Natural England is revolutionising the way it issues licences to provide significant benefits for both wildlife and licence applicants.
Four innovative new policies have been created that will smooth the process for businesses who require a wildlife licence for their project, saving them time and money. In return, they will fund an unprecedented level of investment in the creation and enhancement of wildlife habitat. This will provide greater security for populations of protected species such as water voles, dormice, bats and great crested newts.
The need for change
Animals such as these, whose future is under threat, receive legal protection to ensure their survival. The current licensing approach sometimes focuses on individual species at locations where there is little chance of them thriving in the long term. There is a real risk of applicants spending considerable time and money surveying and moving small numbers of animals. This causes frustration for the applicants with little or no benefit for the conservation status of the animals.
Together, the 4 new policies will encourage planners and conservationists to think on a wider, landscape scale channelling investment into bigger, better, more joined-up habitat for wildlife. In short, the changes will mean the application of the law is focused on the measures which are most effective at protecting populations.
The policies will lead to:
greater flexibility in relocating European Protected Species from development sites
creation of new habitats away from development sites where it is environmentally most beneficial
wildlife benefiting from habitat that is found on development sites, such as where quarrying has created ponds suitable for great crested newts
flexibility in exceptional circumstances to reduce surveying where the impacts of development can be predicted confidently
How might the changes work?
Until now, if someone wanted to build on a site where great crested newts were present, in order to protect the newts they might need to spend money moving them or building fences to exclude them from the site. The first new policy will remove the need for this relocation or exclusion, providing there is a programme in place to enhance or create sufficient habitat. This works in tandem with the second policy, which enables the creation of new habitat away from the development site if this will provide greater benefit. Together these two policies will result in money being spent on more, bigger, better, joined-up habitat (as recommended in The Lawton Report 2010 (PDF)), ensuring a better future for the protected species in the long term.
The third policy will allow protected wildlife access to brownfield and mineral working sites, such as quarries, provided there is a management plan in place. This habitat is often very attractive to wildlife and provides a benefit which can last for many years. Until now policy has incentivised licence applicants to keep wildlife out, by installing fencing or by destroying the habitat. The new policy guarantees that as long as an overall benefit to protected species is assured developers will not be prevented from using this type of land.
Surveys can cause expensive delays for licence applicants if protected species are discovered unexpectedly. The fourth and final policy offers greater flexibility in the level of survey needed, where the impact of the development on the protected species can be predicted with sufficient certainty.
Natural England consulted on the proposed policies and received helpful feedback from ecologists, environmental organisations and developers on how these policies should be implemented. Following approval by Defra ministers, the new licensing policies are being formally adopted. The consultation report can be found online.