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Special Areas of Conservation

1166 Great crested newt Triturus cristatus

Vertebrate species: amphibians

Description and ecological characteristics

The great crested newt Triturus cristatus is the largest native British newt, reaching up to around 17 cm length. It has a granular skin texture (caused by glands which contain toxins making it unpalatable to predators), and in the terrestrial phase is dark grey, brown or black over most of the body, with a bright yellow/orange and black belly pattern. Adult males have jagged crests running along the body and tail. Newts require aquatic habitats for breeding. Eggs are laid singly on pond vegetation in spring, and larvae develop over summer to emerge in August – October, normally taking 2–4 years to reach maturity. Juveniles spend most time on land, and all terrestrial phases may range a considerable distance from breeding sites.

Breeding sites are mainly medium-sized ponds, though ditches and other waterbody types may also be used less frequently. Ponds with ample aquatic vegetation (which is used for egg-laying) seem to be favoured. Great crested newts do not require very high water quality, but are normally found in ponds with a circum-neutral pH. Broad habitat type varies greatly, the most frequent being pastoral and arable farmland, woodland, scrub, and grassland. There are also populations in coastal dunes and shingle structures. Great crested newts can be found in rural, urban and post-industrial settings, with populations less able to thrive where there are high degrees of fragmentation. The connectivity of the landscape is important, since great crested newts often occur in metapopulations that encompass a cluster of several or many ponds. This helps ensure the survival of populations even if sub-populations are affected by, for example, pond desiccation or fish introductions. Climate may influence the range edge at the north of its distribution in Scotland, but other ecological or landscape factors such as pond density are probably more important in determining distribution across the main part of its British range.

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with species 1166 Triturus cristatus. Click image for enlarged map.

European status and distribution

The great crested newt Triturus cristatus is found widely throughout northern Europe. Populations are thought to have declined dramatically throughout the species’ European range.

UK status and distribution

The great crested newt Triturus cristatus is widespread throughout much of England and Wales, but occurs only sparsely in south-west England, mid Wales and Scotland. It is absent from Northern Ireland. The total UK population is relatively large and is distributed over sites that vary greatly in their ecological character. One estimate has put the national population at around 400,000 animals in 18,000 breeding sites. Many of the largest populations are centred on disused mineral-extraction sites, but lowland farmland forms the majority of great crested newt habitat in the UK.

View UK distribution of this species.

Site selection rationale

Sites have been selected where there is evidence of a relatively large and robust population of great crested newts Triturus cristatus based on reliable recent survey data. Sites which either lack reliable population estimates or support small populations have not been selected. The SAC series represents the wide range of habitat types used by the species, and includes representative sites in semi-natural and more anthropogenic settings, as well as taking into account different vegetation and geology types. The selected sites include ponds in pastoral and arable farmland, woodland, grassland, coastal habitats, and disused mineral-extraction sites. Geographical representation of different areas within the species’ range has also been taken into account. While the SAC series makes a contribution to securing favourable conservation status for this Annex II species, wider measures are also necessary to support its conservation in the UK, including those identified under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, such as pond creation and management.

Site accounts

  • Bee's Nest and Green Clay Pits Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire
    The site encompasses a series of silica sand pits supporting a complex mosaic of acidic and calcareous grassland, with small areas of heathland communities. There are also areas of open water, flushes and communities of disturbed ground. Great crested newts Triturus cristatus occur in a number of ponds on site, which vary in size, profile and vegetation cover.
  • Burrow Head South Western Scotland
    This pond cluster is situated in a rolling, agricultural landscape of pasture interspersed with stands of semi-natural vegetation. Numerous ponds occur in the shallow depressions and provide water for livestock. Great crested newt Triturus cristatus has been recorded in 20 ponds. The overall site is exceptional by Scottish standards and is by far the most important known Scottish population, and is also significant in overall UK terms. It is a good representative of a population in an agricultural landscape.
  • Clints Quarry Cumbria
    This disused quarry in north-west England contains several pools that support a large great crested newt Triturus cristatus population which has shown evidence of recruitment in recent years. Terrestrial habitat associated with the breeding areas is quarry spoil, early successional vegetation and surrounding pasture.
  • Crookhill Brick Pit Dorset and Somerset

    Crookhill Brickpit is a disused brickpit which has important geological features (exposure of Lower and Middle Oxford Clay). The site contains several ponds that support S1166 Great crested newts Triturus cristatus, including one pond which has been recorded to have one of the highest counts of the species in Dorset. The site also contains a variety of habitats used by the great crested newt in the terrestrial phase, including grassland, scrub and quarry spoil. The newer ponds were created as part of a mitigation project for the construction of a waste transfer station.

