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A new approach to great crested newt licensing delivers benefits all round

We explore the benefits of District Licensing, Natural England’s new approach to authorising developments affecting great crested newts, a species suffering dramatic declines in their populations.

04 March 2020 | 3 min read
Mike E Barker

UK

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Great crested newts (GCN) are a European Protected Species (EPS) which breed in waterbodies but spend most of their lives on land. They can be found in grassland, hedgerow, scrub and woodland which can be a costly issue for development sites within 500 metres of a pond potentially supporting newt populations. Surveys will need to be undertaken to support planning applications which can create lengthily delays as GCN have a very short survey window in Spring.

The traditional method

Developers looking to build on a site that is impacted by GCN currently face a lengthily process of surveys and waiting. These delays have significant cost implications that can make a project financially unviable.

Flowchart showing GCN traditional process
The traditional method developers face when seeking a license for Great Crested Newts

A new approach, District Licensing – how does it work?

District licensing is based on a joined-up approach, instead of the current site by site approach. Trialled since 2018 in Kent, Cheshire and parts of the Midlands, it sees habitats and ponds created in prime locations for GCN. As these are already in existence, ahead of potential development, the need for individual mitigation and compensation works on a project by project basis is removed. Developers are required to make a financial contribution based on the scale of impact created by their proposals.

Table showing pros and cons of District Licensing for Great Crested Newts

District licensing in action 

Anglian Water tasked our ecologists to complete an Ecological Appraisal of land along the Bletcham Way carriageway in Milton Keynes.

Initial surveys indicated that a GCN licence would be required, but the time of year would have led to a significant time delay under the traditional licencing method. Fortunately, the site was ideally located within one of the district license pilot zones so we were able to apply for a GCN District License.

Although the pipeline runs through unsuitable GCN habitat including hardstanding and shortly mown amenity grassland, three confirmed GCN breeding ponds were located within 30m from the pipeline, with the closest being just 6m from the working area. Due to the location and nature of the works (short term and temporary) and timing constraints, traditional licencing methods were not feasible for the project.

On our recommendation, Anglian Water agreed to utilise the new District Licencing Scheme. This was the first pipeline work to be carried out under the District Licence through NatureSpace, so we made sure to continuously engage with our client and NatureSpace to ensure that both parties were satisfied with the outcome and that the best option for GCN had been selected.

The pipeline was consented and given permitted development rights in November 2019. Our team continues to work with the client and utilise the District Licence by providing the ECoW monitoring and production of documents necessary for all compliance visits to ensure that the work stays within the law and the best interests of the client and the great crested newts.

Ecology surveys

With spring fast approaching the main ecological survey window is almost upon us. Without forward planning and professional advice ecological constraints can cause unnecessary refusals or delays to development. By carrying out the relevant surveys and appraisals early in the planning process, any issues can be identified giving you the best chance of avoiding risks of delays and additional costs.

Surveys that should be planned for the spring season include breeding birds, bats and of course Great Crested Newts. 

Guide to optimal and suboptimal ecology survey periods