The scheme is intended to help developers avoid costly delays by using conservation payments to create new habitats for the protected species.
Great crested newts have seen dramatic declines in their populations over the last 60 years despite being legally protected. The new ‘District Level Licensing’ scheme is designed to give better protection to the orange-bellied amphibians by using payments from developers to create new ponds in locations that will benefit the species. This strategic approach to licensing is now available and being used by developers across 157 local authorities.
Natural England said that the scheme will also benefit local people and authorities by avoiding costly delays for developers, helping to ensure homes are built and local authorities can deliver their plans.
The scheme will create a network of ponds across Yorkshire, helping to join up sometimes isolated populations.
‘District Level Licensing for Newts’ has launched across seven local authority areas in North East Yorkshire: Ryedale, Scarborough, York, Selby, North York Moors National Park, Hambleton, and Redcar and Cleveland. This means the new scheme is now available across Yorkshire and the whole of North East England.
Craig Thomas, Natural England’s district level licensing customer relations adviser, said: “District level licensing is transforming a difficult planning process into one that is a real conservation success story.
“The rollout of this scheme in Yorkshire represents a win-win for both local developers and the future of this iconic species. It’s a fantastic example of working in partnership at a landscape scale and bringing improved conservation outcomes for our largest native newt - helping local populations to expand and link up across North East England. What’s more, the approach can also help meet our ambitions to build back greener.”
Alongside local authorities, Natural England is working in partnership with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Wildscapes and Tees Valley Wildlife Trust to create and maintain habitat for great crested newt that would otherwise be threatened by development.
Previously, developers had to apply for a mitigation licence before building on or around the places where newts live. Seasonal restrictions on work in places where the newts were present led to delays and uncertainty over the costs and scheduling of planned development. This new ‘landscape-scale’ licensing approach is seen as better for both developers and newts as it provides a faster and more straightforward process to licensing while helping to provide more homes for newts.
Thirty-seven new ponds have already been created or restored for great crested newts, and together with partners Natural England are already working on over a hundred more new ponds across Yorkshire. This new habitat will be monitored and looked after by local partners for 25 years – all funded by the initial payment.
Jeremy Garside, chief executive of Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, said: “We’re really pleased to be working with Natural England on this scheme. Our Wildlife Trust is already working with farmers and landowners who are committed to restoring habitats for other protected species such as water vole and barn owl; it is great to have this new opportunity to create newt ponds as well.
“Having witnessed a steady loss of ponds from the landscape over past decades, it is heartening to see this trend reversed and while ponds will be carefully designed to benefit great crested newts, we know that they will be of huge benefit to a much wider range of threatened wildlife species and will help to build networks of habitats which aid nature’s recovery.”
Individual site-by-site mitigation licences are still available; since 17 February 2020, there is now a charge for these licences. In areas where there is a District Level Licensing scheme, joining a scheme will be the quickest option to enable development that affects great crested newts.