Meet Freya the newt detective

Meet Freya the newt detective

A four-legged friend with a nose for newts is helping us sniff out protected species before new pipes are put in the ground.

We are the first utility company in the UK to have an in-house great crested newt detection dog, owned and trained by ecologist Nikki Glover.

Three-year-old springer spaniel Freya has been trained to spot the nocturnal amphibians, with UK and European legislation making it an offence to damage or destroy their environment without a licence from Natural England.

Training takes the form of hiding a great crested newt within a breathable container. When Freya locates the newt, she indicates in a non-invasive manner to earn the reward of a tennis ball or treat.

Nikki said: "The Wessex Water region is a stronghold for great crested newts and we come across them when carrying out construction works.

"If works are within 250 metres of breeding ponds and we are likely to cause an offence under the legislation, we must apply for a licence from Natural England. We would then be required to fence off the construction area and carry out pitfall trapping (buckets sunk into the ground), which could take around 30 days to complete.

"Having a great crested newt detection dog within a utility company is a massive benefit because they can find the newts more efficiently and effectively, and it's a non-invasive method."

Nikki has been granted a Natural England licence which allows her to keep four great crested newts in temporary captivity from July to October for the purpose of training Freya.

She has sought professional training from Louise Wilson, founder and director of Conservation K9 Consultancy, who has 15 years' experience within the detection dog industry and was the first person to train a great crested newt detection dog.

The type of container used for training is varied to avoid Freya 'scent imprinting' on the container material as opposed to the newt. She is now able to locate wild newts as well as captive ones.

Louise said: "Nikki came to me over a year ago to progress Freya's training and they have both been absolute stars.

"You can see how much Freya enjoys her work and the bond she has with Nikki is absolutely vital.

"We've never worked with a water company before and it's been really rewarding. I think it's a brilliant idea."

Great crested newts are the UK's largest newt species. They are found in breeding ponds from mid-March to mid-June, and the rest of the time they can be found commuting and foraging along hedgerows, grasslands and woodlands. They are a nocturnal species so seek refuge during the day in stone walls, log piles and cracks in the ground.