The District Licensing Scheme – what it means for development

GCN – Does it always mean lengthy delays to a development?

The discovery, or even just the potential presence, of great crested newt (GCN) on a site can mean lengthy delays to a developer. 

Prior to 2018, seasonally restricted surveys had to be carried out before a planning application could even be submitted, followed by European Protected Species (EPS) Licence applications once planning permission had been obtained. Metres of plastic fencing, as pictured below, would be erected around and across the site so that weeks of trapping and translocation of GCN could be carried out, to ensure the safety of the animals present. All of this time-consuming, costly and resource-heavy work can put a project on hold for months. 

In 2018, the first NatureSpace District Level Licensing Scheme was launched (DLL), initially in the counties of Cheshire and Kent, but since then it has successfully been being rolled out throughout many counties and districts across England.

A different approach

Previously, European Protected Species (EPS) licences were granted to protect GCN at the site level, endeavouring to preserve each and every population of GCN, indeed each and every newt, wherever they are discovered at a site. 

The DLL takes a different approach to protecting this iconic species: the aim is conservation on a landscape-scale which means preservation and improvement of the habitat, as well as creation of new habitat in optimal condition for newts, and therefore conservation of GCN populations at a district level. 

Put simply, it doesn’t matter if a population of GCN is impacted by a development, so long as elsewhere in the district, habitat is being created or enhanced; a loss in one area is compensated by a greater gain somewhere else. 

This is an important change in the principle of GCN conservation as it recognises the importance of connectivity to other ponds and terrestrial habitats in the local area, which GCN need to thrive as part of a meta-population. 

In the past, an onsite pond may have been retained yet provide poor connectivity to offsite habitat to access other breeding ponds where populations might mix: The onsite GCN population would have therefore been vulnerable to local extinction events.

Great Crested Newt
GCN in gloved hands Severalls

The Process

Following the decision to develop a site, a qualified ecologist is employed to carry out a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal of the site to highlight ecological constraints and opportunities. If this includes the potential for GCN to be present within the site, then other preliminary assessments are required such as a Habitat Suitability Index calculation of onsite and offsite ponds, or to take samples for environmental DNA testing from ponds onsite or in the vicinity. 

If the DLL Scheme is available in the district and the developer chooses to take advantage of this streamlined licensing process, then even these preliminary assessments are not always necessary. The DLL can be entered into during the planning process or once planning has been approved. 

Application to join the DLL scheme can be made to the relevant authority which could be Natural England, the local council or an independent body such as NatureSpace depending on where the site is located. The application requires only the number of ponds within the site boundary and those found within 500m of the site for the NatureSpace DLL and 250m for Natural England DLL, and whether the site lies in a red, amber or green zone designated for the likelihood of GCN presence. No further information regarding GCN at the site is required.

Severalls pond

Calculation, compensation and costs 

As part of the application to join a DLL scheme, a calculation is made as to how many ponds have to be created to compensate the losses caused by the development. This calculation is based on the location of the site, how many ponds are onsite or within the 500m buffer, and whether any survey work has indicated the presence of GCN. 

If the site is particularly favourable for GCN, such as if the site is situated in a red designated zone for GCN, or there is a known breeding pond onsite, then it may be necessary to do some further survey work. The developer then pays for compensation ponds to be created elsewhere. The payment not only includes the creation of the pond, but also its upkeep and monitoring for 25 years. 

The development is then free to go ahead usually without any need for onsite mitigation. Even if GCN are found onsite during the works, the DLL covers the license holder, subject to weather conditions, to move them and place them somewhere out of danger without having to stop work. In addition, there is no time restriction on the application, the DLL process can be carried out at any time of year as long as there is no possibility of hibernating GCN being impacted by the works. 

Even if the preliminary survey indicates that GCN are unlikely to be present onsite as there are no breeding ponds present or records are further away from site, it may be advantageous for a developer to join the DLL scheme as the unexpected discovery of a GCN onsite could mean lengthy delays. 

If the site is registered under the DLL scheme, then such a discovery will cause no delays to the development. Joining the DLL scheme can be costly, however, so it is advantageous to involve an ecologist early on in the project to help with the assessment of whether a DLL would be beneficial.  

new ponds Severalls

How Wildwood can help

Wildwood Ecology have a team of licensed and experienced ecologists who are able to offer the full service from initial preliminary site surveys and desk studies, right through to gaining acceptance on the relevant DLL scheme.

We assist you through the whole process; from advice on whether your site qualifies to join a scheme, carry out the necessary calculations on compensation requirements, apply for the site to join the DLL scheme and fulfil any required work supervision or monitoring.  

Get in touch if you would like to discuss your project and how the DLL scheme may help you.

David Withington, Consultant Ecologist