientific research or in the public interest)
  • there must be no satisfactory alternative that will cause less harm to the species
  • the activity must not harm the long-term conservation status of the species (you may need to create new habitats to offset any damage)

Find out more about the requirements for a European protected species licence.

Get expert help

If you apply for a mitigation licence from Natural England, you’ll need an ecologist to:

  • carry out surveys to work out how your activity will affect great crested newts
  • develop your mitigation plans
  • help with your licence application

You can find an ecologist from:

Appointing an ecologist isn’t required by law, but you will need expert help with your mitigation licence application.

When you need a survey

If you need a mitigation licence, you will need to arrange a survey to support your application. The survey will show how the newts use the area, and will be used as evidence for your mitigation plans.

If you need planning permission, your planning authority may also want to see the survey report.

Standards for surveys and mitigation plans

Natural England and your planning authority will check that your surveys and mitigation plans meet certain standards, summarised below. These aren’t legal requirements, but they constitute Natural England’s standing advice.

For more detail on surveying and mitigation, refer to:

Your ecologist will need to decide which methods are most appropriate to provide you with the evidence you need for your planning or licence application. They may need survey and mitigation licences depending on the survey methods they use.

If the survey involves multiple visits, they should be spread out over the appropriate time period. Surveys should be made in suitable weather for the technique – for example, the ecologist shouldn’t use bottle traps in hot or dry conditions.

The planning authority and Natural England will check how recent the survey is – the older it is, the less reliable its findings may be.

Initial survey

Your ecologist might start with an initial survey of the ponds and land habitats on or near your site. This should follow habitat suitability index methods. The index helps to calculate how likely it is that great crested newts use the site. If this initial survey shows that newts are likely to be present, you will need a more detailed survey.

Presence/absence surveys of water bodies

The ecologist should:

  • use 3 methods per visit (preferably netting, torch survey, bottle trapping and egg searching)
  • make at least 4 visits
  • visit between mid-March and mid-June with at least 2 visits between mid-April and mid-May

The ecologist could instead do an environmental DNA (eDNA) survey. This involves collecting a sample of water and testing it for traces of DNA to see whether newts are present.

Presence/absence surveys on land

The ecologist should:

  • use pitfall trapping with drift fencing (and refuges if possible)
  • trap on at least 60 nights in suitable weather conditions (above 5° Celsius, no high winds or heavy rain)
  • visit between March and October

Population size class assessments in ponds

The ecologist should:

  • use torch surveys and bottle trapping
  • make at least 6 visits (if newts were detected during the first 4 visits)
  • visit between mid-March and mid-June with at least 3 visits between mid-April and mid-May

Population size class assessments on land

This type of survey is difficult to do and the results are hard to interpret, so it’s not recommended unless it isn’t possible to survey the waterbody.

Mitigation and compensation plans

Your ecologist will produce a mitigation and compensation strategy to include with your mitigation licence application. This forms part of the method statement to submit to Natural England. If you need planning permission, your planning authority may also want to see your mitigation plans.

Your planning authority and Natural England will review these plans so they can assess how your proposals will affect the newts.

The mitigation and compensation strategy should show how you will:

  • aim to avoid breeding sites and land habitats (or demonstrate why this is not possible)
  • do any work to ponds during winter months
  • provide more newt habitat (breeding ponds and suitable land) than you remove – 2 ponds for every 1 lost
  • maintain any links between habitats and connect fragmented habitats where you can

The planning authority might ask you to include specific measures to mitigate or compensate for any negative effects to newts, through planning conditions or obligations. They can also ask you to enhance habitats through your development.

Moving newts

It is sometimes possible to move great crested newts to a suitable new site, but only as a last resort if there’s no reasonable alternative. Your ecologist will need a mitigation licence to do this.

The newts should stay within their home range, as close as possible to the original site.

The new habitat should be suitable for the newts. It can take up to 2 years to make a site suitable for large populations of great crested newts.

The new location should:

  • not be under threat of future development
  • not have been used by any previous development schemes
  • be large enough to support the population, with at least the same amount of habitat (but preferably more)
  • have the same mix and quality of habitats as the original site

Future management, maintenance and monitoring

Natural England (and your planning authority, if you need planning permission) will want to see your plans for future management, maintenance and monitoring of the newt population. If your development is likely to have a big effect on great crested newts, your long-term plans should include:

  • managing and maintaining aquatic vegetation
  • desilting and deshading ponds, removing fish and pollutants
  • committing to resolving any problems that come up after development

Apply for a licence

Licences are free. You can usually expect a licensing decision within 30 days, but Natural England is currently assessing a large volume of applications. In some cases, you may not get a decision before hibernation season begins, and your planned work could be delayed until next year.

If you need to apply for planning permission, you should get it before applying for a licence.

Apply for a licence online

  1. Read the guide to applying for a protected species licence (PDF, 568KB, 16 pages) .
  2. Register on Government Gateway.
  3. Log on to Natural England’s online licensing portal using your Government Gateway ID and password.

Apply for a licence using a downloadable form

Download great crested newt licence application forms to complete and return to Natural England.

Get advice about your licence application

You can get advice from Natural England about your draft licence application. This advice is available for bats, great crested newts and hazel dormice. You will have to pay a fee.

Contact

Email: wildlife@naturalengland.org.uk

Telephone: 0845 601 4523

Natural England wildlife licensing
First floor
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Bristol
BS1 6EB