A dog has been trained and employed to sniff out endangered great crested newts by Wessex Water before new pipes are put in the ground.
The three-year-old springer spaniel, named Freya, has been taught by ecologist Nikki Glover to lie down when it detects a newt.
Greater crested newts are a European protected species and it is an offence to damage or destroy their environment without a license from Natural England.
Ensuring that the newts are protected can be a costly process that leads to lengthy delays for major building projects.
For instance, earlier this year it was revealed that a colony of the rare newts would have to be removed at a cost of up to £40,000 before work could start on a multi-million pound building project in Nottingham.
Using four newts under licence from Natural England, Glover trained Freya to locate greater crested newts hidden in plastic pots in long grass.
Glover said: “The Wessex Water region is a stronghold for great crested newts and we come across them when carrying out construction works.
“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.”
Freya has also received training from Louise Wilson, founder and director of Conservation K9 Consultancy.
Wilson, who has more than 15 years of experience within the detection dog industry, was the first person to train a great crested newt detection dog.
It is the latest deployment of dogs being used by water companies, following the introduction of leak detecting dogs by United Utilities.
Greater crested newts are the biggest newt species in the UK and have existed for roughly 40M years. They are a nocturnal species and so seek refuge during the day in stone walls, log piles and cracks in the ground.
Intensification of farming practices and habitat losses have meant the newt populations have disappeared from many sites across Europe.
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