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Great Crested Newts - good news for developers?

  • United Kingdom
  • Environment - Transaction related environmental issues

11-05-2016

Natural England has recently consulted on new policies for European Protected Species (including Great Crested Newts) (“EPS”) and is currently considering the feedback to that consultation.

EPS are legally protected and it is an offence to capture, kill, injure or disturb these species, destroy or take their eggs or damage or destroy their breeding sites or resting places. Natural England can licence development activities that would otherwise harm EPS, but only in certain restricted circumstances.

At present a developer is typically required to exclude EPS from land that will be developed and to relocate the EPS to a compensatory habitat that has been created or improved (often within the boundary of the development site or close to it).

Natural England’s proposed policies shift the licensing focus from the protection of individual animals at developments sites to the protection of colonies and larger habitats. Natural England believes the changes will protect the overall EPS population, whilst making the current licencing system more flexible and reducing uncertainty for developers.

Proposed Policies: 

  • greater flexibility when excluding and relocating EPS from development sites. It is accepted that it may not always be necessary to relocate on site EPS, if it would not contribute to the long term prospects of the local population.  There is a recognition that in some cases a better outcome would be achieved by spending less on exclusion and more on creating a better compensatory habitat. This could significantly reduce administrative burdens and delays particularly where there are seasonality constraints for developers (as there are for Great Crested Newts);
  • greater flexibility on the location of compensatory habitats. Developers will be able to provide compensatory habitats off-site rather than on-site provided this is more beneficial to the local EPS population. This would enable a greater proportion of a development site to be used for commercial purposes;
  • allowing EPS access to temporary habitats on development sites. Currently landowners/developers may seek (under licence) to exclude EPS from using such land, which can be expensive (e.g. construction of fences/removal of habitats to make the land unsuitable for EPS). This policy would allow temporary habitats to be used without requiring full compensation/mitigation when the land is subsequently developed. This will potentially reduce the costs of excluding EPS from sites and the risk of the site being colonised by EPS irrespective of the exclusion measures; and
  • a reduced level of surveying where the impacts of the development can be predicted with certainty. This could reduce the expense and delay of obtaining surveys particularly where there are seasonality constraints.

These policies have been designed with Great Crested Newts in mind, however, Natural England is also exploring whether they would benefit other EPS including bats. Developers will have to demonstrate why the principles are appropriate on a case by case basis.

Over 2016 Natural England will undertake a review to ensure EPS licensing is effective, including the use of these policies. A formal response to the consultation is also expected.

Pilot Scheme

A pilot scheme to bring more flexibility to the licensing system for Great Crested Newts was also set up by Natural England and Woking Borough Council. Under the scheme the Council established and is responsible for maintaining Great Crested Newt habitats. Developers can voluntarily participate in the scheme and instead of arranging their own alternative compensatory habitat and obtaining a licence from Natural England a financial contribution could be made to the Council towards the maintenance of the Council’s habitat. The financial contribution varies but it is designed to achieve savings for the developer in terms of time and money.

Feedback from a targeted consultation (held 13 January to 10 February 2016) will inform the final methodology of the pilot. It is also intended that similar arrangements will be rolled out across the UK assuming the pilot is successful.

Natural England and Woking Borough Council are also actively considering the possibility of similar approaches for other protected species.

Conclusions

The management of EPS on development sites is complex and places heavy burdens on developers in terms of both time and money. Natural England’s proposals do not alter the fundamental requirement for a licence however, they do provide greater flexibility and introduce a more practical common sense approach to the issue.  This change of approach will no doubt be welcomed by developers.

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