There are a number of different types of currently accepted GCN surveys that can be used to inform planning applications and support Natural England or Natural Resources Wales GCN mitigation licence applications. These surveys include GCN presence or likely absence surveys, GCN Environmental DNA testing, GCN population size class surveys and albeit used very rarely terrestrial surveys for GCN.
The level of survey effort required is usually dependent on the presence of ponds and/or other waterbodies located at or within 500 metres of the proposed development site and the scale and likely impact of the proposed development. These surveys are all costly and time constrained and if not properly considered are likely to result in disruption to the planning and/or development schedule.
The great crested newt (GCN) is a strictly protected species and a consideration in the planning process. The presence of this iconic species at or neighboring a site will pose a significant constraint to any proposed development project. GCN like other wildlife, have suffered from ongoing population decline across the UK due to changes in land use such as commercial and residential development, agricultural intensification, the loss of ponds and loss or damage to suitable terrestrial habitat which has led to a major reduction in breeding, shelter and foraging opportunities for this charismatic species.
Adult GCN spend only part of the year at their ancestral breeding sites usually arriving at a pond in mid-March where they remain in their aquatic phase until mid-June (feeding, courting, mating and laying eggs) at which point they leave the pond and revert to their terrestrial phase. During their terrestrial phase GCN will shelter under cover during the day only emerging after dark to hunt for earthworms and other invertebrates. In late October GCN seek out suitable hibernation sites and become inactive until they re-emerge (as the weather warms in early spring the following year) and start to make their way back to their breeding pond. The young or sub adult GCN resulting from the seasons eggs usually leave the pond in August and September (albeit some may overwinter in the pond). Sub-adult GCN spend the first 3 years of living terrestrially and do not return to breed until they are 3 years old.
Great Crested Newt are protected under both European and British law. European protected species are listed on Schedule 2 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations, 2017. Those species listed on Schedule 2 are protected under Regulation 41, which refers to the protection of wild animals of a European Protected Species (EPS).
Under the Habitats Regulations, it is an offence if you:
- Deliberately capture, injure or kill any wild animal of an EPS
- Deliberately disturb wild animals of any such species
- Deliberately take or destroy the eggs of such an animal, or
- Damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal
British protected species of animal are listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended). Those species listed on Schedule 5 are protected under Part 1, Section 9, which refers to the protection of certain wild animals.
Under Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended) if any person –
- intentionally kills, injures or takes any wild animal included in Schedule 5;
- has in his possession or control any live or dead wild animal included in Schedule 5 or any part of, or anything derived from such an animal;
- intentionally or recklessly damages or destroys, or obstructs access to, any structure or place which any wild animal included in Schedule 5 uses for shelter or protection;
- disturbs any such animal included in Schedule 5 while it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for that purpose;
- sells, offers or exposes for sale, or has in his possession or transports for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild animal included in Schedule 5, or any part of, or anything derived from, such an animal; or,
- publishes or causes to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that he buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell, any of those things, he shall be guilty of an offence.
GCN and Development
It is important to note that in April 2019 GCN District Level Licensing was made available by Natural England for developers in respect of development projects in the Cheshire East Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council areas. This approach will roll out to a further 150 Council areas during 2019 – 2020 and by 2020-2021 the GCN District Level Licensing approach will be available across the whole of England.
The District Level Licensing approach has a number of major benefits these include:
- No site specific GCN survey effort is required to inform GCN District Level Licensing.
- A request can be submitted to Natural England to consider a proposed development site for inclusion under GCN District Level Licensing at a very early stage in the planning process (prior to any planning application being submitted).
- Confirmation from Natural England that a proposed development can proceed under the GCN District Level Licensing approach will enable the Local Planning Authority to determine any planning application submitted that has implications for GCN.
- There is no requirement for the developer to implement onsite GCN mitigation measures i.e. there is no requirement to install newt fencing and no requirement to implement/deliver a 30, 60 or 90 day GCN trapping program.
- There is no requirement for the developer to provide onsite habitat compensation areas or features specifically for GCN.
- Natural England will detail, in their request response, the monetary sum that needs to be paid by the developer in order to appropriately compensate the impacted GCN population via offsite habitat provision. This sum will be arrived at using a standard metric that will be applied in a uniform manner to all proposed developments.
- The offsite habitat compensation will be provided by the relevant habitat delivery agency (appointed by Natural England).
- The developer will pay the monetary sum, detailed in the request response, directly to Natural England following the grant of planning permission and prior to the commencement of the proposed development works.
In Wales and in England (where the GCN District Level Licensing approach has not yet been rolled out) if ponds or waterbodies with the potential to support GCN are found to be located at and/or within 500 metres of a proposed development site a GCN survey will need to be undertaken in order to inform the development proposals and enable the planning application to be determined.
If the survey confirms the presence of GCN at or neighbouring the site a Natural England or Natural Resources Wales GCN mitigation licence may need to be obtained to allow the proposed development to proceed lawfully. It should be noted that full planning permission will need to be obtained by the developer prior to the submission or determination of a GCN mitigation licence application.
CES have been closely involved with the delivery and roll out of GCN District Level Licensing and are in a unique position to advise developers on the appropriate use and benefits of this approach. CES also has a wealth of experience delivering all types of GCN surveys, preparing GCN reports to support planning applications, submitting GCN mitigation licence applications and the delivery of onsite GCN mitigation and habitat compensation measures.
CES can provide expert professional advice on how best to address any potential GCN issues and survey requirements relating to your development project and if required will prepare and submit, on your behalf, a GCN District Level Licensing application to Natural England for assessment. Please contact us to discuss your specific development project or to arrange a free, no obligation, onsite meeting with our GCN specialists.