When should I think about great crested newt mitigation ?
If you are planning on developing a site and have had an ecological survey to assess impacts to wildlife read on. The results of this survey have identified potential impacts on great crested newts in and around the proposed development area. You need to start thinking about mitigation for great crested newts at this point. For example you may need to create new habitats offsite to offset any damage on site.
What happens if there are great crested newts in an area for proposed development?
You must apply for a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence from Natural England (NE). There is no charge by NE for EPSM licenses, however, the development must pass three legal tests. The activity must be for a purpose of public interest (for example, for providing housing ). There must be no satisfactory alternative that will cause less harm to the species. The activity must not harm the long-term conservation status of the species.
Planning permission for any development of the proposed site should be granted prior to applying for an EPSM licence. Once a licence has been applied for, you can usually expect a licensing decision within 30 days, but NE is currently assessing a large volume of applications.
A mitigation strategy forms part of the licence application. This both safeguards the great crested newt population before and after works and prevents harm to the individual animals. There will be a legally binding Method Statement which will include methods e.g. for translocation to remove individual newts, and a timetable. Although these can be varied if something unexpected happens, not complying with the licence is a legal offence, so they need to be well thought through.
Sometimes it is not possible to retain newt populations within a development site. In this case they will need to be moved – known as “translocation” or trapping out. Translocation of Great Crested Newts will always involve a licence application to Natural England.
In the application Natural England will want to see that :
– The translocation site is as near as possible to the original site. In general over a mile would be unacceptable to them except in exceptional circumstances. This is because the mitigation needs to maintain the populations at a local level, but also due to the risks of spreading chytrid and other amphibian diseases across the countryside.
– Any ponds removed or adversely affected will be replaced, preferably at a least a 2:1 ratio, . This is based on the presumption that not all ponds will be successful for newts. Sometimes enhancement of existing ponds is possible e.g. old overgrown ponds now unsuitable for newts. SUDS ponds or balancing lagoons are not suitable. The pond needs to be specifically for the species.
– There will need to be new habitat created or enhanced at least equal in area to that lost and/or of a higher quality. Examples might include arable land being replaced by grassland or improved grass leys replaced by scrub and woodland.
– In general you will need a survey to see if there are newts already at the translocation site. Translocating newts into ponds with existing populations is not acceptable, as there is no net gain for the species, since they just compete with newts already there.
– The management of the site will need to be guaranteed “in perpetuity” – normally by a Section 106 agreement with the landowner. This is clearly less complex where the land is within the blue line of the development site owner or even with the red line.
Trapping a site out can be a lengthy process and take over a year allowing for licence application and seasons. Trapping will normally be for 60 suitable days, but with additional requirements for breeding ponds. Suitable days are normally during spring and autumn, when temperatures are warm enough but not too dry for the newts to move around. When conditions are not suitable ( e.g. there is no rain for several days or it is too cold ), then trapping nights become “invalid” and the period of time needs to be extended. Thus 60 trapping nights could in reality extend over an additional nights say or be caught short by the autumnal frost or a summer drought.
Planning law says that the local planning authority have to assess whether a European Protected Species for a site is likely to be granted by Natural England ( e.g. Morge versus Hants and more recently Elsworthy Farm judgement ) prior to granting permission.
How does the licence work when developing a site?
You need to keep a copy of the licence on site, and you may be inspected by Natural England to see if you are complying with it – they can request to see this copy. Certain works will be carried out or supervised by your licenced ecologist, but there will be other responsibilities resting on the client. Make sure all contractors coming on site are inducted on it, and stick to what it says. At the end of the works, you need to make a licence return to prove that they have been carried out, and monitoring of any new ponds is necessary to give some measure of success.
We thought it helpful for clients to have set out what actual Natural England requirements are for licencing – how old your survey can be – and how many surveys are necessary.
Natural England guidance
Natural England guidance on presently acceptable levels of survey effort is set out in their EPSL method statement form – which we present below – slightly tweaked. This sets out both the type and age of data viewed as acceptable. You can use the filters to find your project type.
