Natural England are changing the way that they issue licences for species such as water voles, great crested newts, bats and dormice.
Four new policies have been created which are intended to smooth the process of obtaining a wildlife licence, saving businesses time and money. In return, Natural England expect businesses to fund investment in the creation and enhancement of bigger, better, more joined-up habitat for wildlife to ensure greater long-term security for these species.
Natural England believe the policies will lead to:
> greater flexibility in relocating European Protected Species from development sites
> creation of new habitats away from development sites where it is environmentally most beneficial
> wildlife benefiting from habitat that is found on development sites, such as where quarrying has created ponds suitable for great crested newts
> flexibility in exceptional circumstances to reduce surveying where the impacts of development can be predicted confidently
Natural England has stated that it will not issue guidance on how to use the new policies, but may publish some case studies after the policies have bedded in. They seem keen for consultants to test the policies, ideally using their Discretionary Advice Service (DAS) or Pre-submission Screening (PSS) routes to check the suitability of any new approach.
The consensus is that these new policies will be most beneficial when considering approaches to great crested newt mitigation. It will certainly be a brave new world if exclusion fencing can be reduced and translocations avoided. The aim is to place far greater emphasis on the favourable population status of the local population (assisted by habitat creation measures, which could be off-site) rather than seeking to save every individual newt within the development area. There’s some common sense to this argument and few of us can ignore feelings of frustration when putting up miles of plastic fencing to exclude a handful of newts. However, the alternatives may not be simple and any habitat creation offered in lieu of direct protection will need to be properly delivered and secured. It remains to be seen if this approach will indeed deliver time and/or cost savings – each site will be different. We will have to look at the pros and cons afforded by these new policies on a case-by-case basis.
It is likely to take a little while for any change to be felt and for consultants and developers to feel confident over how best to harness this new approach. However, it certainly feels like these policies may be heralding the start of a new era in great crested newt licensing and mitigation.
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