Press release

National roll-out of new approach to great crested newt licensing

Natural England is to implement an innovative new approach to the conservation of great crested newts across the country.

Great crested newt © Michael Hammett

An improved approach to the conservation of great crested newts is to be rolled out across England.

The new approach has been piloted in partnership with Woking Borough Council in Surrey. It has focused on bringing the greatest benefits to the amphibians while streamlining the licensing process for housing developers. The approach will now start to be introduced across the country after its roll-out was announced in the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Housing White Paper today.

This new 3 year programme will survey areas where newts are most prevalent, map the potential impacts of development and propose local conservation strategies for the species in partnership. As part of the project, great crested newt habitat is enhanced or created prior to any development taking place, saving developers time and money, and making newt populations more healthy and resilient.

In May 2016, Woking borough council was awarded an organisational licence, allowing it to authorise operations that may affect great crested newts on development sites at the same time as planning permission, removing the need for expensive surveys prior to building works and individual licences to disturb newts if they are present. As part of the project, great crested newt habitat is enhanced or created prior to any development taking place, saving developers time and money, and making newt populations more healthy and resilient.

Natural England’s Chairman, Andrew Sells, said:

We are grateful to DCLG for funding the national roll-out of this ambitious new approach to the licensing of great crested newts. It is a ringing endorsement of Natural England’s work to modernise the licensing of protected species.

Populations of great crested newts can struggle when they become isolated. Creating connected habitats across the country is the single most positive thing we can do for their survival, by allowing them to spread naturally.

At the same time, the strategic approach to licensing helps developers to avoid costs and delays to their projects. This roll-out is key to helping us ensure that regulation better serves both the natural environment and the economy.

Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell said:

We are taking decisive action to support developers to build out more quickly so that we can deliver the homes this country needs.

This new approach to managing great crested newts will not only ensure the continued protection of this rare species and its habitat, but will safeguard developers from the delays, costs and uncertainty which have so often restricted the job of building new homes.

Great crested newts are rare across Europe, although can be locally abundant in the UK. They are protected by law, meaning that disturbance or damage to the newts or their habitat requires a European protected species licence. Currently, licences for this striking amphibian are issued on a site-by-site basis. National implementation of the new approach will benefit newts at population level across the landscape.

Dr Tony Gent, CEO of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, said:

The regulations and planning processes that have been put in place to help conserve the great crested newt have too often failed to provide the long term conservation outcomes that they need to reverse the historic and continuing declines of its populations.

This new initiative provides an opportunity for real gains for great crested newts, by improving the way that regulations are applied. We are keen to work with Natural England on this initiative to ensure that real, sustainable benefits can be achieved for the species.

Stephen Trotter, Director, The Wildlife Trusts England, said:

I welcome the announcement of this funding – it’s potentially great news for newts. Natural England has listened to concerns about how the new system will be rolled-out and this funding gives some reassurance that the Government’s commitment to the conservation and recovery of this declining amphibian is genuine. The Wildlife Trusts support the aims and objectives of the new approach. We strongly agree that everyone’s priority should be to create new, joined-up habitats which will help the population of this fantastic species to recover. The Wildlife Trusts will work closely with Natural England to ensure the roll-out of the new approach is a success.

President of the Country Land and Business Association, Ross Murray, said:

The licensing process is one of the most cited sources of frustration and cost for our members seeking to invest in building homes or business premises in the countryside. The harm is particularly felt by those pursuing small scale developments.

This initiative has the potential to transform habitat preservation for important species, while at the same time reducing costs and uncertainty for landowners considering development across England.

We welcome the proactive way that Natural England has sought to address this problem and to Ministers for having the confidence to provide the necessary investment to roll this out.

Published 7 February 2017