... during the 1920’s Alpine Newts were introduced into Southern England. Since then scattered populations have become established across Britain, with colonies reported in Kent, Surrey, London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Sunderland, Shropshire and central Scotland. One reason for this widely scattered distribution is likely to be people deliberately introducing them into parks and gardens, attracted to do so by the newt’s exotic colours and beautiful patterning.
Alpine newts are of particular interest because they are a known carrier of chytridiomycosis (or chytrid for short). Chytrid is a fungal disease that is believed to be a major cause of amphibian population declines across the planet.
There are established populations of alpine newt in Kent. Near Canterbury alpine newts occupy several ponds and the species is believed to be expanding its range. Survey work undertaken in ponds that support alpine newts need to ensure that full biosecurity measures are strictly adhered to. More information on chytrid with advice for fieldworkers is available from ARG UK. This document is currently used by Natural England as the basis for any chytrid related issues associated with great crested newt and natterjack mitigation work. From the ARG UK document:
Translocation of amphibians >2km from point of capture would only be acceptable where (a) a very strong case is made for the benefits of the translocation, (b) there is no satisfactory alternative, and (c) strenuous efforts to analyse and minimise disease risks are taken. Regarding (c), the donor population and – if appropriate, any receptor population - must be demonstrated to be negative for chytrid with a high confidence. Typically this would involve samples of 60 individuals per site using a recognised diagnostic technique.
This puts a significant constraint on mitigation projects and the risk of disease transmission needs to be fully evaluated before licence applications are submitted to NE. One quibble I do have with the guidelines is that they stipulate samples of 60 individuals per site. However, my understanding of current monitoring work is that only 30 samples are actually required. The suggested 60 samples could be a dealbreaker for fieldworkers at sites with small populations and the ARG UK document needs to be updated to better reflect current requirements.
Fieldworkers undertaking survey work in Kent should submit any records of alpine newts to KRAG where the information will be used to develop a risk assessment.