Hidden away in the detail of the Housing White Paper was an announcement about Great Crested Newts. Namely, that following a successful pilot scheme in Woking, a new streamlined approach to conserving them is to be rolled out nationwide.
As someone who only considers newt- related issues when they appear somewhere inconvenient (usually on a client's site), I had not paid much attention to the pilot scheme whilst it was running. This now feels like an oversight - so I have done some digging.
At the bottom of this post is a link to Woking Council's website. On the site (after a minimal amount of internet sleuthing) you can find the details of the pilot scheme which is about to go nationwide.
From the initial pilot documentation, it looks as if the new scheme will run broadly along the following lines:
- Natural England surveys the local area to establish the size, location and connectivity of local Great Crested Newt populations and produces a conservation strategy for the area.
- The Council prepares detailed management strategies, including sites for new compensatory habitats, which it implements and maintains.
- The Council and Natural England divide the area into a series of 'zones' depending on the distribution of newts found within them. The zones are colour coded green to red depending on the impact that development in those zones is likely to have on Great Crested Newt populations.
- Development schemes are assessed against these zones and the background studies already carried out. For developments in the lower risk areas, this will significantly reduce the number of specific newt surveys that are required.
- Compensatory habitat is funded, where necessary, through s.106 contributions on a tariff-style basis - with the amount dependent on which 'zone' the development is located. For many developments this will completely replace obligations for the developer to provide compensatory habitat of their own.
- The LPA issues a permit to carry out works affecting the newts, and authorises translocation if necessary. There is no need to obtain a separate licence from Natural England.
It seems a much more sensible approach than the current system. Hopefully it will be as successful in the rest of the Country as it has been in Woking!
Following on from the Natural Woking strategy and supporting information, the Council is working with Natural England to develop and trial a new approach to support great crested newts (GCN) in the Borough, a European protected species whose numbers have declined nationally in recent decades. More details about this pilot project, including how developers can get involved, can be found in Appendix 10 of the Natural Woking Supporting Information. The GCN pilot is the first of a series of steps the Council will take towards supporting specific species in the Borough, to support the UK's achievement of 'favourable conservation status' for its protected habitats and species. The phrase comes from the Habitats Directive which required member countries like the UK to maintain or restore, at favourable conservation status, particular natural habitats and species of wild flora and fauna.