New licensing scheme that protects newts rolled out in Cambridgeshire

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A district-level licensing scheme making it easier for developers to protect threatened populations of great crested newts is being rolled out in Cambridgeshire.

Natural England’s district level licensing initiative helps put an end to the costly delays faced by developers building in areas where the iconic species has been spotted.

In the past, landowners or housing developers in Cambridgeshire had to apply for a licence before building on or around the newts’ pond habitat 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.

Now, licensing is applied at a district level, where the developers need only make a single application and payment to join their local, area-wide scheme.

A single one-off payment covers the creation, restoration, maintenance and monitoring of ponds around the area for 25 years, in locations specially chosen to provide the best habitat and most benefit.

Bridget Smith, leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, commented on the announcement: “Protecting nature needs to be at the heart of the UK’s and Cambridgeshire’s recovery and growth.

“We need to find ways for both nature and business to thrive.

“District level licensing is a welcome, clear and straightforward approach that enhances habitats for this iconic species without needless delays to well-planned, appropriate development.”

Cambridgeshire is the latest area to launch a district level licensing scheme, joining 70 others including Kent, Cheshire, Essex, Shropshire and Greater Manchester.

Natural England is working to expand the initiative to 150 local authorities across the country, as part of a programme funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

This evidence-based approach to licensing ‘helps streamline regulation to better protect newts for the future, while enabling developers and local authorities to deliver on their investment and home-building plans.’

Great crested newts are the UK’s largest species of newt but their population has seen dramatic declines over the last 60 years.

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.

Despite being protected under UK and EU law, the species suffered the loss of around 50% of its pond habitat in the 20th century.

District level licensing aims to halt that decline and enable developers to more easily contribute to ‘Build Back Greener’ aspect of the government’s economic recovery strategy.

Aidan Lonergan, West Anglia area manager at Natural England, commented: “This scheme is one example of how a fresh look at the relationship between species needs and the growth agenda might achieve more harmony.

“It is one that illustrates our ambition to find ways to work with development – at a landscape-scale – in order to restore nature and not merely slow its rate of loss, as well as ensure new developments are built greener from the outset.”

Martin Baker, conservation manager at the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, added: “I welcome the district licencing scheme which should produce better outcomes for great crested newts in the county, with more ponds created in the right places, allowing local newt populations to grow and recover.

“Developer financial contributions will become more certain and will be made knowing that they will better contribute towards the long-term conservation of our most impressive species of newt.”

Find out more about district level licensing here