By Jen Almond, Natural England’s District Level Licensing Programme Manager.
Natural England has now uploaded baseline survey data on great crested newts (GCN) to create a map of where they are across the whole of England. The project – which took three years to complete – is the largest ever survey of its type for GCN across England, and was funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Why is the project important?
This England-wide survey data has enabled Natural England’s district level licensing programme – without this data we couldn’t have developed this significant new licensing option – an approach that better supports GCN populations, as well as reducing delays for developers.
We hope the data will bring other benefits: it is a fantastic resource coming out of the district level licensing programme, available to all. The data will mean that Local Environmental Record Centres and other groups such as the Wildlife Trusts can help better protect the GCN as they will have – for the first time – an England-wide picture of where GCN are. This means that their habitats can be better managed as well as linked-up on a landscape scale, helping the species to thrive.
What did we do?
GCN are a visually striking but elusive species, breeding in ponds and hibernating on land, typically in rough grassland, scrub and woodland. We worked with contractors- with permission from landowners- to survey more than 7,518 ponds using the relatively new environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling technique to establish the presence or absence of GCN.
Why should we protect great crested newts?
GCN are a European protected species. The animals and their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are protected by law. They are widely distributed throughout lowland England. However, the species has suffered enormous declines, with approximately 50% of ponds in the UK lost in the 20th century and 80% of current ponds in a poor state. A traditional or a district level licence is required from Natural England if you’re planning an activity and can’t avoid disturbing them or damaging their habitats (ponds and the land around ponds).
Who can use the data?
As the data is available under an Open Government Licence absolutely anyone can use it. It is already being put to good use – the data will form part of the evidence used to update the ‘Favourable Conservation Status’ statement for GCN. The Conservation Status is considered ‘favourable’ when the population and range of the species is healthy and will be maintained into the long-term. Monitoring this helps environmental managers, policymakers and scientists effectively protect habitats and species such as GCN.
What is the Natural England Open Data Geoportal?
The Natural England Open Data Geoportal was launched 2017 and provides free and open access to geographic products for download in multiple formats (CSV, KML, Shapefile and ESRI File Geodatabase), web services (ESRI REST and GeoJSON APIs), web applications and story maps. All content is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0, except where otherwise stated.
A simple explanation of how to access the service can be viewed here.
If you have an ArcGIS Online organisational or public account you can access and use our data on the ArcGIS Online platform. Sign in at the top right of the Natural England Open Data Geoportal home page and try it out, or register for a Public account here. A subset of our geospatial open data layers are also published on the ESRI Living Atlas of the World.
Updates to existing data and new content are released by the end of each month and you can view the latest releases on the Geoportal home page. We also tweet data and service updates, so please follow us to keep up with the latest news.
You can contact us at Data.Services@naturalengland.org.uk with any feedback.