Natural England is changing the way it issues wildlife licences to deal with protected species found at development sites.
The main focus of the proposals is on great crested newts (GCN), which is a protected species under the European Habitats Directive. Other similarly protected species include water voles, dormice and bats.
Currently, any ponds on building sites have to be checked for the presence of GCN between March and June, when they are breeding in the water. If any are found, even in very small numbers, then a licence must be obtained from Natural England (NE) to move them. The newts must be fenced, trapped and relocated during the spring and summer, a process which can lead to significant time delays and extra costs for developers.
NE’s new policies recognise that considerable time and money can be spent moving small numbers of animals with little or no benefit for their conservation status. The aim is to smooth the process for developers who require a wildlife licence, while funding investment in the creation and enhancement of wildlife habitat. The application of the law will therefore be focussed on the measures which are most effective at protecting populations, rather than on individual animals.
The first new policy will give NE the flexibility to remove the need for relocation, provided there is a programme in place to create or enhance sufficient habitat. The second policy will enable the creation of new habitat away from the development site if this will provide greater benefit than relocation. Together, these two policies will result on money being spent on more and better quality habitat.
Developers currently often take steps to exclude protected species from phased sites because of concerns that their presence will cause delays when the land is developed at a later date. The third policy will allow protected species access to temporary habitats created on sites that will be developed at a later date, for example quarries created by mineral extraction could be used to create ponds for GCN. Steps must be taken to ensure that the local conservation status of the species is preserved during and beyond the life of the project. The new policy is a reversal of previous policy, which has incentivised the exclusion of protected species from habitats that may otherwise be available and suitable. There are concerns about how this policy will work in practice, and it is likely to apply only to GCN within mineral workings.
The fourth policy will allow a reduced level of surveying in exceptional circumstances, where the impact of development can be predicted confidently.
NE consulted widely with ecologists, environmental organisations and developers before finalising the policies, which are now being formally adopted. Responses from developers indicated that demand for the new policies when dealing with GCN on sites is likely to be very high. NE’s chairman has said that ‘by making the system more flexible and strategic, it will enable us to establish habitat for GCN, where their populations will most benefit from being in a wide network of habitat, rather than being squeezed in around development’.
It is not clear when the policies will be implemented, but when they are, they will be subject to ongoing review. It is to be hoped that the new policies will reduce delay, uncertainty and costs for developers, while delivering increased protection for vulnerable species.
For more information please contact Emma Bowman on 01223 461155 or click here
to email Emma.