Wildlife surveys

ecological surveys make an assessment of all the different habitats on a site

Wildlife surveys

Ecological surveys make an assessment of all the different habitats on a site, produce a list of all species encountered and comment on the suitability of habitats for species which may not have been seen during the visit. 

The results of these surveys,along with other survey information, help guide the conservation management of our sites.

Small mammals

Bat surveys are carried out at a number of our sites, including reservoirs and treatment works, to identify roosts and species that feed over the water.  These surveys help us build up a picture of where we have maternity and hibernation roosts and where bats feed.  As well as surveying for bats we also record sightings of other species like red squirrel and water vole.


Data on the amphibian populations at our sites comes from incidental records, that have been collated during the course of other survey work, and specific surveys as part of protected species work.

Water bodies that contain large numbers of fish tend to have very small numbers of amphibians or none at all due to predation by the fish. In comparison, those of our sites which have ponds and wetlands that do not hold fish are often inundated with adult frogs and toads during the breeding season. At Billingham Sewage Treatment Works for example we counted over a thousand adult toads using some old abandoned sludge lagoons that are now full of rainwater.

Amphibian surveys have been carried out at Broken Scar Water Treatment works in Darlington, where the entire amphibian population has been studied as part of a Great Crested Newt translocation programme. This scheme involved the creation of an entirely new habitat suitable for amphibians and the subsequent removal of the amphibian population from within the operational works to this site, over a three-year period. Repeated surveys have shown that the translocated population is doing very well.

Increased survey activity on ponds within operational sites in the northeast has now identified five locations with populations of great crested newts. We will continue to survey existing sites and to identify further opportunities for wetland creation.

Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS)

WeBS is the scheme which monitors non-breeding waterbirds in the UK. The principal aims of WeBS is to identify population sizes, determine trends in numbers and distribution and to identify important sites for waterbirds.

This includes a number of our sites where dedicated volunteers collect data. This data is then collated by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and depicted in graphical form to show population trends.

Breeding bird surveys and bird ringing and Constant Effort Sites (CES)

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) collates data from all the British teams of bird ringers.  By using a standard method called ‘constant effort ringing’, bird ringing allows the origins and destinations of birds to be discovered and gives information on population dynamics and breeding success.  Bird ringing has been carried out at Abberton Reservoir since 1992.

Ringing work has been carried out on the black-headed gull colony at Grassholme Reservoir in Teesdale, and birds ringed at Stokesley sewage treatment works in North Yorkshire have been recorded as far away as Bloemfontain in South Africa.

The Constant Effort Sites (CES) scheme is the first national standardised ringing programme within the BTO Ringing Scheme and has been running since 1983.  Ringers set their nets in the same pattern, for the same time period at regular intervals through the breeding season at around 120 sites throughout Britain and Ireland.  The scheme provides valuable key information on (1) changes in population size, (2) changes in breeding success and (3) adult survival rates for 25 species of common songbird.  Local bird groups use a number of our sites, including treatment works and reservoirs, to undertake CES as part of the national scheme.


An annual programme of surveys have been undertaken at our sites since 2002, to identify  important sites for butterflies.  The surveys also look at habitats and are timed to coincide with the flight times of the adult butterflies.  

The information from these surveys helps guide management practices, such as scrub control on grassland sites and seasonal grazing, to ensure suitable habitats are maintained.  On going monitoring schemes will also be undertaken to ensure that species are still present on particular sites. The surveys also provide a snapshot in time of the status of the various species populations at the time of the survey.


Dragonfly and damselfly surveys were commissioned at our reservoirs in Northumberland back in 2002 and subsequent surveys have concentrated on operational sites with open water bodies, for example Chigwell in Essex and Cramlington in Northumberland. 

The data highlighted the fact that reservoirs are not particularly suitable habitats for dragonflies and damselflies, due largely to the combination of water level draw down, lack of fringing emergent vegetation and large populations of fish, especially trout. Greater numbers and a wider variety of species are found at sites with adjacent ponds and wetlands, and those not managed as fisheries.

This information enables us to improve our sites through the creation of suitable habitats such as ponds, at locations where this is feasible.


Incidental records of moths are held for a number of our sites, collected during surveys for other wildlife or from one off moth surveys, for example Lound in Suffolk and Broken Scar, Darlington.  At Broken Scar, mating lime hawk moths were found – one of the first records for this species in the North East for over a century. This large moth is known to be steadily moving its breeding range northwards.

Other sites have long-term, specific moth surveys set up.  Scaling Dam is surveyed by dedicated groups and individuals who trap, identify and then release the moths.  They have compiled a list of over 150 species for the site. 


Botanical surveys using the expertise of local county Wildlife Trusts and the support of Natural England have been carried out on all our northern area landholdings over 0.5 ha.  The diversity found during these surveys is impressive.  Derwent Reservoir, for example, has over 230 vascular plant species, 156 species of fungi, 10 bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and over 50 species of lichen.

Repeat surveys are carried out at various sites using either the extended Phase One survey methodology or the National Vegetation Classification system (NVC) to ensure that information is kept upto date and to help monitor changes in vegetation.


Reptile surveys have been conducted on an ad-hoc basis for Northumbrian Water sites and occasional records have been included as part of other survey reports, e.g. habitat surveys.

There are six species of reptile that are native to Britain, but of these the sand lizard Lacerta agilis and smooth snake Coronella austriaca have a distribution that is restricted predominantly to the south of England. Four native species have a geographical distribution that includes the North East of England and these are:

• Adder Vipera berus
• Grass snake Natrix natrix
• Common lizard Lacerta vivipara
• Slow worm Anguis fragilis

In 2007 we started a more comprehensive survey regime to identify presence and location of any of the above species together with an estimate of population size by targeting sites in the Northumberland area which were thought likely to support reptiles.  This survey involved placing ‘tiles’ (i.e. squares pieces of black corrugated sheet) in specific locations and checking what was on top or under these tiles as well as undertaking transects through suitable habitat to check for basking and refuge areas.

Walks and wildlife on our sites

walks around Kielder Water  

Where to go walking and watch wildlife. Find out more

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