This is our Excel table here : Great crested – survey effort and age
Deconstructing this gives some interesting insights about the age of data required, but also whether as to whether a full six surveys or repeat surveys are necessary.
Low impact licences and survey data
If we read through this table, you will find that low impact or temporary development can often use presence/absence data alone, which makes sense. You may only need four instead of six visits ( or possibly only one if you find them first time ! ). Newt numbers decline rapidly away from ponds ( either the creatures are too unfit or simply due to dispersion effects ). The effect a long way from ponds can therefore be predicted as being low, based on their presence alone. Far enough away and you can assume de minimus effects, and possibly avoid surveys all together.
The age of data is based on spring/summer survey seasons elapsed ( but see also later for a potential complexity here ):
|Survey done||Age of survey (before May[?] 2015)
|March to May 2015||0 (before May 15)|
So this year, data from the 2011 summer season is 4 years old, assuming you apply before end of May[?] 2015. This also means that for some low impact schemes, older data will be helpful. There are various caveats to this.
It is not 100% clear from the footnote on the NE guidance whether the age of the survey is the number of survey seasons missed, inclusive or exclusive of the present year. It would seem more logical that 2015 data is 0 years old until March 2016, but in fact it appears to be 1 after May this year. However it would be impossible to survey, get planning and apply in the time period. We will take this point up with Natural England for clarity [ thanks to someone for pointing this out to me ].
What survey effort is most helpful ?
This raises for us an interesting question about proportionality and efficiency – what solution for survey effort allows most accurate information most efficiently ?
Given that most ponds are in the small or medium range and that large counts are generally from aggregation across ponds, should we focus more on the number of ponds involved and their functional nature ?
eDNA difficulties for presence/abscence
A difficulty of eDNA for results is that it shows us nothing of the pond’s function.
Four nocturnal visits will not only give a very good guide for impact assessment, but also should generally reveal if the animals are breeding successfully and may turn up eggs or efts dependant on timing.
Many ponds around a breeding pond have occasional newts, but are not of high enough quality for breeding – this issue was never tackled by HSI. Vice versa large numbers of males lecking at a pond indicate one thing. Knowledge about successful breeding at a pond seems to us essential in stating the effects on the population.
So to return to the question only four surveys with presence or possibly even eDNA to prove absence could be sufficient for your needs, or you may be able to rely on existing older data. However really your consultant needs to have some understanding of population ecology to advise you on mitigation and obtaining a licence. Following guidance verbatim is not a good solution and could waste your money – sorry that slipped out.
With this in mind we advise you not to rely on this article for formal advice, but let us discuss with you how it applies to your suituation – please contact us directly if you have a licencing query or you have some observations about the article.
There is more Natural England advice on their website : https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-crested-newts-apply-for-a-mitigation-licence
Natural England have updated their European Protected Species licence forms, reducing some of the paperwork burdens on applicants.
New application form for bats
There is a new EPSL application form, which we think makes a lot more sense. We are not sure if it is editable in all versions of Adobe Reader, but you can certainly use Foxit. There are seperate forms for <3 species and >3 species, with a lot of tick boxes replacing the need to repeat text in and squeeze stuff up. It should make it more accessible for clients and easier to complete, plus indicates that NE may be streaming licences into low and high impact schemes, which makes a lot of sense.
Applications for home improvements and small scale housing developments
The guidance on the need for a Reasoned Statement has changed, making it only necessary for more complicated applications. This doesn’t imply that you don’t need a licence – simply that the paperwork is becoming more proportional to the situation. You need to read the details, but this means no more 20 page documents justifying a loft conversion or putting in a dormer window from NPPF. It also may reduce the paperwork burden on barn conversions under Permitted Development rights.
The exemptions are below.
Exemptions for Bats
“The following categories of work for all bat species and their roosts*:
i. repairs and maintenance, roof replacements, loft conversions, extensions and renovations of existing domestic dwellings and associated structures (eg garages).
ii. small-scale housing developments, including those that may require the demolition of existing buildings (whether domestic dwellings or other types of building).
*Unless the population is of regional or national importance – in which case please contact Natural England (see below) to discuss whether a Reasoned Statement is required.”
