FAQs

What is eDNA?

eDNA, or environmental DNA is genetic material given off by an organism into its environment. In the case of great crested newts this can be skin cells, mucus, sperm, eggs, faeces released into ponds. This DNA given off into the water can persist for a number of weeks, allowing us to test for its presence in water samples.

How accurate is eDNA testing?

Natural England’s eDNA protocol has proved to be a rapid and effective way to test for the presence/absence of great crested newts, with one study showing that when newts were present, eDNA was 99.3% effective at detecting newts. This compares to detection efficacy of 76% for bottle trapping, 74% for torch surveys and 44% for egg searches. Fera is a leading provider of eDNA testing for great crested newts, having tested 1000’s of kits since the introduction of Natural England’s approved protocol so you can be confident in our results.

Can I use eDNA to detect other species?

Fera has a wealth of experience with offering the analysis for the presence of great crested newts using eDNA, which produces more accurate results over the more traditional methods. Did you know there are many other applications for eDNA, such as searching for bat species using guano samples. If you have other species you are interested in, please get in touch!

Will Fera take part in a proficiency test?

Fera participated in the 2017 proficiency testing programme for newt eDNA testing, with a fully satisfactory result. We are signed up to take part in the forthcoming 2018 round of this testing programme.

Proficiency testing is designed to provide evidence of the robustness of the testing to ensure that we offer excellent quality service to our customers.

What’s in a kit?

1 x blue 30ml ladle – to collect the 20 pond water samples
1 x freestanding Whirl-Pak bag – to mix your 20 samples
2 x blue gloves – to avoid contamination at the different stages of taking your sample
1 x test kit box – this contains your tubes
6 x 50ml tubes – this will be filled with 35ml of mostly ethanol when you receive it, to help preserve the DNA
1 x sterile Pipette – this is so you can transfer 15ml of pond water from your Whirl-Pak to each of the 50ml tubes, ready to return to the lab for testing
1 x re-sealable bag – this is big enough to put your box in before you return it to the lab. This reduces the contamination risk if a bottle leaks in transit
1 x set of sampling instructions

Can I use other eDNA Testing Kits?

As with any controlled environment  which produce high quality and accurate results, each laboratory has their own controls. These  which are often linked to relevant accreditation and quality regulated standards and this is no different for eDNA testing analysis for Great Crested Newts. So to allow us to detect any degradation or inhibition of the sample, we cannot analyse samples taken with other testing kits as when you receive the eDNA testing kit the tubes will already contain the precise amount of ethanol need for Fera to perform the relevant testing techniques.

Can I reuse parts of the kit again?

You should never reuse any parts of the kit again. Once you have used your ladle, gloves, Whirl-Pak bag and pipette, these must be disposed of. The risk of contamination is too high for them to be reused. This is why we send out a new set with each kit!

How can I pay for my kits?

Orders over £500 in value including VAT can be paid by invoice or using a credit card but orders under this amount will require a credit card payment.

If I don’t use a kit do I still get charged the full amount?

Once you’ve booked a slot you will be charged the full amount even if the kit then goes unused. This is to ensure analysis slots don’t go unused, and other customers don’t miss out as the number of testing slots available each week is finite. It’s also our attempt to make this service as environmentally friendly as possible by encouraging people to only book analyses they are going to need. This is because each year we produce hundreds of kits that go unused, with huge amounts of plastic, cardboard and even ethanol is disposed of, without even testing a single pond. We do understand that things don’t always go to plan in the field so if for any reason you can’t use your slot, get in contact in good time and we will do our best to rearrange.

How is delivery and return of the testing kits arranged?

Courier delivery from Fera is by DHL and kits will normally be dispatched up to 2 weeks before your selected analysis week. Delivery is charged at £25 each way (excluding VAT for 1 box containing up to 25 kits). Please be aware that samples must be returned to Fera on the Friday prior to your analysis week.

If you require your kits as soon as possible, please note the earliest delivery will be 2 working days from your order date on orders placed before 3pm. Orders placed after 3pm will be dispatched 2 working days after the order date and should arrive within 3 working days. Please note Bank Holiday weekends will affect delivery.

Please be aware that deliveries to and from Scotland will need to be arranged via the Fera eDNA team – please call us on 01904 462070.

