Wildlife licensing reform worries ecologists

11th January 2017


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

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IEMA

Conservationists and ecologists have voiced concerns over changes to the licensing system governing how developers can deal with protected species on their sites.

Regulator Natural England announced the changes in December, saying they would save developers time and money while increasing investment in habitats for species, such as great crested newts, dormice, bats and water voles.

It introduced four new policies, including: not requiring developers to relocate species if there is a programme to enhance or create sufficient alternative habitat in the plans; and allowing developers to create new habitat away from the development site. Also, developers will be able to scale back surveys and rely more on the judgement of ecologists.

However, the Wildlife Trusts said the new policies put developers’ interests over those of fauna. Director Stephen Trotter said: ‘Natural England is clearly under huge pressure to make the planning process simpler for developers. I am deeply concerned that their untested policies, budget cuts to ecological expertise and over-simplifying of “expert” advice will be at the expense of the rare species that Natural England is meant to protect.’

Stewart Priddle, director of habitats and ecology at consultancy Blackdown Environmental and NBC Environment, said: ‘We will be moving from a system that is known and mostly understood to a new set of rules that have no guidance or are yet to be proven.’ Although the changes could reduce the burden on small developers, costs for meeting some of the requirements could be the same or higher, he warned.

In a statement, Natural England said the policies had been crafted by specialists, tested and adjusted after feedback. Delaying implementation could hold up the benefits to wildlife because field trials would take many years, it added.

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