Great crested newts: advice for local planning authorities

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

This is Natural England’s ‘standing advice’ on great crested newts. It forms part of a collection of standing advice for protected species. It:

  • avoids the need for you to consult on the impacts of planning applications on GCN in most cases
  • can help 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 great crested newts are protected

Some species including GCN are designated and protected as European protected species (EPS). EPS receive protection under The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. It’s an offence to deliberately capture, injure or kill or deliberately disturb them. Both you and the developer must comply with the legal protections of GCN.

You should consider if the developer has taken appropriate measures to avoid, mitigate and, as a last resort, compensated for any negative effects on GCN. They may need to apply for a mitigation licence.

Further guidance on survey, mitigation, management and monitoring for GCN can be found in the GCN Conservation Handbook and GCN mitigation guidelines.

District level licensing (DLL) schemes for GCN

DLL schemes are mitigation licensing schemes for GCN granted at a local authority level or wider scale across parts of England.

Where a DLL scheme is in place, developers can choose to make a financial contribution towards the scheme instead of applying for a separate licence or carrying out detailed surveys of their own. For more information see the GCN district level licensing schemes publication.

A DLL scheme can help you decide on a planning application in the area that a scheme is operating.

A GCN DLL offers:

  • a map which shows the most important and potentially irreplaceable areas to conserve GCN
  • an assessment of development at local authority level or greater scale
  • a conservation strategy to consider the effects of development and improve the conservation status of GCN in the area
  • targets areas for habitat improvement
  • compensatory habitat provisions: replacement of ponds occupied by GCN which may be lost to development at a ratio of at least 4 to 1 and replacement of any pond which may be lost at a ratio of at least 1 to 1
  • a developer contributions scheme to help carry out the conservation strategy

If a developer chooses to rely on DLL to meet their legal requirements with GCN, they need to sign an agreement with Natural England or another DLL scheme operator. This means, subject to planning permission being granted, developers include their development in the DLL scheme. They can rely on this to show that they will meet their obligations in relation to GCN.

When to ask for a survey

If the developer has chosen not to rely on a DLL where one exists, you should ask them for a survey if:

  • distribution and historical records suggest there may be GCN
  • there’s a suitable water body such as a pond or ditch within 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 within 500 metres of suitable aquatic habitats (static or slow moving water body)

Survey work can include:

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

Survey data provided by the developer should be less than 2- 4 survey seasons old, depending on the extent of the effects. They 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.

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 for harm on 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 and size of GCN population
  • the nature of the population - for example, if the site includes a breeding area 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.

Impact Development on GCN
Normally high impact breeding ponds and terrestrial habitat within 50 metres of the development
isolation caused by fragmentation of the habitat
Normally high to medium impact other ponds occupied by GCN and terrestrial habitat 50 metres to 250 metres 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 250 metres from breeding ponds

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

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

  • public access to the pond
  • pollution
  • lack of access for maintenance and management
  • fragmentation and lack of connectivity with suitable habitat nearby

GCN can also be adversely affected by fish in the pond and nearby transport routes.

If the developer cannot avoid destroying a GCN breeding pond they should:

  • replace it with 2 new ponds on the development site
  • make sure the new ponds are ready for GCN before they destroy the old pond - this is likely to take at least one full growing season
  • safeguard or replace other ponds which may be used by GCN within 500 metres - this will require a mitigation licence

Further information on agreeing avoidance, mitigation or compensation measures.

Site management and monitoring

For sites not in DLL, you may need to consider the likely requirements to maintain and monitor the habitat and GCN populations. These measures are likely to be needed by protected species licences.

See information on monitoring plans. This can 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.

Published 28 March 2015
Last updated 12 November 2020 + show all updates
  1. Biennial review of guidance to meet the regulations.

  2. Removed mention of companies in 'Environmental DNA surveys' sub-section. Natural England doesn't endorse or maintain a list of suppliers.

  3. Minor changes: Presence/absence surveys in ponds Changed 3 visits to 2 visits in 3rd bulletpoint. Population size class assessments in ponds * visit between mid-March and mid-June with at least 3 visits in mid-April and 3 in mid-May Changed to: * visit between mid-March and mid-June with at least 3 visits in peak season (usually mid-April to mid-May)

  4. Correction to 2nd bullet point under Decide if you need to survey. Changed to: there's a pond within 500 metres of the development, even if it only holds water for some of the year

  5. First published.