Returning your samples

Once you have taken the samples and are ready to return them to Fera, please follow the instructions provided in the box and call DHL to arrange a collection time that suits you. Return delivery to Fera (using same outer box dimensions as delivery), is charged at £25 (excluding VAT for 1 box containing up to 25 kits. Return delivery must be booked at the checkout.

Alternatively, if you are local to Fera, you can collect and drop off your kits. You can collect an order placed before 3pm on the next working day from Fera (orders will be available for collection after 3pm). If you prefer to arrange your own return courier to Fera, this is at your own risk and they must be licensed to carry dangerous goods in limited quantities. The 6 sample tubes must be returned in the original kit box (dimensions: L 158mm x W 100mm x H 127mm) and securely packaged in an outer box.

How quickly can you send me a kit?

Orders placed before 3pm can be dispatched to our courier on the next working day. Once collected your kits will be delivered the next working day (the day following dispatch). Alternatively you can collect an order placed before 3pm the next working day from Fera (orders will be made ready by 3pm). Please contact us for more details of this service. Please note, deliveries to Scotland can often take a little longer to arrive.

How long do the kits last once I have received them?

We recommend kits are used within 3 months of receipt to comply with the Natural England protocol.

How do I sample?

Samples must be taken using the Natural England approved protocol. In short, this involves taking 20 x 30 ml samples of water from around the edge of the pond, being careful not to disturb any sediment. DNA can be preserved in sediment from previous newt activity leading to a false positive. These samples are then mixed together and pipetted into 6 tubes, filling to the 50ml line. The sample tubes contain a preservative liquid that prevents your eDNA sample degrading in transit. It is these tubes you send back to the laboratory at Fera for analysis.

Please note: If the eDNA test is in support of a license application, then a licensed great crested newt surveyor must collect the sample.

When can I sample?

There are no restrictions on when you can sample but it is best to sample between mid to late April and the end of June as this is when great crested newts are most active in ponds; this is particularly true if you are using eDNA in support of a great crested newt license. Please ensure you refer to the current guidance on sampling dates from Natural England as this may change from year to year. Because newt activity in ponds can be heavily influenced by the weather, particularly temperature, it may be best for an experienced ecologist to use their discretion when deciding when to sample.

How many kits do I need per pond?

For most ponds one kit will be enough. However if you have ponds that are larger than 1 hectare, it is advised that you use multiple kits.

Do I need a GCN license to survey?

If the eDNA test is in support of a license application, then a licensed great crested newt surveyor must collect the sample.

Is there a risk of contamination as I move between ponds?

Yes, there is a real risk of transferring eDNA as you move from pond to pond. This is why you should make sure that you never go in the water when sampling a pond. It is also best to take your eDNA samples before you do other surveys where possible. It may be best to avoid sampling during or just following heavy rain as this makes sampling more difficult and might increase the risk of cross contamination (e.g. mud splashed which could contain great crested newt eDNA from wet ground).

Once I’ve taken the water sample, what do I do?

Ideally, your box containing 6 preserved sub-samples should immediately be returned to the laboratory for analysis. However this may not often be possible or you may want to group batches of samples together before returning. In these cases, your samples should be refrigerated at 2-4°C in a cool box or fridge. Kits can be stored for up to one month in a refrigerator before analysis. It is not necessary to freeze samples. Freezing may damage storage bottles, which can lead to leaking during transit. Avoid leaving samples in direct sunlight as this can speed up degradation of the sample.

What kind of results can I expect?

A positive result means that eDNA from great crested newts was detected and that they have been present in the water. A negative result means that DNA from the species was not detected so no further sampling is required; we further test the DNA extract for PCR inhibitors and degradation of the sample to ensure a conclusive result. On very rare occasions we will issue an inconclusive result. This is because we have not detected the presence of great crested newt DNA in a sample, and controls show that the sample has been degraded (usually through poor storage) or the test inhibited (usually by unexpected chemicals present in the sample). To enable a re-test to be performed, another sample would need to be taken, although if the chemical composition of the water caused the problem the retest may also give an inconclusive result. Please note that because the sample will have been fully analysed, the full charge will still apply.

How long do results take?

It usually takes around 10-15 working days or less for you to receive your results for our standard service. If you need results back faster, Fera offer a FastTrack service, that will get you your results in 5-7 working days (usually by the Friday of your testing week, provided we have your kits back on time!)

Do bank holidays affect how quickly I will get my results?

Ordinarily the laboratory doesn’t process samples on non-working days including bank holidays. Please note Bank Holiday weekends will also affect delivery.