Last month, it was announced that Natural England was introducing four new policies for European Protected Species with the aim of speeding up the licensing process or, in certain specific cases, avoiding the need to apply for a licence altogether. The main target for these new policies is the Great Crested Newt (GCN) which many developers will have experience of dealing with over the years. But certain aspects of the new policies are equally applicable to other species as well. Atmos Consultant Jamie Glossop looks at each of the new policies in turn and what implications we think they might have for developers.
Policy 1: Greater flexibility in relocating European Protected Species (EPS) from development sites.
Under certain conditions, it is proposed that compensation for EPS impacts can be delivered without the need to relocate or exclude EPS populations from a development site.
From a developers point of view this has to be seen as a a positive step. Anyone involved in development will have had experience of (or at least have heard of) sites where thousands of pounds has had to be spent to move a handful of GCN away from the project site, when that money could have been far better spent on creating, enhancing and managing areas offsite or supporting existing retained habitat for that species.
Policy 2: Creation of new habitats away from development sites where it is environmentally most beneficial.
Subject to meeting licensing tests and adherence to the “avoid, mitigate, compensate” hierarchy, off-site compensation measures may be preferred over on-site measures where there are good reasons for maximising development on the affected site and where an off-site solution provides additional greater benefit to the local population of that species.
Although this sounds good in theory, it may actually be very hard to implement in practice. Finding suitable locations off-site can be challenging and additional survey work would be required to ensure such locations are suitable and that there are no existing populations present at that location.
Policy 3: Allowing EPS to have access to temporary habitats that will be developed at a later date.
Where development (such as mineral extraction) will temporarily create habitat likely to attract EPS, works should be allowed to proceed without excluding these species, provided the conservation status of the local population will not be detrimentally affected. Once development is completed, these sites must contribute to the conservation status of the local population of that species, at least as much as the land use that preceded development on that site. Measures to achieve this should be set out in a management plan and secured via a legal agreement.
There is general agreement that this policy is mainly applicable to GCN within mineral workings. Natural England plans in the short-medium term to explore case studies with the minerals sector, and share the successes and lessons learnt with this sector and consultant ecologists through Natural England’s Developer Industry Group and Customer Panel
Policy 4: Flexibility in exceptional circumstances to reduce surveying where the impacts of development can be predicted confidently.
Natural England may accept a lower than standard survey effort if the costs and delays associated with the stand
This is also a welcome development. As an example, in the case of bats being surveyed in relatively barren agricultural habitats, it can normally be assumed that those bats will be using the hedgerows and woodland belts adjacent to farmed fields as foraging and commuting corridors rather than the fields themselves. Where development is unlikely to impact these foraging and commuting corridors and the development can provide possible enhancements to these features then it can be argued that surveys for bats are not necessary or the scope of surveys can be reduced. .
The new policy backs up this more pragmatic approach and is therefore likely to be welcomed by developers. We will need to wait to see what effect the practical implementation of these new policies has for developers. but the intention behind them – namely to speed up and simplify the licensing process and to eliminate unnecessary costs – has to be a good thing for those of us interested in seeing a more pragmatic approach from Natural England.