Great crested newt District Licensing – how does it work?
The great crested newt District Licensing scheme was developed by a consortium of organisations including NatureSpace and national conservation NGOs Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and Freshwater Habitats Trust. The overall aim of the scheme is to enhance great crested newt conservation in an area under development pressure, including housing and transport.
From February 2018, developers in the South Midlands can speed up the planning application process and save money by choosing to pay into a great crested newt compensation fund, rather than going through the normal lengthy processes of newt surveys and mitigation. This is part of a new Government-approved approach to the conservation of great crested newts called “District Licensing” (see NatureSpace and Natural England websites for further information on district licensing).
How does this benefit newts?
The Newt Conservation Partnership is a community benefit society whose sole purpose is creating and managing high quality habitat for great crested newt, using funds from developers.
This approach means we can carefully choose our compensation sites so that ponds have a clean water source, a high chance of population viability and are within range of an existing newt population to maximise the chance of natural colonisation. This will result in better conservation outcomes, as newt populations can remain healthy and expand across the countryside, rather than trying to retain populations with poor long term viability in urbanised, heavily managed environments.
The Newt Partnership work programme is described in the Great Crested Newt District Licence Implementation Strategy, which can be read here. We follow pond creation best practice principles as set out in the Million Ponds Project’s Pond Creation Toolkit and the Amphibian Habitat Management Handbook.
As part of the scheme, management agreements are secured with landowners and land managers to fund and maintain newt habitat for at least the next 25 years. An extensive monitoring programme was set up and is also financed by developer funds, so that we can assess the effectiveness of the scheme for great crested newt conservation, at both the site and landscape scales. We are reporting the results of monitoring activities to Natural England annually.
Our achievements so far
Thanks to a loan from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, in our first year of operation, we created 39 clean water ponds at 12 compensation sites throughout the great crested newt District Licensing Scheme area. As only one occupied pond is due to be lost to development, we are well ahead of our aim to create eight ponds for each occupied pond lost.
As our second year of operation draws to a close, we will have created 57 ponds and restored eight ponds in total across 26 sites. By creating networks of clean water ponds away from existing breeding ponds, but within dispersal distance, we have expanded the amount of high quality terrestrial habitat directly available to great crested newts (i.e. with 250 m of a breeding pond) by at least 298 hectares.
These ponds will provide a habitat for great crested newt, in advance of development impacts, and we know from previous work by the Freshwater Habitats Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation that these habitats will also very quickly provide a haven for many other plants and animals, both aquatic and terrestrial.
What kind of compensation sites are we looking for?
Sites which already have newts nearby (within 1km) are best, but good sites without newts could be used to receive animals moved from development areas – although this is not the focus of the scheme. New ponds created at compensation sites need to have an unpolluted water source, be likely to remain fish-free in the long term, and we need enough space to create at least two newt breeding ponds.
We can also restore ‘lost’ ponds or manage existing ponds to make them better for newts, for example by managing trees, removing fish or re-profiling margins.
The habitat around the ponds needs to be suitable for newts because they spend most of their time on land and only return to ponds for breeding in the spring. Good newt terrestrial habitat includes woodland, scrub or rough grassland. A good hedge network is also important to allow newts to move about the landscape. The Newt Partnership can fund the creation of these habitats and their management in the long term as part of the scheme.
The scheme’s area currently covers Aylesbury Vale, Bedford Borough, Bedford Central, Milton Keynes, Oxford City, South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils. The scheme has also recently expanded to include nine new areas, this includes Cherwell, Cotswold, Cheltenham, Forest of Dean, Gloucester, South Northamptonshire, Tewksbury, Stroud and West Oxfordshire.
The Newt Conservation Partnership team
We are a community benefit society with a board of Directors. Currently the Directors are:
- Dr Jeremy Biggs (Director of Freshwater Habitats Trust)
- Dr Tony Gent (Director of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation)
- Professor Richard Griffiths (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent)
Our core team consists of:
- Dr Pascale Nicolet, CEO
- Natasha Challoner, Finance Manager
- Holly Williams, Project Administrator
Our delivery team includes:
- Dr Andrew Buxton, Project Officer
- Pete Case, Project Officer
- Dr Pascale Nicolet, Technical Supervisor and Project Officer
- Specialist technical input from Dorothy Driver, Dr Naomi Ewald, Jim Foster and Penny Williams
Note our staff are currently seconded from either Amphibian and Reptile Conservation or Freshwater Habitats Trust.
For landowners and land managers: If you would like further information or to propose or discuss a potential compensation site for pond creation or management, please see our factsheet or contact us using the form below.
For developers: If you are a developer and would like to have further information about the District Licensing scheme, then please visit the NatureSpace website