Cranfield soil data helps save great crested newts - Cranfield University

Experts from Cranfield University are helping to protect one of the UK’s rarest species of wildlife, by providing data that allows environmentalists to identify habitats in which it can thrive.

Due to a rapid decline in numbers during the last century, great crested newts are protected in law, meaning that developers wanting to build on land where they have made a home must wait until they have been relocated before beginning work. Previously, the relocation process was ad-hoc, and subject to seasonal restrictions, delays and uncertainty. But data from Cranfield’s Land Information System (LandIS) is feeding into a new model that promises to result in better outcomes for the species, as well as make developers’ lives easier.

Under Natural England’s district level licensing (DLL), developers make a conservation payment based on the predicted impact of their development. The money is used to fund the strategic creation or restoration of ponds in areas which are known to represent the best places for newts to thrive. The new habitats created will then be maintained and monitored for 25 years, all funded by the initial payment.

Dr Jacqueline Hannam, Senior Research Fellow in Pedology within Cranfield’s Centre for Environmental and Agricultural Informatics, said: “District level licensing promises to result in fewer delays and uncertainties within the planning process but – more importantly – it focuses conservation effort where it will be of maximum benefit to the great crested newt species. LandIS data on the soil properties of different areas will feed into a wider geospatial analysis and be combined with ecological knowledge gathered from observational surveys, enabling Natural England to create a map of Strategic Opportunity Areas that will guide wildlife trusts regarding placing or restoring compensation ponds.”

Dr Ben Payne, Senior Adviser in Natural England's Modelling and Analysis Team, said: “Understanding the soil properties, using Cranfield soils (drainage) data for example, as well as terrestrial habitat and pondscape characteristics, all contribute to improving the performance of the models and their ability to predict suitable habitat for great crested newts.”

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Posted On: 25/03/2021

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