WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL DNA (edna)?
So, you have put in your planning application. The local planning authority has requested an environmental DNA or eDNA forensic test is completed.
You probably have a few questions about this brand new science within ecology and protected species surveys.
To help our clients to understand the process easier we have created what is probably the most comprehensive guide to environmental DNA (edna) available online.
We hope this guide answers everything there is to know about environmental DNA tests, forensics and analysis.
- Why do I need Environmental DNA tests?
- Will I need to carry out Environmental DNA tests?
- Deciding if you need Environmental DNA tests
- I think we need an eDNA test
- What can eDNA identify?
- Environmental DNA for Newts & Aquatic Life
- What happens if eDNA confirms Aquatic Life in a pond?
- Environmental DNA for bat species
- What happens if we discover a protected species after development has started?
- How much does Environmental DNA cost?
Why do I need Environmental DNA tests?
Well, it’s not uncommon especially if you are demolishing a building, undertaking construction work such as an extension or developing or change of use of land. Particularly if there is a water body within 500 meters of the site.
Environmental DNA tests are required for development projects that may affect protected species. Great Crested Newts, White Clawed Crayfish, Bats and many other species are all protected under The Wildlife and Countryside Act (as amended) 1981.
At this point, we’d like to give you some good news. Positive Environmental DNA (edna) results almost never stop your development.
But what is eDNA and what can forensic tests determine?
Environmental DNA or eDNA testing is the process of sampling nuclear DNA that is released from an organism into its habitat. The most common sources of eDNA include faeces, mucous, shed skin, hair and carcasses.
Thanks to recent science, we can now test for eDNA for a range of aquatic organisms in water samples at even very small populations. However, aquatic environments, such as ponds, dilute and distribute DNA in the water where it survives for just 7–21 days, depending on the conditions.
That said, the DNA of organisms found in sediments can be preserved for thousands of years.
The most common uses for Environmental DNA are Great Crested Newts, White Clawed Crayfish and Bat species identification (known as terrestrial eDNA).
As forensic science continues to be developed, Environmental DNA will allow us to broaden our testing and analysis spectrum to include more protected species. For example,
Other amphibians. Actually, it is technically practical to test for the presence of all widespread native amphibians using an eDNA test due to the science used for Great Crested Newts. Methods to detect fish are also rapidly developing. There are relatively widespread protected species of fish species in our waterways.
Thomsen et al. (2012) demonstrated that eDNA could be used to detect aquatic mammals: species such as Water Vole and Water Shrew which are protected species along the banks on ponds and water bodies.
Other protected species such as invertebrates could make Environmental DNA testing could prove a more reliable and cost-effective method of survey.
And finally, eDNA testing has already been identified as potentially valuable for locating populations of invasive non-native species (e.g. Bullfrog) and non-native fish which may be released into ponds and river systems.
Chase Ecology has been at the forefront of Environmental DNA since its inception to ecology. We have been fortunate to be able to use this science with a 100% success rate. As technological advancements continue it is allowing us to continue being the UK’s leading eDNA ecology consultancy.
Will I need to carry out Environmental DNA tests?
The simple answer is probably. Yes! you will need an eDNA test if your development is within 500 meters of a water body.
If you plan to carry out development that could disrupt or harm protected species and your local planning authority has asked for an Environmental DNA (edna) test then you will need to carry out a forensic water sample.
Typically barn conversions, demolition, extensions and tree removal require protected species surveys and potential mitigation.
However, there are a few areas to consider whether your work will be affected.
Deciding if you need Environmental DNA tests
Great Crested Newts, White Claw Crayfish and other protected species can be affected by lots of construction work including:
- demolition of buildings
- extensions that affect land usage
- wind turbines
- barn conversions
- removal of trees or hedgerows
- removal or change of land use, such as meadow to grazing
- building or maintenance of roads
You’re more likely to need an Environmental DNA test if the land has favourable features such as:
- a watercourse or body within 500 meters
- has damp patches or bogs such as field soakaways
- is close to woodland or water
- has hedgerows and trees
- has unmanaged grass
- has moss available
You’re likely to need an environmental DNA (edna) for land-use change if it:
- is in ancient woodland
- is large with good growth
- has damp mossy areas
- has unmanaged grass
- has hedgerows or trees
- is close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Local nature reserve.
I think we need an eDNA test
If your planning or development has any of the above bullet points ticked then, YES! you need environmental DNA tests.
So what actually happens next?
Well, it’s fairly simple.
Contact our licenced ecologists who will arrange a visit to your site to undertake environmental DNA forensic water sampling. We’ll then take the sample to our eDNA laboratory where the result will arrive back at our office within 10-14 days.
What can eDNA identify?
Environmental DNA or eDNA testing allows us to utilise the latest science and technology to analyse DNA that’s released into the environment build up by plants and wildlife.
Protected Species leave traces of DNA from their skin, faeces, mucous, hair, eggs and sperm, or when they die.
It is now possible to monitor freshwater species, such as Great Crested Newts or White Clawed Crayfish that live in ponds, streams and other water bodies simply by forensically collecting a water sample and analysing it for traces.
We are also able to use Environmental DNA testing to determine the species present during Bat surveys from any droppings left in a roost.
Environmental DNA for Newts & Aquatic Life
When Great Crested Newts (GCN) and other protected aquatic life inhabit a pond or water source, their DNA profile is deposited into the water, plantlife and sediments, leaving a trail of evidence of their presence.
We’re able to forensically sample the water and analyses those samples to identify the presence of great crested newts within our Natural England registered laboratories.
What happens if eDNA confirms Aquatic Life in a pond?
Should evidence or potential for Great Crested Newts be identified via the environmental DNA testing, further newt survey effort may be required. This next stage is known as bottle trapping newt surveys also known as activity or population surveys.
Both eDNA and newt surveys will need to be undertaken between April and September.
The weather conditions must ideally be dry. This is to stop dilution of DNA from any fresh rainwater.
The environmental DNA testing is carried out at any time during the day, whilst Newt surveys are conducted at dusk and dawn to establish the species population whilst they are most active.
Environmental DNA for bat species
Bat speciation from droppings uses sophisticated eDNA analysis techniques to accurately determine the species of bat present from just one dropping.
We apply an advanced methodology for the speciation of bats which allows us to accurately distinguish between similar species such as the Brandt’s/Whiskered bats.
What happens if we discover a protected species after development has started?
Stop all work immediately.
Continuing work is likely to be breaking the law if any protected species are found during building works.
Get in touch with your ecologist who will come and mitigate your animal.
How much does Environmental DNA cost?
Well, it’s hard to accurately say as it varies greatly. There are many factors to take into account.
Typically, environmental DNA water sampling and eDNA analysis tests start from £249 per water source or Bat speciation. Fees are determined depending on the ecologists’ fees, location of the development and size or complexity of the site.