Getting a great crested newt survey or research class licence level 1 (CL08) is an important qualification for an ecologist as it enables you to work closely with one of the UK’s rarest amphibians without any legal implications. Here’s some advice from Martin Roche, a previous Certificate student.
Although great crested newts (GCNs) are widespread throughout most of England, Scotland and Wales their population numbers have declined dramatically in the latter half of the 20th century. GCNs, their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are, as a result, fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended). This makes it illegal to kill, injure or disturb GCNs as well as damage, destroy or obstruct their habitat or eggs. GCNs are also a species of principal importance as they are listed under Schedule 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.
GCN presence/absence surveys are performed by an ecologist to determine whether a pond, that has potential to support GCNs, supports GCNs (Photo 1). These surveys involve using high powered torches, nets, bottle traps and searching for eggs to find for signs of GCNs in a pond (Photo 2). The surveys may also involve handling GCNs to examine them. GCN eDNA surveys can also be performed by ecologists to determine GCN presence/absence which involves analysing water samples in a lab to find GCN DNA (Photo 3). Without a GCN survey or research class licence these survey techniques would be illegal. When applying for a GCN licence there are two key aspects that Natural England are looking for: knowledge and experience.
Natural England need to be provided evidence that the applicant can correctly and confidently identify a GCN and the difference between GCNs and the other amphibians that are native and invasive to the UK. The applicant also needs to show they have been educated on GCN biology, ecology and habitat preference and therefore understand the conservation threats and legislation surrounding GCNs. The GCN Conservation Handbook, produced by Froglife, provides information about their ecology, mitigation and survey techniques. The Amphibian Habitat Management Handbook, produced by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, provides information about amphibian habitat management, diseases and translocation (Photo 4). Here at Acorn Ecology we offer a GCN Ecology and Survey course which provides the information you need for your licence. There is an option to also receive a reference from the course tutor for your licence (after a test at a small additional fee and at the tutor’s discretion).
Natural England also need to be provided evidence that the applicant has had hands on experience surveying GCNs and know how to correctly survey them using each of the following survey techniques: torching, netting, egg searches, bottle trapping and eDNA (Photo 5). We recommend contacting consultancies and volunteer to help them with their GCN surveys and let them know that you are trying to obtain your licence.
We also recommend creating a logbook in Microsoft Excel or Apple Numbers that details every training course you have attended as well as every hands-on experience you have gathered. Then this logbook can be provided to Natural England as part of the application for your licence.
The most challenging task in applying for a GCN licence can be finding two people who are willing to provide you with a reference for your application form. These referees must have a valid GCN licence and have direct knowledge of your work with GCNs. More information on reference can be found on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reference-to-support-a-protected-species-licence/protected-species-licences-guidance-on-getting-references-to-support-applications. At Acorn Ecology we have ecologists in all our offices who possess GCN licences and welcome anyone to join us on GCN surveys to gain hands-on survey experience and may be willing to provide a reference for a GCN licence (please note, however, that GCN are quite rare in Devon).
For any ecologist looking to start their career in ecology, obtaining a GCN licence is an impressive qualification to have on you CV and will therefore greatly increase your chances of employment. To apply for your GCN survey or research class licence level 1 (CL08) click to following link to find the application form: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-crested-newts-survey-or-research-licence-level-1.