Creating vital breeding habitats for great crested newts

To help reverse the decline of the great crested newt we’re working with landowners to create and restore vital breeding habitats across North and East Yorkshire this winter.

Hidden in the depths of springtime ponds, miniature dragons do battle. With flashing silver tail stripes and impressive back-crests, great crested newts fight rivals for a chance to breed. Once the melee is over they retreat into the undergrowth to live out the rest of the year in solitude.

To support the launch of the Natural England-led approach to district level licensing for great crested newts, we’re leading on a project to deliver a number of great crested newt ponds across North and East Yorkshire this winter.

A photograph of a great crested newt, swimming in water. You can see the white stripe of it's tail and it's orange underside.

The great crested newt

Growing up to 15cm long, great crested newts are Britain’s largest and rarest newt species and have declined in population due to the loss of habitat, including the ponds in which they breed. Due to the massive reduction in numbers and range, great crested newts are legally protected both under European and domestic law.

Following their emergence from hibernation in spring, great crested newts return to shallow ponds to breed. The males grow spectacular jagged crests along their backs which they use to intimidate rivals and show off to potential mates. Once breeding has finished the eggs hatch into larvae, which remain in the pond for up to four months before metamorphosising into juvenile newts known as efts which then leave the water.

Once mature, adult newts may live for up to nine years, but many do not survive that long, due to them being a tasty delicacy for predators such as hedgehogs, grass snakes and grey herons. The main reason for their decline is not predation, but the loss of breeding ponds through drainage, development or neglect, as well as the agricultural ‘improvement’ of surrounding land where they feed and hibernate for seven months of the year. Due to the fragmentation of their habitat, surviving ponds are often isolated in landscapes, making the remnant populations vulnerable to extinction.

A photograph of a great crested newt stood on top of a patch of moss

(c) John Bridges

More about the project

The current project is part of a national strategy to bolster populations in stronghold areas and allow local authorities to undertake landscape-scale management of the population through district level licencing. As the initial effort for this, Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) undertook a national habitat suitability and population study that identified population hot spots and important fringe areas across England.

We are delighted to have been appointed by Natural England and DEFRA as the lead delivery contractor for the creation or restoration of over 20 great crested newt ponds in North and East Yorkshire this winter, following the creation of nine ponds last winter.

District level licensing involves the creation of a large number of new ponds and restoration of those currently deemed unsuitable for use by great crested newts and is an alternative to the site by site licensing process which, up until now, has been used for development.  Strategic Opportunity Areas have been identified where newt habitat would be best created or restored to provide strategic net gain; pond compensation will be focused within these areas.

Great Crested Newt

Mike Richardson (C)

How you can get involved

We are keen to hear from landowners that may be interested in having a pond created or restored on their land. Ponds must be at least 10m by 10m and be in areas free from flooding. If suitable, the pond construction or restoration (including the installation of suitable livestock fencing if needed) would be carried out by ourselves and completely financed by DEFRA along with maintenance and monitoring checks every 3 years for 25 years. 

If you’re a landowner and would be interested in creating or restoring a pond for great crested newts please feel free to contact John Thompson at john.thompson@ywt.org.uk for more information.