Exemptions for Great crested newts
“The following categories of works:
i. repairs and maintenance, extensions and renovations of existing domestic dwellings and associated structures (e.g. garages).
ii. small-scale housing developments within the curtilage of developed or previously developed (brownfield) sites, including those that may require the demolition of existing buildings (whether domestic dwellings or other types of building).”
There are also similar improvements around applications to conserve and protect Listed Buildings, Scheduled Monuments and places of worship.
You will need to read the fine print to see if this applies to you or contact us for advice.
A very sensible development from Natural England.
The document from Natural England is attached below :
We thought an update of European Protected Licence delays for bats and great crested newts on our previous February stats article might be of assistance.
Natural England are still unfortunately experiencing delays in reviewing European Protected Species Licence applications. If you need to gaining a licence and how it might affect your project, please contact us as soon as possible.
The Natural England FCS test are also now processed and signed off at a regional level, which may have lead to some teething issues. It has helped by improving lines of communication once an advisor has been allocated. Generally discussion on allocation dates are “vague”, but once the licence is allocated and processed this is generally quick. As a corollary, then it is difficult for clients to plan with certainty when a licence will arrive, except at short notice.
Delays with bat licences have not worsened, but remain steady at around three to four weeks. Hopefully newly trained staff should be assisting now, but our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future.
With respect to Great Crested Newts, we would forecast that there will be additional delays, which are shown by the lengthening queue, due to the normal “spring surge” of new applications.
The following are based on ‘New’ Application processing time during the four week period 2nd March 2015 to 3rd April 2015 :
Bat Update (as of 6th April 2015)
- 368 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 355 on 10 February, 279 on 22 December ]
- “New application processing time: Average delay of 17 days (47 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ No change from 48 days on February and 47 days on 22 December ]
Similar processing times were reported for Modifications and Resubmissions.
Great Crested Newt Update (as of 6th April 2015 )
- 162 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 52 in February, 19 on 22 December ]
- “New” application processing time: Average delay of 5 days (35 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ 32 days on February, 37 days on 22 December ]
There were similar processing times for Modifications and Resubmissions.
As part of the re-development of a small brownfield site within Norwich, NWS were commissioned by RGW Portugal Ltd to undertake bat surveys of two small buildings. One of these was found to support low numbers of brown long-eared bats Plecotus auritus and soprano pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus, which were using the building for roosting in summer. The buildings needed to be demolished in order to create space for two new residential homes, and so NWS prepared a European Protected Species Mitigation licence for bats which was granted by Natural England.
NWS licensed ecologists supervised the demolition of the buildings in August, removing a roosting brown long-eared bat which was found along the central ridge beam and relocating this within a bat box which had been placed on a mature oak tree in adjacent woodland.
RGW Portugal Ltd were keen for an environmentally sensitive development and had included bike stores within the design to encourage the use of green transport. These features provided the perfect opportunity to create a bespoke bat loft for both species of bats to use. The loft was constructed above the bike stores, using a lined and tiled pitched roof to generate warm internal temperatures. Two carefully-placed bat access points were installed along the ridge and at both gable ends, allowing a number of entry points whilst reducing potential for light ingress and draughts. The ridge beam was formed using rough-sawn timber to create a suitable surface for bats to cling to, and bat batons were also installed along the inner walls to provide additional perching points.
The last features of the bat loft have just been installed this winter and NWS are hopeful to see use of this loft by bats when they return to roost in April.
Since 2000, NWS has worked on development sites that support great crested newts, and in 2014 successfully assisted Saffron Housing in obtaining a European Protected Species Mitigation (EPSM) licence for this species on a residential development in South Norfolk. Nationally great crested newts have suffered huge declines and so are protected by European and UK law. Norfolk is one of the species’ strongholds, with greatest numbers of breeding ponds found on heavy clay soils.
With great crested newts present in ponds around the area and using the grassland on site to move between these, the EPSM licence was required during construction to protect these amphibians and provide compensatory habitat.
