The End of Great Crested Newt Surveys?
By Rachel on the 6th March, 2017
The answer may be yes, but only in some cases…
Although great crested newts are locally common in the UK, their populations have massively declined over the past fifty years or so. Despite this, the UK remains an important stronghold for great crested newts in Europe, and they are strictly protected by law against harm and disturbance. This legal protection means that if any development could affect great crested newts or their habitat, surveys must be carried out, the impacts assessed and, if necessary, mitigation implemented and a European protected species licence obtained to permit actions that would otherwise be unlawful.
Unfortunately, the need for surveys, mitigation and licences can delay projects, cause expense and doesn’t always result in the best conservation outcomes for newts. With this in mind, the recent Housing White Paper announced a new approach to great crested newt conservation which aims to save developers time and money, speed up the planning process and provide better conservation outcomes for great crested newts. Detailed proposals of exactly how this new approach will work haven’t yet been published, but the general approach is likely to be:
1. Councils survey ponds in their area to establish the size, location and connectivity of great crested newt populations.
2. Natural England produce a conservation strategy for the area where the distribution of newts is categorised into different zones based on the level of impact a development could have.
3. The council then prepares and implements detailed management plans for newt compensation sites.
4. Developers then have the option to make voluntary financial contributions to the council for the creation, maintenance or improvement of compensatory newt habitat. In return for this councils use their organisational licences to authorise the development at the same time as planning permission, avoiding the requirement to carry out surveys, impact assessments and licence applications. The level of financial contribution will vary depending on the which impact zone the development is located in. Careful site clearance measures will still be required under the councils organisational licences to minimise killing and injuring.
Although in most areas this new approach will not be introduced for some time, new wildlife licensing policies announced recently by Natural England now give us the opportunity to help our clients save time and money until this new approach is fully implemented.
The objective of the new approach is certainly welcome in terms of providing better conservation outcomes for great crested newts and cost and time saving for our clients. There is obviously an important role for consultant ecologists in advising clients as to whether opting into the scheme would be best. There will be situations where following the current approach would be more cost effective than contributing to the scheme and produce better outcomes for great crested newts.
It’s important to remember that the new approach will not replace existing statutory requirements regarding priority habitats or species, and it will still necessary to carry out an initial Preliminary Ecological Appraisal survey and avoid, mitigate or compensate for any impacts on protected species and habitats.