Great crested newts: advice for making planning decisions

How to assess a planning application when there are great crested newts on or near a proposed development site.

Applies to England

This is Natural England’s ‘standing advice’ for great crested newts (GCN). It is a material planning consideration for local planning authorities (LPAs). You should take this advice into account when making planning decisions. It forms part of a collection of standing advice for protected species.

Following this advice:

  • avoids the need for you to consult on the negative effects of planning applications on GCN in most cases
  • helps you make decisions on development proposals

You may need a qualified ecologist to advise you on the planning application and supporting evidence. You can find one using either the:

How GCN are protected

GCN are designated and protected as European protected species (EPS). EPS are protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. It is an offence to:

  • deliberately kill, injure, disturb or capture them
  • deliberately take or destroy their eggs
  • damage or destroy their breeding sites and resting places - even if GCN are not present
  • possess, control or transport them (alive or dead)

It is also an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to intentionally or recklessly:

  • disturb GCN while they occupy a structure or place used for shelter or protection
  • obstruct access to a place of shelter or protection

GCN are listed as rare and most threatened species under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006). You need to take account of the conservation of Section 41 species as part of your planning decision. Find out more about your biodiversity duty.

The developer must comply with the legal protection of GCN.

You should consider if the developer has taken appropriate measures to avoid, mitigate and, as a last resort, compensate for any negative effects on GCN.

The developer may need a wildlife licence to carry out their proposal.

You can find further guidance on survey, mitigation, management and monitoring for GCN in the:

These documents may not be accessible to assistive technology.

District level licensing schemes for GCN

District level licensing (DLL) is an alternative approach to traditional mitigation licences to develop sites which could affect great crested newts.

It aims to increase numbers of great crested newts by providing new or better habitats in targeted areas to benefit their wider population.

DLL is a simpler, quicker process for developers than applying for a mitigation licence. If there is a district level licensing scheme in the area, developers can simply apply for a DLL licence and pay for compensation ponds.

Read Great crested newts: district level licensing schemes for local planning authorities for guidance on how to make planning decisions for proposals using district level licensing.

If a district level licensing scheme is not available or the developer chooses not to use it, you should follow the guidance in this standing advice when assessing planning applications.

When to ask for a survey

If the developer has chosen not to use a DLL where one exists, you should ask them for a survey if any of the following criteria apply:

  • distribution and historical records suggest GCN may be present
  • there’s a suitable water body such as a pond or ditch up to 500 metres of the development, even if it only holds water for some of the year
  • the development site includes refuges, such as log piles, rubble, grassland, scrub, woodland or hedgerows up to 500 metres of suitable aquatic habitats (static or slow moving water body)

Surveys up to 250 metres are usually sufficient, but developers may need to increase this to 500 metres if there are no obvious barriers to newts dispersing into the wider environment.

Absence of a record does not mean there are no GCN. It could mean there is no survey data available for that location.

Survey work can include:

  • presence or absence surveys, which can include eDNA sampling
  • population size surveys of water bodies
  • terrestrial and aquatic habitat surveys

Survey data provided by the developer should be no older than 4 survey seasons. The data must reflect the status of the site. If the development is predicted to have a negative effect on GCN, it’s important to ask for recent data to make sure it’s accurate.

Surveys should also meet industry standards, unless you have sufficient information to assess the application without this data, in line with licensing policy 4. This allows for developers to propose worst-case scenario compensation in certain circumstances.

You must check if the ecologist holds the appropriate and up-to-date survey licence to carry out surveys for GCN. CIEEM publishes:

The ecologist should also follow the Biodiversity code of practice for planning and development (BS 42020:2013) available on the British Standards Institute website. These documents may not be accessible to assistive technology.

Assess the effect of development on GCN

If a site is not in a DLL scheme, developers should submit qualitative and quantitative information with their planning application on how their development avoids or mitigates harm to GCN.

If there’s likely to be a negative effect on GCN, you should consider these factors to assess the site’s importance:

  • the number of GCN populations and their size
  • the nature of the population - for example, if the site includes a breeding water body or is connected to other important populations
  • how important the site is to the local and national GCN population, for example how near it is to a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) where GCN is a listed species

Use the table to see what impact development would have on GCN and their habitat.

Level of impact GCN habitat affected by development
Normally high impact breeding ponds

terrestrial habitat within 50m of ponds

isolation caused by fragmentation of the habitat
Normally high to medium impact non-breeding ponds occupied by GCN

terrestrial habitat 50m to 250m from ponds
Normally medium impact partial or temporary destruction or change to the habitat

post-development interference, such as pollution or the introduction of fish
Normally low impact temporary disturbance

terrestrial habitat further than 250m from ponds

When you assess the planning application, you must look at other GCN habitats within 500m because GCN move and are unlikely to stay in one place.

The location of ponds for GCN is important because GCN ponds can be lost or their value greatly reduced by:

  • public access to the pond
  • introduction of fish or non-native plants to the pond
  • pollution
  • lack of access for maintenance and management
  • fragmentation and lack of connectivity with suitable habitat nearby

If the developer cannot avoid destroying a GCN breeding pond, they should compensate for this and:

  • replace the lost pond with at least 2 new high quality ponds, of the same area or more, on the development site
  • make sure the new ponds are ready for GCN before the old pond is destroyed - this is likely to take at least one full growing season
  • safeguard or replace other ponds which may be used by GCN within 500m - the developer will need an EPS mitigation licence to do this

For more information on mitigation plans and compensation measures, read the planners guide for protected species and development.

Planning and licence conditions

If the developer has chosen not to use a DLL where one exists and the proposal is likely to affect GCN, the developer must apply for a GCN mitigation licence.

Before you can grant planning permission, you must:

  • make sure any mitigation or compensation conditions you impose do not conflict with the requirements of a GCN mitigation licence
  • be confident that Natural England will issue a licence

You do not need to consult Natural England on the wording or discharge of any conditions you impose on a planning proposal. Natural England is unable to provide advice on this.

Enhance biodiversity

To meet your biodiversity duty, you should suggest ways for the developer to:

  • create new or enhanced habitats on the development site
  • achieve a net gain in biodiversity through good design, such as green roofs, street trees or sustainable drainage

Site management and monitoring

For sites not in a DLL scheme, you should consider the need for site monitoring and management. These measures are likely to be needed by protected species licences.

A site management plan could include:

  • aquatic vegetation management in ponds
  • clearance of shading tree or scrub cover around pond margins
  • desilting and clearance of leaf-fall
  • mowing, cutting or grazing of grassland
  • woodland and scrub management

A maintenance plan should deal with:

  • the effects of introducing fish to the pond
  • pond leakage
  • dumping of rubbish
  • fires or other damage
  • damage to fences
  • tunnel silting or blockage
  • damage to interpretation boards

The plan should monitor newts and their habitats, including ponds, after development. It should include carrying out management works to habitats and additional survey work to check that mitigation measures are working as intended, followed by remedial work if needed.

See the GCN mitigation guidelines for more information.

Published 14 January 2022
Last updated 26 July 2022 + show all updates
  1. Updated information on district level licensing schemes for great crested newts to link to new guidance for local planning authorities.

  2. Clarified advice on the recommended distance for surveying the presence of great crested newts within 500 metres under 'When to ask for a survey'.

  3. First published.