“The presentations were varied, ranging from reptile and amphibian conservation training in prisons to spatio-temporal patterns of marine turtles in UK waters. Perhaps the most relevant talk to myself, as an ecological consultant, was one focusing on timings for newt torching surveys. Torching surveys involve visiting ponds during the hours of darkness and using a high-power torch to try and spot and identify newts that are visiting the ponds for reproduction. The presented research showed that, on average, peak detection of great crested newts (GCN) occurs at 141 minutes after sunset but 60–180 mins after sunset you are likely to detect at least 70% of the peak count. Peak detection occurred at an air temperature of 3.5°C but at a water temperature of 10.4°C showing that it is important to record both air and water temperature during surveys as well as timing surveys to achieve peak detection.
“A workshop on the use of eDNA for detecting GCN concluded that eDNA could give 83% confidence in negative results, compared to 80% for traditional survey methods. Research also suggests that the highest levels of eDNA are present in ponds from May to June, so water samples should be taken during this period. However, this leaves limited time in which to fit in the population assessment surveys if the eDNA results are positive and surveys may need to be delayed until the following year. The additional research information about the method is useful, although no changes to the Natural England-approved timing and use of eDNA analysis are expected based on this research.
“The second day of the conference provided a lively Q&A session on district licensing for GCN, which Natural England are hoping to rollout to 150 LPAs by 2020. This is a new licensing scheme that aims to achieve more population-focused mitigation and conservation for GCN than the current project-focused licensing scheme. District licensing has already been launched in the South Midlands and, since the conference, Natural England has rolled out the scheme in Kent. There are further plans to roll out the scheme in Cheshire, Gloucestershire and South Northamptonshire during 2019.
The start of the second day of the conference
“Since returning from the conference, I have disseminated what I learnt to the rest of the RSK ecology team. This information will help to influence our now imminent newt and reptile surveys.”
For more information on RSK’s ecological services, please visit the webpage.