NWS staff supervised the installation of “newt exclusion fencing” and carried out pitfall trapping to remove newts from harm’s way. Great crested newts only use ponds for breeding and spend the rest of the year on land. The team focussed the compensatory habitat on features suitable for use during this “terrestrial phase” and supervised the creation of what was dubbed “Newt Nirvana” by the developer: a wildflower grassland with hedgerows and scrub.
A key feature was the creation of three earth and stone mounds, which newts will use
during winter, called hibernacula. Great crested newts hibernate when winter temperatures drop below 5oC, normally from October or November. They typically hibernate underneath logs, within mammal burrow or tree roots, and even in building foundations. The hibernacula on site were designed to provide a number of sheltered crevices using logs and rubble, topped with turf to prevent exposure, whilst also ensuring newts were safe from flooding. Here the newts can remain protected until they emerge in late February or March to begin breeding in ponds.
We thought an update of statistics on our previous article might be of assistance.
Natural England are still unfortunately experiencing delays in reviewing European Protected Species Licence applications. It looks like the situation with bats has slightly worsened, although the issues with great crested newts now appear to have improved. They are training more staff, but our forecast is for no improvement in the immediate to near future.
Bat Update (as of 16th February 2015)
- 355 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 279 on 22 December ]
- “New application processing time: Average delay of 18 days (48 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Increase from 17 days on 22 December ]
Great Crested Newt Update (as of 16th February 2015)
- 52 ‘New’ Applications outstanding [ Up from 19 on 22 December ]
- “New” application processing time: Average delay of 2 days (32 days versus 30 working day decision deadline) [ Down from 7 days on 22 December ]
If you are concerned about gaining a licence, please contact us as soon as possible.
There are serious delays in Natural England issuing development (“European”) licences for bats and great crested newts and their normal 30-day turnaround is being missed by upto 3 weeks. Natural England has stated that this follows “the recent introduction of our new IT system”, but this issue appears to be continuous since at least March 2014, and appears to also be anecdotally linked to the number of trained staff available, and has not yet shown signs of improving.
The delays in the processing of Wildlife Licence applications, apply both to acknowledging receipt and the issuing of decisions (see update below for the four week period 24th November to 19th December 2014), and is worst for bats.
Natural England staff are apologetic for this delay, and we have spoken to advisors who have been distressed by the situation. Their office will be closed from 4pm 24th December 2014 until 2nd January 2015, which will mean another 5 days delay to any licences outstanding at Christmas. Area managers have been helpful in advising about delays.
We suggest that any clients requiring licencing in the next few months, engage us as soon as possible so that we can advise.
Great Crested Newts Update (as at 22nd December 2014 )
- 19 ‘New’ Applications outstanding.
- ‘New’ Application processing time : Average delay of 7 days [37 days versus 30 working day decision deadline ]
Bat Update (as at 22nd December 2014)
- 279 ‘New’ Applications outstanding.
- ‘New’ Application processing time : Average delay of 17 days [47 days versus 30 working day decision deadline ]
Robins have breathed a sigh of relief that new Natural England licencing proposals will not allow a fast track to their extermination should they cause a problem in supermarkets and garden centres over the Christmas period.
Earlier this year, Natural England consulted the public on a controversial proposal as to whether robin, pied wagtail and starling should be added to a “General Licence”, which anyone could use without registering, to enable “quick action” where the birds caused genuine health and safety problems. However : “The Board determined that question 2b) should not be pursued further”
Natural England will also be issuing a new Class Licence for barn owl surveys where development is involved.
Other General and Class Licences, including GL04 “To kill or take certain wild birds to prevent serious damage or disease” [ which deals with pigeons, rooks etc ], will have minor wording updates for consistency in phrasing and better readability, so may differ in look from last year. They are available from 1 January 2015 and more information is available : General Licences with changes . Grey squirrel remain illegal to release back into the wild if caught.
There are in general, no changes to the conditions attached to licences. However I note that rather bizarrely though that if you accidentally capture any Capercaillie, Common crane or White-tailed eagle whilst attempting to remove the robin from the frozen food section, these “must be released immediately upon discovery”. I should say so – walk away from any such tussle.