newt pond - district licencing

Great crested newt district level licencing – what is it, and how to use it in your building project

The last few years has seen an overhaul of the licensing system with regards to protected species. The main aims of the changes being to streamline the process for developers, reduce costs and, in the case of great crested newts, direct mitigation and compensation measures into strategic, regional conservation projects (conserving populations of species at a landscape-scale, rather than individuals). This article focuses on the new district level licensing approach, which applies to great crested newts.

Why might you need a licence?

A licence is needed when proposed works have impacts on a protected species that would, in the absence of a licence, be illegal. Great crested newts are a European protected species. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure, capture or disturb great crested newts, or to obstruct access to areas where they live and breed. Their habitat is also protected against damage or destruction. This protection applies to all life stages including eggs, tadpoles, juveniles and adults.

The traditional method of licensing work when great crested newts are present, involves a relatively lengthy process of survey (seasonally constrained), assessment and determination of mitigation (and compensation) on a site-by-site basis, followed by submission of a licence application to Natural England (usually after planning permission has been granted). The voluntary district level licensing scheme means that a developer does not have to pay for additional surveys to be completed on site, determine or deliver mitigation and compensation, or apply to Natural England for a licence; rather, great crested newt considerations are dealt with at a regional level. Prior assessment divides regions into zones according to risks to the local conservation status of great crested newts and where the presence of newts poses an issue for development.

What is different about a district licence?

District licences are granted to individual planning authorities. Acceptance as part of a scheme is obtained in advance of planning permission being sought. Under the scheme, developers make a payment towards the creation or restoration of off-site compensatory habitat, which is maintained and monitored. Costs to developers are dependent upon the location and scale of the proposed development.

The scheme was trialled in 2017, in Woking, and the implementation roll-out over the rest of the country is currently in progress. At present, district level licensing schemes are run by Natural England and NatureSpace Partnership (who set up and deliver the schemes). Natural England led schemes are currently available in Cheshire and Kent. NatureSpace Partnership schemes are currently operating in Milton Keynes, Aylesbury Vale, Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire, South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse and Oxford City.

As with any new approach that is still finding its feet, it is likely to be subject to a degree of alteration as lessons are learnt during its staged implementation. There are also a number of concerns from conservationists as to the robustness of the new approach, which are yet to be ironed out. The district level licensing approach is not suitable for all sites and costs can in some cases be higher than those incurred by following the traditional route. Legislation and best practice still needs to be adhered to with regards to other protected species, some of which can be supported by the same type of habitat that is used by great crested newts, which may also be of intrinsic value.

Our ecologists are able to advise on your options with regards to great crested newt licensing and your proposed development, so please do get in touch with any queries.