  • Deeside and Buckley Newt Sites East Wales
    This composite site in north-east Flintshire is on coastal slopes overlooking the Dee estuary. Waterbodies created by the extraction of clay, sand and coal, as well as for agricultural purposes, provide breeding habitat for one of the largest populations of great crested newt Triturus cristatus in Great Britain. Some ponds on the site have been created for nature conservation purposes following post-industrial reclamation. Terrestrial habitat is rich and varies from neutral and acid grasslands, through Molinia mires to scrub and mature broad-leaved woodland. The site also supports considerable numbers of all the widespread amphibian species.
  • Denby Grange Colliery Ponds West Yorkshire
    This waterbody in north-east England, created by coal-mining activity, has consistently yielded high counts of great crested newt Triturus cristatus in recent years. The pond is surrounded by wooded slopes, with adjacent anthropogenic habitat associated with the previous mining activities. A large new pond was created recently to help support the population, which was previously reliant on a single breeding site.
  • Dew's Ponds East Anglia
    This site in rural East Suffolk comprises a series of 12 ponds set in an area of formerly predominantly arable land. The ponds range from old field ponds created for agricultural purposes to some constructed in recent years specifically for wildlife. Some of the land has been converted from arable to grassland, with a variety of grassland types present; other habitats include hedges and ditches. Great crested newts Triturus cristatus have been found in all ponds on site, though the presence of fish seems to have affected newt numbers in recent years in two ponds.
  • Dungeness Kent, Surrey, East and West Sussex
    Dungeness in south-east England has the largest shingle expanse in Europe and contains a large number of waterbodies within its 2,000 ha. This extensive site hosts a large and viable great crested newt Triturus cristatus population in a range of natural and anthropogenic habitats. These include natural pools and those resulting from gravel extraction and other activities. Terrestrial habitat of importance for feeding and shelter is provided by a range of open shingle vegetation with scrub in the vicinity of some of the waterbodies.
  • Fens Pools West Midlands
    This site comprises three canal feeder reservoirs and a series of smaller pools. They overlie Etruria marls and coal measures of the Carboniferous period. The site shows evidence of past industrial activities and includes a wide range of habitats from open water, swamp, fen and inundation communities to unimproved neutral and acidic grassland and scrub. Great crested newts Triturus cristatus occur as part of an important amphibian assemblage.
  • Glan-traeth West Wales and The Valleys
    Situated in north-west Wales, high counts since the mid-1980s confirm the presence of a large and viable great crested newt Triturus cristatus population occupying water-filled depressions that have resulted from sand extraction from the dune system. Glan-traeth is lightly grazed by domestic livestock, thereby maintaining the open terrestrial habitat required for feeding and sheltering of adults.
  • Granllyn East Wales
    This site is centred around a glacial hollow or kettle-hole pool and a historic moat. The surrounding farmland is mostly pasture and rough grassland with good hedges and an area of planted broad-leaved woodland and natural willow scrub to provide suitable foraging habitat. The site is located in eastern Montgomeryshire at the centre of the Welsh distribution of great crested newt Triturus cristatus. This is the largest known population of the species in central Wales.
  • Halkyn Mountain/ Mynydd Helygain East Wales
    Halkyn Mountain is a large area of mostly common land in north-east Wales. The landscape is much modified by human activities, with abandoned metalliferous mining and rock quarries a prominent feature of the site. The large great crested newt Triturus cristatus population breeds in abandoned quarry workings and various other waterbodies across the site. The terrestrial habitat is very varied, with calcareous grassland, heathland and scrub prominent throughout. The site is grazed mostly by sheep.
  • Holnest Dorset and Somerset
    Holnest encompasses around 20 ponds set in a matrix of terrestrial habitats, comprising areas of semi-improved grassland, scrub, associated semi-natural habitats and woodland bounded by fences and hedgerows. The ponds exhibit a range of sizes, profiles and origins, and include some recently-created ornamental ponds as well as traditional farm ponds. A large population of S1166 Great crested newts Triturus cristatus is present, with over 200 individuals having been recorded at one pond in spring 2003. The woodland areas provide ideal hibernation habitat.
  • Johnstown Newt Sites East Wales
