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.