The Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence follows on from the Bat Low Impact Class Licence that was introduced by Natural England in 2015. The purpose of the Bat Low Impact Class Licence is to help reduce the licensing burden for projects which impact on low conservation status roosts supporting small numbers of bats of specific species. The Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence follows a similar approach. Through a process that is known as ‘Earned Recognition’, which is being promoted by CIEEM, Natural England is continuing to take steps towards providing greater responsibility to a select number of consultant ecologists who have demonstrated that they are technically capable of taking on work with less regulation.
Consultants can become accredited when they meet rigorous criteria set by Natural England, based on their experience of working on great crested newt mitigation licence projects, and having demonstrated an understanding of the licensing process by passing a test following attendance at a training course provided by Natural England.
Dr Jim Fairclough, Principal Ecologist at BSG Ecology, has become one of the first Registered Consultants so we are now able to operate within the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence system in situations where it would be applicable. We anticipate that this could provide a number of benefits to clients.
Situations in which the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence might apply
Natural England guidance identifies certain activities that might be eligible for a site to be registered under the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence, but in all cases the following criteria must be met:
- The footprint of the activity must not extend beyond a certain threshold size, in terms of area of impact affecting habitat used and relied upon by great crested newt (for resting). This area differs depending on the distance from a waterbody used by great crested newt, with larger areas of land-take being acceptable at greater distance from waterbodies.
- Typically the activity would be of a relatively short duration, i.e. up to six months and no longer than 12 months.
- Waterbodies used by great crested newts must not be affected; although ditches along linear schemes that are used by great crested newts may be temporarily impacted across a part of their length.
The Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence would also only be applicable at sites where there has been no history of licensed great crested newt mitigation, and where there are no other proposals (other than the current activity) for development. The Licensee (i.e. the developer) must be prepared to ‘sign up’ to what the licence entails; the site registration is made by the Registered Consultant on behalf of the Licensee (as conditioned in the licence).
As is the case with a conventional mitigation licence, the ‘three (legal) tests’ relating to great crested newts must be met (i.e. demonstrating it meets a purpose under the legislation, whether alternative options have been considered, and whether the favourable conservation status of great crested newt will be maintained). With the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence however, the onus is on the Registered Consultant to gather the necessary information to demonstrate that the three tests have been met; the consultant need only provide very basic details on the site registration form (most of which relate to the favourable conservation status test), but they must retain all the appropriate information should Natural England undertake a compliance check or be otherwise called on to investigate the licence. It is the shared responsibility of the Registered Consultant and Licensee to take responsibility for all activities carried out under the licence, and that these take place within the appropriate timeframe. This includes any specified mitigation and compensation, and compliance with recording and reporting requirements.
What are the Benefits of the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence?
There are a number of clear advantages of taking the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence route, although this type of licence will not be applicable to all situations. Some of the advantages may be seen as follows:
- The process is streamlined so that it requires submission of a single site registration form and map (equivalent of a licence application). Therefore, much less information is requested compared to that when making a conventional licence application. In doing so, Natural England is placing trust in Registered Consultants, such that, even though the same information is required to meet the tests, low impact activities do not require the same volume of information to be prepared and supplied up front compared to that in support of more complex and higher impact activities. Since less up front information is required it follows that less time is required to register a site. This could mean that savings in consultant effort may be made in preparing the relevant documents. For example, a conventional licence application requires an application form, often a Reasoned Statement, a Method Statement and at least ten figures to be produced, whereas under the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence a site registration form accompanied by a single annotated and clearly labelled map is likely to be all that is required.
- The timescale for Natural England to determine the site registration request is similarly reduced, as the amount of information they need to consider is much less. As such, site registration requests can be turned round potentially within 10 working days, rather than the standard 30 (minimum) working days applied to a conventional licence application.
- The predicted impacts of development at a site registered under Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence are ‘low’. An assessment of this low impact is influenced primarily by the distance at which the activity is taking place from a waterbody used by great crested newt, and the area of great crested newt habitat affected, but also factors in whether or not there is potential for significant (albeit small) areas of high quality habitat to be affected that might be important to a population. Given that the assessment of impacts are presumed to be ‘low’ there are less strict requirements in terms of the level of survey effort required to inform a site registration request, with a greater reliance on confirming presence of great crested newts.
When great crested newts are found at a site where development is proposed, the current approaches available are to either apply for a conventional licence or to consider if development may proceed under a non-licensed Method Statement with Reasonable Avoidance Measures (RAMs) integrated. We consider that the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence is a welcome addition, providing a proportionate licensing approach by which development may proceed that is complementary to the conventional licensing and RAMs approaches. As ecological consultants, it is our position to advise our clients on which approach offers the most appropriate option for development to proceed legitimately, flexibly and efficiently. This will be influenced by a whole number of factors, including consideration of the survey results (e.g. size of population), habitat type and importance of this to the local population, size of development footprint and duration of proposed development activities.
This information provided is accurate as of the time of publishing. However, it must be noted that the Great Crested Newt Low Impact Class Licence approach is in its early stages of application, and consequently, Natural England understandably may need to make changes to reflect feedback from the first tranche of training provided to Registered Consultants, and following periods of review particularly during the early stages of its implementation.
Main photo by Dave Stiles, Hathersage Office