Natural England has welcomed the publication by Defra of a study which includes an evaluation of the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect great crested newts in water.
It said the research presented a step forward in making it easier to detect populations of this European protected species and had the potential to make it much easier and less costly for developers needing to clarify where great crested newt populations might be.
The use of eDNA testing makes it possible to detect newts simply by taking water samples whereas conventional sampling for the protected species often requires several repeat visits during the breeding season which can be costly and time-consuming.
The research – carried out by a group led by the Freshwater Habitats Trust (FHT) – looked at one particular type of eDNA test, to see if eDNA could be used as an effective method of surveying for the presence of great crested newts.
The results show that the test can be more effective in confirming the presence or absence of great crested newts than a combination of conventional survey techniques. However a conventional survey will still be required where there is a need to obtain an estimate of how large a population is.
FHT has produced a technical advice note for applying the test, which has been peer reviewed, and is published as an annex to the report. Natural England will accept eDNA test results as evidence of presence or absence of great crested newt from consultants and developers, provided they strictly follow the method set out in the technical advice note. The new technique provides an additional option which developers may choose to use when undertaking presence and absence surveys.
The report can be found on the Defra Research and Development web pages.