Natural England struggle with Discretionary Advice Service and licencing

Brown long-eared bat

Staff shortages at Natural England

European Protected Species Licences ( EPSL) applications to Natural England for bats and great crested newts often peak in the late summer (June-October). This leads to longer response times compared to the 30-working days target.

Since autumn 2017, we have been aware that Natural England have had significant staff shortages for processing licences and been unable to meet this 30-days response target for some time.  Their recent May newsletter admits that: “At present around the country, we [ Natural England] have some Area Teams who are performing well beyond 30 working days (with some upwards of 60 working days)”

Impacts on developers

Working to a reliable response time of 30-days, it is relatively easy for developers to allow for a commencement date in their build-programme.

An unreliable response date can cause last-minute cancellations by needing to either stand-down contractors or cancel and rebook completely. With present national shortages of specialist contractors, there are long lead-in times, and an unpredicted change in response dates for licencing has complex impacts on project.

A key present focus for developers is being able to reliably and accurately programme resourcing; any deviation can cause developers significant financial and time-associated costs. 

Diversion of resources to licencing

As the 2018 seasonal peak approaches, Natural England have decided to divert resources from other areas into meeting their licencing target. 

Natural England have said, based on slippage in meeting the target, they are therefore diverting “all available staff resources” into meeting the demand for new licence applications. There is no firm commitment to meeting their 30 working day target. The expectation is that the diversion of resources will continue for up to 6 months.

Impacts on Discretionary Advice Service

The Discretionary Advice Service ( DAS) is a commercial service from Natural England. Norfolk Wildlife Services often uses it for early discussion about developments, reducing delays and costs for clients.  For Natural England, the service is an early opportunity to provide comments on species mitigation plans. This allows improvements before any application for a licence is made.  Front-loading advice nearly always reduces involvement from statutory agency later on. It also here allows recovery of costs as well.

Similarly “Pre-submission screening” service” checks a licence application before it is made reducing corrections later on in process.

In order to divert resources into licencing, Natural England states Discretionary Advice Service will be reduced, both slowing advice on their existing commissions and leading to them turning down new commissions : “non-statutory PSS and DAS advice to applicants over the coming months and in many instances …will have to be declined. ”

The only exceptions are stated as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) and contractual arrangements “already …in place for larger, long term developments”.

Final comments

Natural England have difficult decisions on utilisation of its limited resources. It will not have taken lightly a decision to effectively moth-ball the Discretionary Advice Service.

Paradoxically Natural England have recently published results on a consultation on charging for wildlife licence applications, stating that they intend to charge for licences in order to “provide a much improved licensing service that delivers the majority of our licence decisions within 30 working days (or an otherwise agreed date)“.

Unfortunately given that the paid-for DAS (and PSS) were similarly meant to provide both certainty to developers and extra resources to Natural England, this sudden diversion of resources does not bode well for “a much improved licensing service”.  It seems unlikely that additional income from charging for licences will resolve a fundamental capacity issue. 

The diversion of staff resources by Natural England from front-loaded “DAS” advice to meeting turnaround for licences appears to be diverting resources from one “priority” task to another.  

Fundamentally Natural England appears to have insufficient staff to deliver even statutory needs and urgently needs more resources. 

 

What to do if you find a stag beetle

During work, tree surgeons ( especially while removing decaying tree stump) sometime find large black beetles. They may be concerned that they are Greater Stag Beetle Lucanus cervus and want to know what action to take to protect them.

Greater Stag Beetles are protected against sale in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and are also a Priority Species under the NERC Act and an Annex II European Species.  They do occur in Norfolk, but are much commoner futher south in Ipswich and Suffolk.

Often though they will be stag beetles but the easily confused Lesser Stag Beetle Dorcus parallelipipedus , which is more widely distributed.

Lesser stag beetle Lucanus cervus

Decaying wood is important to all mini-beasts, especially in the “tidier” urban areas like Norwich.  An easy approach if possible is to reduce any stump in large sections and re-sited somewhere safer (something the lesser stag beetle colony will appreciate).

If you do find any text a photograph to us and we are happy to identify for you and let you know what to do.

We are also happy to carry out full invertebrate surveys of sites and make recommendations for managing them for charismatic stag beetles.

Photo gallery for newts

Winter Newsletter 2017-2018

Another busy year at Norfolk Wildlife Services, with survey work across Norfolk for a huge variety of projects. Read highlights about how we helped our clients, the wildlife we have seen in our most recent winter newsletter in download here!

Alternatively you can select individual articles from this newsletter below!

Winter 2017/2018 newsletter

Click here to download our winter 2017/2018 newsletter

This issue:

 

Select our newsletter (Right) to download and save your own copy.

We hope you enjoy reading our newsletter.

Keep in touch with us if you need advice or protected species surveys undertaking for the spring ahead. You can contact us here.

 

 

 

Update: Great Crested Newt licencing and mitigation review

Natural England is reviewing its approach to great crested newt licencing and mitigation approach, which will be introduced across the country. In each county, the approach will begin with a study to identify where newts are, and then create a map of the potential impacts of development to form appropriate conservation strategies in partnership with local government bodies. In the meantime, the existing methods of great crested newt mitigation for development projects withstand and there are no plans to abolish the laws protecting this species.

Great Crested Newt on hand

Read more about it in our previous newsletter article

If you want advice about how these changes might affect your company please contact us.

 

Spring Newsletter 2017

All our latest wildlife news in our Norfolk Wildlife Services’ Spring Newsletter 2017.

In this issue we bring you :

Or click to download a pdf copy

What chemicals can I use in bat roosts ?

