Great crested newts are our largest species of newt, they are also our most threatened. GCN are much larger than the other native newt species (Smooth newt and Palmate newt), they can grow up to 15cm in length and are much bulkier. GCN have black or brown skin which is rough and has tiny white spots. The underside of GCN is bright orange and has black spots; this belly pattern is individual to each newt and can be used in the same way as a fingerprint to gain data on individual newts. Male GCN develop an impressive crest along their back and a silver streak along the middle of the tail during the spring and summer which they use to attract females during the breeding season. Female newts are generally longer than males and have an orange line on the underside of the tail.
Bat & GCN surveys in Runcorn, Cheshire
Site: Runcorn, Cheshire
Client: Cranford Estates
Protected species: Great crested newts & bats
UES carried out a preliminary ecological appraisal (PEA) and bat scoping survey of a former farmhouse in Runcorn in May 2014. The PEA and scoping survey found potential habitats suitable to support a number of protected species including breeding birds, bats and Great crested newts (GCN). Further surveys were required to identify the impact the development would have on bats and GCN, which are both protected under UK and European legislation.
Although there were no ponds on site, there are 5 ponds within a 250m radius of the site, with records of a small GCN population in 1 of these ponds. A single female adult GCN was also found terrestrially on site. UES undertook a population size class assessment of 3 of the ponds during the 2015 GCN survey season, mid-March to mi-June. UES were able to discount 2 of the ponds from further survey work by undertaking a habitat suitability index (HSI), which is a tool that helps to determine if ponds are likely to support GCN due to their size, location, shading, invertebrate communities, and presence of fish, waterfowl and macrophytes etc.
The survey recorded a small population of GCN within 2 of the 3 ponds and therefore a method statement was produced for submission with planning, which detailed the mitigation and compensation measures to be employed on site in order to safeguard protected species. UES worked with the landscape architects to design a housing scheme which continued to allow movement of amphibians (and small mammals) in and around site post development. This included the sowing of species-rich grasslands, native scrub planting along the edge of the adjacent local wildlife site, and raised garden fences to allow passage of animals underneath.
Due to the proximity of the site to the GCN ponds, and the size and scale of the proposed development, a European protected species licence (EPSL) issued by Natural England has been applied for. A EPSL can only be applied for once planning permission has been secured.
The bat scoping survey found a number of scattered Pipistrelle and Brown long-eared (BLE) bat droppings and BLE feeding remains in the loft of the main farmhouse building. Bat presence / absence surveys were carried out by UES surveyors in June / July 2014. Following the confirmation of roosting activity at the site further surveys were undertaken in August 2015 to provide an update on the level of use of the site by bats. All surveys were carried out to recognised guidelines, timings and weather conditions with particular reference to Natural England and Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) publications. The surveyors were able to record roosting positions and identify the bat species using ultra-sonic detector equipment.
The building is used by low numbers of Common pipistrelle and Soprano pipistrelle bats. Pipistrelle bats present are likely to be males, non-breeding females or non-breeding juveniles. The building is unlikely to be a Pipistrelle maternity or hibernation roost. The building is also used by BLE bats as a maternity roost.
As with GCN, a method statement was prepared for submission to LPA and a EPSL has been applied for. UES are working closely with Natural England in order to secure the licence in time for demolition prior to the BLE maternity season. As part of the licence a new exclusive bat loft will be built above one of the new garages in the housing development. The landscaping will include native planting and create a habitat mosaic which will support a variety of insects essential for foraging bats. There has been consideration to the external lighting of the new development, making sure light spill is directed away from bat commuting or dispersal routes and away from the new bat loft.
Once the EPS licences have been secured the proposed mitigation and compensation measures can be implemented on site. This includes an ecological clerk of works overseeing sensitive phases of the building demolition and site clearance, a toolbox talk to contractors, roost inspections and installation of bat exclusion devices, installation of amphibian fencing and pitfall traps and translocation of amphibians off-site.