An innovative approach by Natural England to protecting great crested newts has taken a major step forward in Woking.
A new organisational licence for Woking Borough Council, in Surrey, will enable a long-term approach to the conservation of newts, ensuring efforts are focused on newt populations and habitat that will bring the greatest benefits to the species. It will also simplify the licensing process for developers where newts are present, saving them time and money.
Developers can now participate in the project that will see great crested newt habitat enhanced or created across the borough by the council prior to any development taking place. The new habitat will join up existing newt populations, making them more healthy and resilient.
Natural England Chairman, Andrew Sells said:
“This is a victory for both the natural environment and developers. The new habitat provided by the council will ensure the newts benefit from development and at the same time developers avoid costs and risks of delay that have caused concern in many developments before now. This scheme shows we are working hard to ensure regulation better serves both the natural environment and the economy.”
A key problem for many rare species is isolation; populations can struggle when separated from other populations by distance. The landscape-wide perspective in this project, which is voluntary, allows for the creation of connected habitats across which the newts can spread naturally.
Woking Borough Council’s organisational licence allows it to authorise operations that may affect great crested newts on development of sites. This is the next stage in a pilot that began in August 2015 – and means the council can, for the first time, issue these authorisations at the same time as planning permission. The new approach will save developers time and money as they won’t require expensive surveys before starting their building projects or individual licences to disturb the newts if they are present. Monitoring is built into the project from the start, with reviews planned every two years.
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. At the moment, licences for this striking amphibian are issued on a site-by-site basis. In addition, the focus on individual sites means we may miss opportunities to benefit newts at the population level.
Woking Borough Council’s Chief Executive, Ray Morgan, said:
“This new service means the Council can ensure that investment made for this protected species improves the natural environment of the Borough and helps us to attract high quality development. From today, any developer that wishes to express an interest in this scheme will be able to do so. We can ensure that cost effective great crested newt habitat will be ready, in place, before their development could have any impact upon the species, which reflects the Council’s commitment to both economic growth and biodiversity.”
Tony Gent, Chief Executive of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, which gave the project additional conservation advice, said:
“ARC is delighted to see Natural England and Woking Borough Council working together to develop a strategic approach and proactively assessing priorities for great crested newts. This pilot has real potential to improve the regulation of development impacts on this species. We look forward to seeing how lessons can be learnt from it for wider application.”