25 March 2020
Great crested newts are in continued decline through habitat loss, despite individuals and their eggs, breeding sites and resting places being protected by UK and EU law. Under the Habitats Directive, it is an offence to capture, kill, injure or disturb them or their habitat without a licence from Natural England.
With the aim of stemming the decline and streamlining the existing licensing system, Natural England are implementing a new strategic approach known as ‘District Level Licensing’ (DLL).
DLL shifts the focus away from providing mitigation on a site by site basis and seeks to offset impacts on great crested newt at a district or county level. Funded by developer contributions, the scheme allows for targeted habitat improvements to be made aimed at boosting the overall health of great crested newt populations on a wider landscape scale.
Natural England piloted DLL in partnership with Woking Borough Council in 2016 and it has been slowly rolled out. DLL is currently available in 32 local authorities in Woking, South Midlands, Kent and Cheshire. On 25th February Natural England announced DLL will be rolled out to a further 37 local authorities in Essex, Wiltshire, Shropshire, Greater Manchester, South Midlands and parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Developers now have the option between the traditional licensing route or to access a district licensing scheme, where available. So, which should you choose?
For both routes, you will need a qualified ecologist to fill out an application form to provide an overview of the development, provide any available existing survey data and demonstrate which habitats and aquatic features will be impacted on site.
DLL can provide considerable benefits over the traditional licensing route. You do not necessarily need to commission great crested newt surveys and you will be issued with a certificate that can be submitted with your planning application as evidence of great crested newt mitigation provision. DLL ensures compensatory habitats for great crested newt are delivered off site within the district area so the local conservation status can be maintained. In most cases, there is no further requirement for on-site mitigation such as fencing, trapping and monitoring, therefore reducing costs and delays.
However, after payment of the initial enquiry fees and assessment, the conservation scheme payment itself is proportional to the impact of the development on great crested newt. Where impacts will affect habitats of high suitability for great crested newt, the charge will increase. High impact schemes may still trigger the need for some on-site mitigation measures such as trapping or ecologist supervision.
Traditional great crested newt licence applications incur varying costs and involve lengthy determination periods. Natural England charge a variable rate of £101.00 per hour to assess the application, which can vary in complexity depending on the location and nature of the development scheme, as well as charges for modifying the licence where necessary further down the line. Developers also incur costs of time and money in the delivery of the mitigation required on site, such as great crested newt fencing installation and translocation of individuals.
In conclusion, one route may be more cost or time-effective than another depending on the nature of the development scheme and the level of impact on great crested newt.
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