Natural England guidance on chemicals not affecting bats is hard to find on gov.uk. We have uploaded a copy of “Natural England Technical Information Note TIN092 Bat roosts and timber treatment products” [TIN092_Bat_Friendly_Timber_Treatment], which is the First edition dated 15 March 2011. This gives a list of those commonly available products currently approved as remedial timber treatment chemicals and products in bat roosts. This was an update to the information in the 3rd edition of the Bat Workers Manual.

We know the list is not comprehensive. If you can’t find what you are looking for, you may be best to get us to ring Natural England on your behalf.  They are very friendly and generally able to make a quick response on the subject.

Schedule 9 invasive plants and development

Schedule 9 plants are invasive and generally need controlling on a development site. After talking to a client about yellow archangel, we thought a list of schedule 9 would be helpful. It is an offence to “plant or otherwise cause to grow in the wild invasive non-native plants listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.”

A lot of the most invasive are aquatic or live in marshy environments e.g. Crassula helmsii, but brownfield sites also harbour species such as knotweed.  We can advise on control methods to incorporate into construction management for you.

Plants listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in England and Wales

Common Name Latin Name  
Elodea (waterweeds) eg Canadian waterweed Elodea Canadensis All species of the Elodea genus Aquatic – widespread in Norfolk
Curly waterweed Lagarosiphon major Aquatic
Duck potato Sagittaria latifolia Aquatic
Entire-leaved cotoneaster Cotoneaster integrifolius Garden escape
Knotweed Fallopia japonica x Fallopia sachalinensis (a hybrid knotweed) Brownfield sites
False Virginia creeper Parthenocissus inserta Garden escape
Fanwort (Carolina water-shield) Cabomba caroliniana Aquatic
Few-flowered leek Allium paradoxum
Floating pennywort Hydrocotyle ranunculoides Aquatic – highly invasive
Floating water primrose Ludwigia peploides Aquatic
Giant hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum Fairly commonly encountered
Giant knotweed Fallopia sachalinensis Brownfield sites
Giant rhubarb Gunnera tinctoria Too cold in Norfolk
Giant salvinia Salvinia molesta Aquatic
Green seafingers Codium fragile
Himalayan cotoneaster Cotoneaster simonsii
Hollyberry cotoneaster Cotoneaster bullatus
Hottentot-fig Carpobrotus edulis Too cold in Norfolk
Indian balsam Himalayan balsam Impatiens glandulifera Water courses and rivers
Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica Brownfield sites
Japanese rose Rosa rugosa
Montbretia Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora
New Zealand pigmyweed (Australian swamp-stonecrop) Crassula helmsii Aquatic – highly invasive in Norfolk
Parrot’s-feather Myriophyllum aquaticum Aquatic
Perfoliate Alexanders Smyrnium perfoliatum
Purple dewplant Disphyma crassifolium
Red algae Grateloupia luxurians
Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum Acid soils only
Rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum x Rhododendron maximum Acid soils only
Small-leaved cotoneaster Cotoneaster microphyllus Garden escape
Shallon Gaultheria shallon
Three-cornered garlic Allium triquetrum Too cold in Norfolk ?
Variegated yellow archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon subsp. argentatum Garden escape
Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia Garden escape
Water fern Azolla filiculoides Aquatic
Water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes Aquatic
Water lettuce Pistia stratiotes Aquatic
Water primrose Ludwigia grandiflora / Ludwigia uruguayensis Aquatic
Yellow azalea Rhododendron luteum Acid soils only

Mitigating for great crested newts

Since starting great crested newt surveys in mid-March 2015, about 20% of the 75 ponds surveyed across Norfolk contained newts. For these sites, their development may now require a “European Protected Species Mitigation” ( EPSM ) licence, granted by Natural England after planning permission is given.

Lemonade and great crested newts

Bottle Trap

Bottle trap used in great crested newt surveys

We devise the mitigation strategy for clients based on where and how many newts are present.

To estimate numbers, we make six nocturnal counts via netting, with “bottle traps” (1.5 litre lemonade bottles) and spotlights. This indication of population size is used to devise a proportional strategy, ensuring that your development does not adversely affect newt populations.

Compensatory habitat

The EPSM licence needs to provide “compensatory habitat” at least equal in extent to that lost by development.  Newt habitats include scrub, grassland and woodland, but also often brown field areas, especially near old gravel or brick pits.  Ideas to think about when designing “compensatory habitat” are:

  • Restoring existing ponds to make them more suitable for great crested newts by clearing out shading scrub or desilting.
  • Creating brand new ponds: often also an attractive landscape feature (but no fish please and balancing lagoons aren’t suitable!)
  • Making wildflower meadows: good foraging habitat for newts plus an attractive feature managed well;
  • Planting woodland belts and hedgerows makes excellent shaded habitat for newts with leaf litter and logs, plus good for site landscaping, and corridors for newts to travel along to safely get from one area to another.

The bucket stage

If work cannot avoid impacting great crested newts, the development will need fencing off and trapping out with “pitfall traps” (buckets) to capture them and move them to safety.   Trapping normally takes place in autumn or early spring as it requires both suitably wet weather, but reasonable temperatures for the newt activity.

The number of nights trapping depends on the population, varying between 30 and 90 nights with additional needs where breeding ponds are removed.  If the fencing fails during building, then retrapping may be required, so investment in a decent spec fence is worth some thought. Generally you will need to keep the perimeter up from start to finish.

To create the compensatory habitat for a site near Dereham, we cleared ornamental shrubs and seeded the bare banks with wetland wildflowers around an existing pond, creating excellent refuges and invertebrates to hunt. Enclaves of wildflowers and trees were connected via thick hedgerows running around the boundary of the development, linking to hedges and ponds in the landscape.  Post development, the 2015 recount of newts showed numbers of breeding newts have remained consistent at 85, and that the mitigation had been successful.