Pilot aims to reduce development delays caused by newts

24th August 2015

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A new licensing process for great crested newts aims to reduce development delays by taking a more strategic approach to habitat protection.

Natural England, which is piloting the approach, said that the existing system is costly and time-consuming and can delay development as it can only occur during particular seasons.

Currently, developers on sites with great crested newts are required to carry out a survey and assessment before applying to Natural England for a licence to move the animals before building work can begin.

The new approach involves providing compensatory habitat for newts before development begins. It will also result in better knowledge of the size and distribution of great crested newt populations, which is currently patchy, Natural England said.

The pilot is being carried out with Woking Borough Council in Surrey. The council has already identified the size, location and connectivity of great crested newt populations by testing for traces of their DNA in pond water.

This information feeds into the production of a local conservation plan for the newts, which aims to retain, enhance and link up the most significant populations of newts; identify areas where development will have the least impact; and specify where new habitat will be created to ensure a healthy overall population. Developers will probably avoid areas that are identified as sites of high conservation value, Natural England said.

The pilot will begin in the autumn and Natural England will consult national and local partners from conservation organisations and the development industry to evaluate it.

The new approach would place the emphasis on the species as a whole, compared with the current system, which focuses on individual newts, said Andrew Sells, chair of Natural England.

A more flexible and strategic approach will result in habitat being created where it most benefits newt populations and where it can form a network, rather than being squeezed in around developments, he said.

“Alongside creating strongholds for great crested newt, this ground-breaking approach will streamline the delivery of much-needed development and lift constraints on the layout and design of development land,” he said.

Stephen Trotter, director of the English Wildlife Trusts, said that the pilot could be very good news if it can find practical and transparent ways of providing better, more joined-up habitat.

However, he warned that Natural England would need to develop strong scientific evidence and a robust methodology to show that it works for great crested newts and can be repeated elsewhere. Trotter advised Natural England to take its time to ensure the new approach works.

“The Wildlife Trusts are potential partners in helping to find sound win-win practical solutions and we will be submitting some ideas for how the pilot might be designed and run to answer our questions and give everyone confidence in the new approach,” he said.


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