Published: Thursday, 27th August 2015
An innovative approach to protecting one of England’s most threatened amphibians could enhance their population and reduce delays to major building projects.
That’s in prospect now Natural England (NE) is due to launch a pilot project designed to make the licensing system for great crested newts easier.
The aim is to take a more strategic approach to the conservation of newts, ensuring that resources are focused on newt populations and habitat that will bring the greatest benefits to the species. At the same time it will make the licensing process much more straightforward for developers on sites where newts are found.
Under the current system, developers on sites with great crested newts are required to carry out a survey and assessment before applying to NE for a licence to move the animals before building work can begin. This process is costly and time-consuming and, because it is restricted to the active season of great crested newts, presents a real risk of development delay.
The new approach, to be trialled by NE and Woking Borough Council in Surrey this autumn, will involve survey work to establish the size, location and connectivity of local great crested newt populations.
Testing for traces of newt DNA in pond water has already been undertaken across Woking to establish where these amphibians live. This is a new survey technique.
This information will be used to produce a local conservation plan for the newts which will identify areas where development will have the least impact and specify where new habitat will be created to ensure a healthy overall population.
The council will put in place the new habitat, so that when development results in habitat loss, the habitat gains will already be in place to compensate. Where there are sites of high conservation value for great crested newts it is likely that developers will seek to avoid those areas.
NE insists that this system ought to improve the habitat legacy for great crested newts as well as reducing delays and costs to developers.