Wildlife at risk

12th January 2017


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Business & Industry ,
  • Built environment ,
  • Planning ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity

Author

Emma Brigginshaw

Licensing reform puts development over wildlife.

Natural England announced in December that there will be more ‘flexibility’ for people seeking a licence to build in places that are home to species protected under the European Habitats Directive. This change has repercussions for rare and protected species, especially the water vole, bat, dormouse and the much-belittled great crested newt.

While the Wildlife Trusts agree with the stated ambition of Natural England to encourage developers to increase the amount of good quality habitat in the right places, we are not convinced that a relaxation of the existing licensing rules will achieve this ambition.

Threatened species are protected by law for a reason. There is no scientific evidence that the population status of any of the currently protected species has recovered enough to justify watering down the special care they received through the previous licensing arrangements. After detailed investigation and much effort from across the environmental movement, the EU recently confirmed that both the Habitats and Birds Directives are fit for purpose. So, why is Natural England making this change? And why now?

You need a licence from Natural England if you plan to disturb or remove wildlife or damage habitats. We are concerned that the relaxation of licensing arrangements could be driven by a perceived need to reduce delays for developers, rather than by nature conservation objectives – which are, after all, Natural England’s job.

Each year the building industry makes around 1,200 licence applications to build in the places where protected species live. This is out of 369,000 developments that were granted planning permission in England in 2015; or, less than 0.5%. In other words, the previous licensing policy did not jeopardise the vast majority of developments.

Five specific issues are deeply worrying and have not been adequately addressed - we highlighted these in our consultation response to Natural England:

  • The policies have not been tested, reviewed and refined before being adopted nationally. Natural England has initiated but not completed two pilot projects to test the new approaches for great crested newts – so they don’t know whether the approach will work or not. Why the rush? Why not take a precautionary approach, and wait until the results have been published and scrutinised?
  • The policies take a generic, one-size-fits-all approach to protected species, but we know that different ecology and issues will apply for bats and other mammals like water vole and dormice. The approach has only been tested for great crested newts (see above) – why aren’t Natural England testing the approach for other protected species and taking an informed approach from the findings from these trials?
  • Severe budget cuts for ecological expertise call into question whether there are enough people in either Natural England or in local authorities to be able to manage, monitor or review the new approach – so we won’t know if the favourable conservation status of protected species is improved or degraded by the new policies. Natural England has already cut all of its funding to local data service providers when access to up-to-date and locally informed data and expertise will be critical to the success of the new approach.
  • A reliance on ‘expert judgement’ could be dangerous for our protected species. One of the policies proposes reducing habitat survey, which provides solid evidence, in favour of expert judgement – how will such judgement be exercised and validated? Experts will be paid by developers, so can we rely on their impartiality?
  • A key part of the new licensing policies is about providing off-site compensatory habitats. We strongly support the widely-accepted principle that compensation should be provided as close as is reasonably practical to the site of impact. It is not clear from the consultation how off-site compensatory habitats will be managed and protected in the long term. How will the compensation sites be protected from development and secured in perpetuity?

We welcome improvements in the administration of the system – but this should be as well as, rather than instead of, the main aim of licensing protection which should be to improve the favourable conservation status of the species listed in the European Directives. Saving costs for developers should not be expense of the species and habitats that Natural England is paid to protect.

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

Is the sea big enough?

A project promoter’s perspective on the environmental challenges facing new subsea power cables

3rd April 2024

Read more

The UK’s major cities lag well behind their European counterparts in terms of public transport use. Linking development to transport routes might be the answer, argues Huw Morris

3rd April 2024

Read more

Tom Harris examines the supply chain constraints facing the growing number of interconnector projects

2nd April 2024

Read more

The UK government’s carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) strategy is based on optimistic techno-economic assumptions that are now outdated, Carbon Tracker has warned.

13th March 2024

Read more

The UK government’s latest Public Attitudes Tracker has found broad support for efforts to tackle climate change, although there are significant concerns that bills will rise.

13th March 2024

Read more

A consortium including IEMA and the Good Homes Alliance have drafted a letter to UK government ministers expressing disappointment with the proposed Future Homes Standard.

26th February 2024

Read more

Global corporations such as Amazon and Google purchased a record 46 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind energy last year, according to BloombergNEF (BNEF).

13th February 2024

Read more

Three-quarters of UK adults are concerned about the impact that climate change will have on their bills, according to polling commissioned by Positive Money.

13th February 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close