Jen Almond, Natural England’s District Level Licensing Programme Manager, on the progress to date of Natural England’s newt (GCN) licensing.
I am delighted that, over the last three years, Natural England and our expert partners have delivered hundreds of homes for great crested newts via our innovative, strategic approach to licensing for this iconic species.
Great crested newts (GCN) have seen dramatic declines in their populations over the last 60 years despite being protected under UK and EU law. As a protected species, it is an offence to disturb them so landowners or housing developers must apply for a licence before undertaking any building work on or around the places that they live.
District Level Licensing (DLL) better conserves this orange-bellied amphibian by offering a new licensing option for developers. Developers make a conservation payment which is used to create or restore new ponds in locations that will benefit the great crested newt, which are then secured, monitored and managed for 25 years. It’s an easy and straightforward option and is helping to provide more homes for people and newts alike.
Ponds represent very rich wildlife habitats and collectively support at least two thirds of Britain’s freshwater plant and animal species, making them major biodiversity hotspots.
Working with our partners including local authorities, Wildlife Trusts and Farming & Wildlife Advisory Groups (FWAGs), Natural England has created or restored 386 ponds across England for our existing or planned local DLL schemes last autumn/winter, and over 500 ponds in total.
Collectively, this is a fantastic number of new homes for great crested newts. It’s all happening because DLL is being successfully adopted by developers looking to avoid costly delays and licensing uncertainty, helping to ensure homes are built and local authorities can deliver on their plans. Schemes are now available across 69 local authorities across Woking, South Midlands, Kent, Cheshire, Essex, Wiltshire, Somerset, Greater Manchester, Shropshire and parts of Gloucestershire.
The scheme relies on a number of successful partnerships. In Kent for example, Natural England works with Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership (KSCP), one of six Countryside Management Partnerships in the county, whom have to date restored or created 106 ponds.
Inspecting a recently restored pond recently, local KSCP Partnership Officer Sarah Harrington-James expressed her hope that this would be the first of many that will harbour GCNs in the future.
“It was very exciting to find GCN eggs (in this pond) and it makes my job so worthwhile. This pond had been unmanaged for many years and was no longer functioning as an amphibian breeding pond, so it has been a pleasure to follow the whole transformation process from start to finish.”
DLL started in Woking, where the Borough Council is now in the fourth year of its pilot project with Natural England. The Borough Council and independent environmental consultants ADAS have enhanced and created 10 ponds at Westfield Common, south of Woking. Woking Borough Council’s Portfolio Holder for Environment & Sustainability, Cllr Kevin Davis, told us he was “thrilled” to be delivering an innovative conservation approach in the Borough.
“The improvements we are delivering together are restoring and better connecting the newts’ habitat, making their local population resilient and their future ever more assured,” he said.
The community, local non-government organisations and conservation volunteers have been key, said ADAS Ecologist James Simpson.
“Delivering a successful DLL scheme has been a combination of working with the local community, supported by a proactive council, and bringing residents, groups and contractors together in the delivery – it has been a joy to work on.”
Others are supporting the effort too. Across the South Midlands for instance, the NatureSpace Partnership, operating a scheme on behalf of a consortium of local authorities, has created and restored a total of 68 ponds so far.
Natural England is continuing the expansion of DLL to ensure availability across 150 local authorities as part of a programme funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). If you would like more details about the scheme, or are a landowner interested in having a new or newly restored pond on your land, please contact us here. Matt Lawton, Principal Ecologist at CES Ecology sums it up:
“Several hundred years ago Cheshire’s farmers used the clay on their land to build their farmhouses and buildings; the resulting clay pits created one of the highest pond densities of any county. Now, Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s work and Natural England’s District Level Licensing scheme presents a modern-day opportunity for local landowners to replace and restore the ponds across our characterful Cheshire landscape, support their farm business and help conserve great crested newts and other pond wildlife.”