14 March 2016
With Spring just around the corner, the days getting brighter and the weather warmer, our ecologists are busy preparing for the start of the survey season. Duncan Smith, a Senior Ecologist based in our London office, takes us on a typical trip to survey great crested newts, an area which he specialises in. Duncan takes up the story:
Although these amphibians are fully protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, my licence from Natural England allows me to carry out surveys for them using nets, torches, bottle traps and by hand. Tonight I’m tasked with carrying out the first of potentially six surveys on Canvey Island, Essex, to provide an estimate of their population size. The RSPB propose to construct a new access road across part of the site, and we need to know whether the newts will be a constraint to its construction.
Working alongside colleague Joshua Stafford, we start by placing partially submerged plastic bottle traps around the margins of the 14 ditches and waterbodies across the site, as they all lie within 500m of the proposed road. Although no one knows why they like to enter bottles, the fact they do makes bottle trapping an important survey tool. As we install the bottles, we inspect folds in aquatic vegetation, grasses and even plastic bags for ‘off-white’ coloured eggs.
With over one hundred plastic bottle traps submerged across the site, it’s time for much needed dinner at the local pub, before commencing the night stage of the survey. This involves shining a bright torch into the same waterbodies we earlier installed bottle traps. Great crested newts are frequently found walking over detritus at the bottom of a pond or hovering in the water column away from cover as they feed on aquatic invertebrates. These habits make them ideal to survey at night using torchlight. Working our way around the edges of the waterbodies, we spend the next few hours recording each one we find, tallying a total of 45 individuals before retiring for the evening.
The following morning is spent retrieving all the bottle traps we installed yesterday evening. It’s important that this is done before the temperature rises too much, to avoid harming any trapped newts. If one enters a bottle trap, others will often follow. Upon inspection of all the bottles, we find a further 21 great crested newts. Each one is recorded before release. And so that concludes the end of survey one. Only five more to go!
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Surveys for protected species are best undertaken at certain times of the year. Our team of ecology experts are on hand to carry out a variety of surveys throughout the year. Find out more by downloading our new Ecology Survey Calendar here.