Ecologist handling two great crested newts

The potential pros and cons of District Level Licensing for Great Crested Newt

Monday, April 29th, 2019

This year has seen a significant change to the policies and procedures surrounding great crested newt mitigation, with Natural England introducing the new District Level Licensing strategy. This went live in Kent on 28 February 2019, and in Cheshire a month later, with the objective of gradually becoming available for use in all counties throughout England.

By using the District Level Licensing scheme for great crested newt (GCN), now active in Kent and Cheshire, developers have new options for mitigation, potentially avoiding the seasonal restrictions tied to the current European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licensing approach. The alternative now available is for developers to make a conservation payment towards the creation or restoration of off-site breeding ponds, with the plan to maintain and monitor these habitats for 25 years.

The primary change in licensing is to shift the approach to mitigation, from absolute protection of the individual, to enhancing the favourable conservation status of this species by providing for larger areas of suitable habitat and increased connectivity at a landscape level. Currently, licensed habitat compensation and creation in a development context has been done solely on or adjacent to each individual construction site.

A key driver comes from the UK government via the Better Regulation Executive, to reduce costs and delays for developers often associated with the mitigation of impact to great crested newts from development activities.

Even if the intention is to apply for District Level Licensing, you can still choose to survey the site for great crested newts, in which case all survey data must be sent to Natural England.

District Level Licensing is an emerging scheme still in its infancy and could therefore be subject to alterations and amendments during its roll out across the country.

We have laid out a few of the potential pros and cons that the new licensing system could involve.

District Level Licensing – the potential pros

  • Depending on the local planning authority involved, developers that buy into the scheme would not be required to commission surveys of ponds within 500m of their site as the evidence base for impact is taken from suites of surveys already carried out by Natural England.
  • The ‘District Level licensing Enquiry Form’ can be submitted to Natural England six months in advance of a proposed planning application. Natural England then issue a Conservation Payment Certificate indicating the total applicable cost for the site. This can also be used as part of the planning application.
  • The conservation payment acceptance form is considered sufficient proof for the Local Planning Authority that GCN assessment and mitigation has been adequately taken care of.
  • There is no legal requirement to carry out great crested newt mitigation including sometimes lengthy and costly translocation of resident newt populations, as long as they are located within a pre-designated Green or Amber zone for this species. Potentially shortening the initial lead-in time to ground enabling works.
  • 85% of the paid tariff goes into the creation and management of great crested newt breeding ponds across the relevant county, a more strategic and potentially more effective approach to conservation.
  • All new ponds are monitored by conservation bodies for the first four years, and again in year 8 and year 10 following the creation of the pond.

District Level Licensing – the potential cons

  • This new approach only covers the survey and mitigation for great crested newts. There is still a requirement under both planning policy and wildlife legislation to determine the status of habitats and species that are present and the potential impacts to them by the development proposals.
  • Habitats occupied by great crested newts are also suitable for reptiles and often have their own intrinsic conservation value.
  • The cost of a District Level Licence can be considerable, particularly bearing in mind that the site might not actually have any great crested newts present.
  • If reptiles are found to be present on site (and where great crested newts are present, reptiles often are too), local planning authorities have stated that they expect the standard reptile mitigation procedure to be followed, in which case the development may still be subject to delays to enact mitigation.
  • This new approach is detrimental to great crested newts at an individual level and local meta-populations whilst also potentially being detrimental at a wider scale where cumulative impacts occur.
  • The absence of translocation or other mitigation methods will result in the mortality of any individuals within the site.
  • Particular local planning authorities may choose not to accept mitigation under the District Level Licence and may still insist on replacement habitats being provided to ensure compliance with local plans and policies.
  • District Level Licensing is not an option for sites located within the red risk zone, these sites must therefore follow the traditional survey and EPSM route, where GCN are confirmed present.

Great crested newt captured on a survey

How to proceed

In any case, we would recommend requesting a baseline ecological survey of the site, or even a fast-track eDNA sampling of the water bodies on site, to determine the presence or likely absence of the species.

If you intend to opt for the District Level Licensing for your site, please refer first to Natural England. You can find out all information on the new procedure, including details of cost and the initial enquiry form here.

Our expert consultants are able to offer an assistance service for completing the enquiry form and can also provide the mapping for your site enquiry. Furthermore, if you wish to obtain comparative costs for the EPSM option, please get in touch. You can also contact us if you wish to schedule in a baseline ecological survey of your site.

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