Environmental DNA (eDNA) revolutionising ecology

What is it?

Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis is a new method for great crested newt surveying in water bodies. It gives a quick result from a water sample thus having potential time and cost savings. eDNA refers to DNA which can be recovered from an environmental sample such as soil, sediments, water or snow. The focus of the technique has been in freshwater environments and is based on the fact that animals inhabiting the water leave behind a DNA signature or fingerprint via their faeces, urine, and skin cells. What makes eDNA very useful is that any DNA material released into the environment is broken down and lost by the action of UV light and microbial activity over a period of around 2 to 3 weeks. Thus detecting the presence of eDNA allows us to detect the presence or very recent presence of an organism without having to directly observe or trap it.

How does it work?

Analysis of this eDNA involves the collection of a small volume of water which is sent to a laboratory where it is treated to extract the eDNA present. This eDNA is subjected to a technique called ‘real-time PCR’. This allows the targeting of a specific part of eDNA present and use it as a template to make many millions of copies of itself. If a species is present the part of the eDNA multiplies up and is detected.

Benefits to you?

Within the suitable seasonal window (mid-April to end of June) eDNA gives a 98% accurate result of presence/ absence. This avoids having to carry out full surveys using traditional methods (trapping) which is much more expensive.  If the eDNA sample is positive for newts it then enables Ecology by Design ecologists to focus efforts on positive ponds avoiding wasting time and money on ponds were newts are deemed absent after multiple survey visits using traditional methods.

eDNA does not replace the requirement for a full traditional survey to be conducted of positive ponds but it does avoid un-necessary surveys of ponds that do not support newts.

The eDNA method is new and is constantly being improved reducing testing time, reducing costs and extending the survey season.


eDNA analysis is not widely available commercially, with only 3 labs currently offering the service. Ecology by Design works with each one to offer the cheapest and quickest turnaround on samples.

The cost of eDNA includes the lab cost as well as the time for a licenced great crested newt worker to collect the samples (this is a requirement of the survey). Surveys can start as cheap as £396 (excl VAT) per site but rise with the number of ponds that require sampling.


Contact Ecology by Design for a competitive quote for eDNA sampling: 07487 700305.