ARC's project in Scotland 2016 – 2018

ARC has just completed its Great Crested Newt Detectives project in Scotland, with the help of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Hugh Fraser Foundation. This unique Scotland-wide project had three main elements. Firstly, sampling of pond water by adult volunteers, to test for the presence of great crested newt DNA. Secondly, free educational sessions for schools about Scotland's amphibians and reptiles. Thirdly, creation of a book and online resource, called "Amazing animals, brilliant science!" which shows how DNA technology is being used to help save Scotland's wildlife.

The new method of testing pond water for great crested newt DNA, known as environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling, proved very popular with volunteers in Scotland. One advantage of this method is that, in contrast to many other survey methods, a protected species licence is not required. Of 110 testing kits provided, 102 (93%) were used and samples returned. Training events for volunteers were held in Livingston, Edinburgh, Melrose, Culzean, Dumfries, Stranraer, Perth, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Oban, Campbeltown and Fort William.

A preliminary report of the results from the 2016 survey season was produced in October 2016. The final eDNA survey report, including the 2017 results and a habitat suitability map for great crested newts in Scotland is nearly complete and will be emailed to volunteers by the end of April 2018.

Interesting discoveries include a number of 'new' great crested newt breeding sites in southern Scotland. Some of these are several kilometres from known breeding sites (such as those in the Coldingham, Stranraer and Moniaive areas). A new breeding site has also been found by a volunteer near Maryburgh in northern Scotland. Once discovered by eDNA sampling or other methods, great crested newts and their habitat are legally protected.

We also found that the eDNA test did not always detect great crested newts in ponds where they were present. There was a relatively high rate of these 'false negatives' in Scotland compared to other studies; the reasons for this are unclear but there may have been insufficient DNA in the pond water for detection at sites with low numbers of great crested newts. At many great crested newt sites in Scotland, numbers of great crested newts appear to be fairly low, in comparison to sites in England and Wales. All of the results have proven very useful, so volunteers who collected 'negative' samples should not be disheartened – your efforts were greatly appreciated!

Volunteers in England and Wales have also been collecting eDNA samples for great crested newts, as part of the PondNet project run by the Freshwater Habitats Trust (FHT). The Great Crested Newt Detectives project was an excellent opportunity to collect more data and ensure that Scotland did not miss out on eDNA sampling. All of the records collected as part of this project will be available to the public, via and the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Atlas.

The educational aspects of the project also proved productive. Educational sessions took place at 17 primary schools; Preston Street Primary and Towerbank Primary in Edinburgh, Glenboig Primary in North Lanarkshire, Leadhills Primary in South Lanarkshire, Belmont Primary and Park Primary in Stranraer, Sandhead Primary and Drummore Primary in Wigtownshire, Lincluden Primary in Dumfries, Melrose Primary and Coldingham Primary in the Borders, Rhu Primary and Dalmally Primary in Argyll and Bute, Renton Primary and Levenvale Primary in West Dunbartonshire, Strathpeffer Primary near Inverness and Monymusk Primary in Aberdeenshire. Nearly 700 pupils participated in the interactive educational sessions, which featured videos and games (typically Newt Snap or ARC Snap – see our online shop) in addition to a presentation about amphibians and reptiles, life cycles and inheritance by project officer Pete Minting.


From May 2016 to June 2017, we also held a wildlife art and writing competition for children aged 8-18 across Scotland. The competition was promoted at schools during educational visits and advertised across Scotland. More than 500 children across Scotland entered the competition.

We held an awards day for the competition winners in Edinburgh on 21st October 2017, kindly hosted by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) at Edinburgh Zoo. The venue was filled with the winning entrants and their families from all over Scotland (including the Outer Hebrides!).

We also provided a final event for the Great Crested Newt Detective volunteers and other members of the public at the same venue on 22nd October 2017, called "DNA technology and the conservation of Scottish wildlife." Leading experts gave some fascinating talks on a diverse range of topics, from the genetics of red deer, beavers and Scottish wildcats to the conservation of native plants and the use of DNA technology to detect wildlife crime.

Many of the best entries from the competition and details provided by the wildlife experts at the October event have now been used to produce a new book, called "Amazing Animals, Brilliant Science; how DNA technology is being used to help save Scotland's wildlife." Written by Great Crested Newt Detectives project officer Pete Minting, this stunning book is now available as a free PDFon our education page. Printed copies are being distributed to schools, libraries, competition winners and project participants in Scotland but please contact [email protected] or [email protected] if you live in Scotland and would like a printed copy.

If you would like to help sponsor our work in Scotland please contact Helen Wraight, Administration and Finance Manager at [email protected], 01202 391319 or Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, 744 Christchurch Road, Boscombe, Bournemouth, Dorset BH7 6BZ

Project reports


Useful links