Back in 2016 Natural England consulted on 4 new policies for European Protected Species (including Great Crested Newts) (“EPS”) which were designed to achieve better outcomes for EPS whilst reducing costs, delays and uncertainty for developers. In December 2016 Natural England announced these polices (with minor changes from the original proposals) had been approved and are in the process of being formally adopted.
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.
Previously a developer was 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 new policies shift the licensing focus from the protection of individual animals at development sites to the protection of colonies and larger habitats. Natural England believes the changes will make the process of obtaining EPS licences smoother, saving time and money for applicants, whilst funding a greater level of investment in the creation and enhancement of wildlife habitats, providing greater security for EPS populations.
- greater flexibility when excluding and relocating EPS from development sites. It is accepted that it is not always necessary to relocate on site EPS. Excluding and relocating EPS is not required if this is not necessary to maintain the conservation status of the local population, the avoid-mitigate-compensate hierarchy is followed and the compensation provides greater benefits to the local population than exclusion and/or relocation would.
- greater flexibility on the location of compensatory habitats. Working in tandem with the above and assuming those requirements are met a new habitat can be created off site where that is more environmentally beneficial to the EPS.
- allowing EPS to access temporary habitats that will be developed at a later date.Current policy incentivises developers to exclude EPS from potential development land where possible. This new policy allows temporary habitats to be used where the conservation status of the local population would not be detrimentally affected. The measures to achieve this should be set out in a management plan and secured by a legal agreement.
- reduced level of surveying. Licensing decisions must be supported by adequate survey information. However, a lower level of surveying may be accepted where the costs or delays associated with carrying out standard survey requirements would be disproportionate to the additional certainty that such surveys would bring, the ecological impacts of the development can be predicted with sufficient certainty and mitigation or compensation will ensure that the licensed activity does not detrimentally affect the conservation status of the local population of any EPS.
These policies were designed with Great Crested Newts in mind and at present there appears little demand for them to be extended to other EPS. However, Natural England considers they are of wider application and as such there will be no restrictions on which EPS the policies can apply to.
The management of EPS on development sites is complex and to date has placed 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 attempt to introduce a practical common sense approach to the issue considering the impacts on developers.
Whilst there will still be costs associated with these policies on balance they are likely to be welcomed by developers.