Natural England Licencing Changes

Recent times have seen some significant changes in the approach to licencing development works for European Protected Species (EPS), such as great crested newts, bats and dormice.

After a period of consultation Defra have now ratified Natural England’s new set of Wildlife Licencing Policies. These policies are aimed at providing greater flexibility in the design of mitigation for EPS, with an emphasis on achieving benefits for wildlife while at the same time reducing some of the constraints often associated with these species. The new policies are likely to include a reduction in the need for repeating survey work where impacts can be confidently predicted, and less reliance on costly exclusion exercises, whilst allowing developer contributions to be the means by which impacts upon EPS are off-set.

A recent pilot study for great crested newts in Woking structured around the new policies provided a case study of how mitigation may be implemented for future development. This opt-in approach may work, for example, through a contribution to the management of an existing key newt area in the district, thereby avoiding any requirement to trap and clear newts or provide habitat for them on site. An important change is that this mitigation would be managed by the Local Authority under a Natural England ‘organisational licence’. The pilot scheme is already being expanded to other authorities, with a view to it being adopted across the majority of England.

It is clear that a careful case-by-case investigation of the benefits of ‘opting in’ to such an approach is required, as in some cases it is likely that the traditional approach to on-site mitigation may continue to be appropriate, and more cost-effective.

In line with the new policies’ emphasis on added flexibility, Natural England have also recently issued conditions to consented EPS licences that are aimed at reducing the number of licence amendments. These permit added flexibility in the schedule of work for any particular year and in the number of newts that may be captured.

FPCR are already using some of the policies on a number of EPS licence applications and shall continue to engage with Natural England to keep abreast of the changes and ensure we are able to provide clear and relevant advice. Further updates will be provided to our clients, but if you have any queries regarding the implication of protected species for your development project then please phone the office and our ecology team would be happy to advise.