    This site lies near to Wrexham in north-east Wales and is composed of two post-industrial sites where coal and clay have been extracted. The population of great crested newts Triturus cristatus is one of the largest known in Great Britain and has been the focus of much conservation management over the last few years. Breeding sites are provided in part by a mining subsidence pool, and natural water-filled hollows on clay, whilst other ponds have been created as part of nature conservation management. Terrestrial habitat varies from marshy grassland, grazed farmland and swamp through to scrub and broad-leaved woodland. Good populations of the widespread amphibian species are also present.
  • Kirk Deighton North Yorkshire
    Great crested newts Triturus cristatus breed in a large pond set in a depression in grazed pasture. This main breeding pond has a water level that fluctuates widely, sometimes leading to pond desiccation. As a result, there is relatively little aquatic vegetation but egg-laying occurs and recruitment is successful intermittently; however, a large population is present, demonstrating this species’ ability to thrive in temporary pond sites. Newts range across an area comprising pasture with old hedgerows.
  • Little Wittenham Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
    One of the best-studied great crested newt sites in the UK, Little Wittenham comprises two main ponds set in a predominantly woodland context (broad-leaved and conifer woodland is present). There are also areas of grassland, with sheep grazing and arable bordering the woodland to the south and west. The River Thames is just to the north of the site, and a hill fort to the south. Large numbers of great crested newts Triturus cristatus have been recorded in the two main ponds, and research has revealed that they range several hundred metres into the woodland blocks.
  • Lyppard Grange Ponds Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire
    This site, on the outskirts of Worcester, is set amongst a recent housing development on former pastoral farmland. The ponds are associated with good-quality terrestrial habitats, and are a remnant of a formerly more widespread newt habitat when large numbers of ponds were maintained for agricultural purposes.
  • Morecambe Bay Cumbria, Extra-Regio, Lancashire
    The site, located on the southern shore of the Duddon estuary in north-west England, consists of a large sand dune complex containing both permanent and ephemeral waterbodies and man-made scrapes. Breeding colonies of great-created newts are known in approximately 20 of these ponds, and are believed to utilise 200 ha of the 282 ha site, foraging widely over foreshore, yellow dunes, dune-heath and scrub.
  • Orton Pit East Anglia
    Orton Pit in the East Midlands contains the largest known population of great crested newt Triturus cristatus in the UK and possibly in Europe. The extensive pond systems occupy disused ridge and furrow areas created by clay workings, at various successional stages. Management of water levels and predatory fish is essential for the maintenance of the newt population. New ponds are created in ways that allow water control, and measures are taken to encourage rapid colonisation by newts in order to maintain the population. The range of habitats found throughout the site, including surrounding areas of grassland and scrub, provide good conditions for feeding and sheltering newts.
  • Peter's Pit Kent
    Peter’s Pit is an old chalk quarry situated in the North Downs in north Kent, with large ponds situated amongst grassland, scrub and woodland. The ponds have widely fluctuating water levels and large great crested newt Triturus cristatus populations have been recorded breeding here.
  • Rixton Clay Pits Cheshire
    Situated east of Warrington, this site comprises parts of an extensive disused brickworks excavated in glacial boulder clay. The excavation has left a series of hollows, which have filled with water since workings ceased in the 1960s, leading to a variety of pond sizes. New ponds have also been created more recently for wildlife and amenity purposes. Great crested newt Triturus cristatus are known to occur in at least 20 ponds across the site. The site also supports species-rich grassland, scrub and mature secondary woodland.
  • Turflundie Wood Eastern Scotland
    The pond cluster is mostly within an area of planted, mature conifer forest, with open areas of mire and some heath also present. Records for ‘Turflundie fire pond’ date back to the mid/late 1960s. There is also a good record of presence in Lady Loch SSSI. More recently there has been a programme of pond creation on the site, specifically geared to improving the habitat quality for great crested newt Triturus cristatus. They have now been recorded breeding in eight ponds and recorded as present at a further two ponds. This is the most northerly known cluster of great crested newt ponds in the UK and is at about 250 m above sea level. Turflundie Wood is therefore an important representative site near to the extreme northern part of the species’ UK range.

SACs where this Annex II species is a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.

Please note that the map shows sites where the presence of a feature is classed as ‘grade d’, but these sites are not listed. This is because ‘grade d’ indicates a non-significant presence.