Three Great Crested Newts were found enjoying pondlife on Burnham & Weston Energy’s solar farm near Lympsham – in January.

Found during habitat management work, the presence of the two adult males and one adult female Great Crested Newts in the pond was unexpected.

Great Crested Newts are known to hibernate on land over winter. They generally return to ponds in early Spring to find a mate and lay their eggs. For this reason, Burnham & Weston Energy’s Landscape and Ecological Management Plan stipulates that work involved in restoring and maintaining the six ponds on the site, specifically as breeding grounds for Great Crested Newts, can only take place during the winter months.

Great Crested Newt surveys during 2016 and 2017 revealed that a small population of the species is present on site. Newts were recorded in all six ponds during at least one of the surveys. However, last recorded in the pond in question in early 2016, it was great to confirm their continued presence there more than five years later.

Male Great Crested Newt found. Photo credit: BSG Ecology

Why are Great Crested Newts so important?

The UK’s populations of Great Crested Newts are internationally significant. They are a protected species meaning, along with their eggs, breeding and hibernation places, it is an offence to injure, capture or sell them, or damage their habitats.

They have disappeared from many sites across Europe, due to habitat loss and the intensification of farming practices. As eggs and tadpoles they also make a tasty meal for fish and invertebrates, which also keeps the numbers down (adult Great Crested Newts have cells in their skin that produce a nasty tasting chemical and so not many are eaten).


How can you recognise a Great Crested Newt?

Great Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus) are the largest of our native newt species and have been around for approximately 40 million years. They can grow up to 15cm in length, and have warty, black or dark brown skin. Their underside is bright orange, where each animal also has a unique pattern of black spots. The ‘crest’ in their name comes from the jagged crest the males develop during the mating season. In courtship, they stand on their front legs and wave their tail around. At the end of the breeding season, the great crest is reabsorbed by the male.

What is a Landscape and Ecological Management Plan?

In order to build the solar farm, now owned by Burnham & Weston Energy, a Landscape and Ecological Management Plan (LEMP) was required.

A survey before the solar farm was built showed there were six ponds on the site with the potential to support Great Crested Newts. A small population was found at the time. A LEMP makes sure the solar farm site continues to provide a suitable habitat for Great Crested Newts over the whole 25-year lifespan of the solar farm.

Burnham & Weston Energy’s LEMP ensures that habitat management and maintenance work is overseen by a qualified ecologist and under a special licence. This means that everything possible is done to ensure Great Crested Newts are carefully looked after while their home is being made most comfortable for them.

Interestingly, our LEMP was also prepared so that the farmer from whom we rent the land can continue to rear sheep under the solar panels. Fences were erected around the ponds to prevent sheep damaging the newts’ habitat.

A pond at our solar farm. Photo credit: BSG Ecology

Why were Great Crested Newts in the pond in January?

The lifecycle of Great Crested Newts suggests they will most likely spend winter on land and move to ponds in early Spring. However, some Great Crested Newts do things differently.

It could be that our Great Crested Newts set up home in the pond early this year. It might be that they overwintered in the pond, as some do in low numbers. This is one reason that it is so important that Burnham & Weston Energy works with an ecologist. Our Ecological Management Plan extends to all six ponds on the solar farm. When our resident Great Crested Newts take to their pond early, as they have done this year, they can be certain they safe and comfortable in their home.

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