Innovative Scheme to conserve newts and promote sustainable development is rolled out across England

Great crested newt

Great crested newt

Natural England has announced today (25 February) that an innovative and strategic approach to great crested newt licensing is being rolled out across 37 local authorities in Essex, Wiltshire, Shropshire, Greater Manchester, South Midlands, and parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Great crested newts have seen dramatic declines in their populations over the last 60 years despite being protected under UK and EU law, with approximately 50% of ponds in the UK lost in the 20th Century. It is an offence to disturb the species, and landowners or housing developers must apply for a licence before undertaking any building work on or around its pond habitat.

The ‘District Level Licensing’ scheme better protects this iconic, orange-bellied amphibian by working at a landscape rather than at site-by-site scale and using conservation payments from developers to create new habitats in locations that will benefit the species.

The scheme also benefits local people and authorities by avoiding costly delays for developers, helping to ensure homes are built and local authorities can deliver their plans.

The ‘District Level Licensing’ (DLL) scheme is currently already available across 32 local authorities in Woking, South Midlands, Kent and Cheshire. Today’s move means that developers and consultants will be able to access the scheme across a further 37 local authorities, more than doubling its availability.

Jen Almond, Natural England’s District Level Licensing Programme Manager said:

I am delighted to announce the further expansion of our scheme. District Level Licensing is transforming an area of regulation from one that has been problematic for great crested newts and people into a real conservation success story.

The scheme is already being successfully being adopted by developers across the country. Barratt Homes’ Chilmington Green Development was the very first development in Kent to join the scheme there. Once complete, Chilmington Green will include over 5,500 new homes, four primary schools, land for community and leisure use, open green space, and local recycling facilities, as well as six new ponds placed in the best locations for great crested newts.

Paul Kitchingman, Managing Director, Barratt Kent said:

This innovative scheme could provide the house-building industry with an alternative offer that can both enhance ecological habitat and species protection, whilst enabling developers to rise to the government’s challenge of delivering new homes at pace.

Protecting nature and the local environment is a key priority for us and we are excited to be working at the forefront of such a pioneering scheme with Natural England.

The traditional licensing system is focused on management to prevent harm on individual development sites rather than addressing the wider health of populations of great crested newts.

Natural England’s district level licensing approach seeks to redress this balance, encouraging targeted efforts towards placing newt habitat in areas where surveys show it will most effectively boost populations of the species at a landscape scale, in line with the principles of the Lawton Review (2010).

Developers make a conservation payment to join their local scheme which covers the creation or restoration of ponds. New habitat created will be maintained and monitored for 25 years – all funded by the initial payment. This new, award-winning evidence-based approach to licensing is about streamlining regulation to better protect newts into the future.

Natural England is working to make district level licensing available across 150 local authorities, as part of a programme funded by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). We can’t do it alone and local partnership working – with local authorities, the Wildlife Trusts, Farming & Wildlife Advisory Groups and more – has been key to our success so far.

About Natural England

Natural England is the government’s advisor on the natural environment. Established in 2006, our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.

About great crested newts and District Level Licensing

  • Great crested newts are a European Protected Species. Under the Habitats Directive, it is an offence to capture, kill, injure or disturb them or their habitat without a licence from Natural England. Although rare across Europe, they can be locally abundant in England.

  • Over 50% of the UK’s ponds were lost during the 20th Century, whilst the majority of our remaining ponds are in a poor state. Man of these ponds are man-made and began to disappear following the move away from mixed farming in the early 1960s. Pond loss has been the main factor in the decline of great crested newts.

  • Previously, licences were only granted on a site-by-site basis. This missed opportunities to manage populations of great crested newts on a landscape scale and resulted in habitat for newts being squeezed around development, sometimes in disconnected patches.

  • Under the DLL approach the first step is the development of a licensing strategy for GCN in the area which identifies areas where development should be avoided, migration strategies such as green corridors, and areas for new and restored compensatory habitat.

  • DLL shifts investment from downstream survey, trapping and translocation to upstream strategic habitat provision at a landscape scale, all paid for by developers and protected, maintained and monitored for 25 years.

  • This new licensing approach to authorising development affected by great crested newts is part of a larger programme to reform protected species licensing by focusing conservation effort where it will create maximum benefit. It is also the forerunner to biodiversity net gain.

  • Webinars on the DLL scheme by Natural England and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) are now available on YouTube:

  • – provides an overview of the NE-led scheme

    – our evidence base.

  • – how we use) the evidence to create models.

  • – good context for the habitat supply part of the scheme.

  • – this will be the most useful to our customers who are interested in applying

  • As part of the District Level Licensing project, Natural England has completed the largest ever survey of its type for great rested newts across England, funded by the MHCLG. The date is open and has been published to ArcGIS Online and is available at Data.gov.uk.

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