News Round-Up

Over 100 ponds created or restored as part of South Midlands District Licensing scheme

Great crested newts have been recorded in nearly two thirds of the sites (60%) where new ponds have been created or restored as part of the NatureSpace District Licensing scheme. Since the scheme began in 2018, 112 clean water ponds have been created or restored for great crested newts across the South Midlands and Gloucestershire (91 new ponds created and 21 ponds restored), and of these, over a third of individual ponds (36%) have already been colonised by newts.

The Newt Conservation Partnership has released results of the first two years of monitoring of ponds newly created or restored as part of the South Midlands District Licensing scheme. Many of these ponds are less than a year old, yet monitoring using both eDNA and traditional surveying methods (egg searches, bottle trapping, torching) suggests they are already benefiting great crested newts and other
freshwater wildlife, including priority species like the common toad.

These encouraging initial monitoring results from the Newt Conservation Partnership confirm that great crested newts can quickly find the newly created sites, early evidence that our efforts to create more, bigger, better and more connected networks of ponds will help to
increase the robustness of newt populations. The scheme will continue this monitoring long-term to assess the outcomes for newts. This approach is vital, as earlier approaches to great crested newt development mitigation often failed to maintain monitoring long-term.

In the South Midlands District Licensing scheme, ponds are created in groups or networks, reflecting the ecology of newt populations which usually require pond clusters to survive successfully. With ponds occurring in groups, newts are able to select the best ponds for breeding and foraging from year to year, even though individual ponds may be suitable in some years and not in others (for example with varying amounts of water, year to year differences in the growth of plants used for egg laying or differences in invertebrate food and larval predators). In choosing sites for the project, the Newt Conservation Partnership follows a strict set of site selection criteria ensuring new ponds are located within 1 km of existing newt populations. The organisation also ensures that the sites can guarantee unpolluted water, typically meaning low intensity semi-natural habitats, with good nearby terrestrial habitat (or new habitat is created).

The scheme is underpinned by a comprehensive monitoring strategy, results from which have shown newts to be present in 60% of new sites and in 36% of ponds (88% of these occupied ponds were created rather than restored). This suggests the area of habitat available to newts is expanding, contributing to a more resilient and healthy population. To date, the Newt Conservation Partnership has created 91 and restored or managed 21 ponds. In addition, the organisation has made more than 430 hectares of suitable terrestrial habitat available to newts through the addition of ponds, thus opening up new areas of habitat to newts and improving connectivity.

Dr Pascale Nicolet, CEO of the Newt Conservation Partnership said: “The extensive monitoring programme is key to ensuring that the scheme is delivering its conservation goals, and these positive early monitoring results bode well for supporting landscape-scale great crested newt recovery. Furthermore, our ponds have a clean, unpolluted water source which not only benefits great crested newts but is critical for freshwater biodiversity,particularly rare and uncommon species. This is especially important at this time when species are declining in the UK and across the globe.”

Dr Tom Tew, Chief Executive of NatureSpace added: “We are delighted with these monitoring results after the first two years of the South Midlands District Licensing scheme. District Licensing is the first ever truly landscape-scale approach to protected species conservation and is working fantastically well. I’d like to pay tribute to all our Planning Authority partners, without whom the scheme could not work, and to thank all the developers who have met their environmental obligations by paying into the scheme. We are together slowly but surely
improving the landscape for newts.”

District Licensing was introduced in 2018 by Natural England as a new approach to mitigating the impacts of urban development on great crested newts. The new scheme encourages developers to fund high quality habitat creation for newts in locations where the new habitat would extend the habitat available to newts in areas that would not be affected by development in the long-term. The scheme tackles one of the major drawbacks of previous approaches to newt conservation: that ponds were retained on or close to development sites, they were often degraded by pollution, the addition of fish and other pressures resulting from nearby urbanisation, as well as being very costly to establish.

The Newt Conservation Partnership is the delivery arm of the NatureSpace District Licensing scheme and is a separate Community Benefit Organisation. Overall, the Newt Conservation Partnership aims to improve the quality and increase the extent of aquatic and terrestrial
habitat available to great crested newts and other freshwater wildlife across the South Midlands and Gloucestershire, to improve the conservation status of great crested newts.

To view the monitoring report in full, please visit: http://bit.ly/NCPmonitoring2020

For more information about the Newt Partnership, please visit: www.newtpartnership.org.uk

For more information about the NatureSpace district licensing scheme, please visit: www.naturespaceuk.com/district-licensing-scheme