Great Crested newts (GCN) (Triturus cristatus) are the largest of the three UK newt species, reaching a maximum adult length of 17cm, and can be found across much of the mainland.
The adult GCN can be identified from the two other smaller native newt species (smooth and palmate) by their size and colouring. In the breeding season adult males
are recognisable by their jagged crest and silvery-blue and almost fluorescent stripe down the centre of the tail.
Newts require a variety of habitats throughout their life cycle. As tadpoles they need well vegetated fresh water ponds, while during adulthood they need a variety of habitats, ranging from log piles to grassland and woodland.
Typical breeding sites contain a number of medium to large ponds that have some areas of clear, base-rich water, deeper than 30 cm and with few fish predators. Such ponds are usually surrounded by terrestrial habitat with plentiful ground cover (e.g. scrub, trees, long grass) with damp refuges in which newts spend the daytime (e.g. log piles, rocks or other debris).
Although GCN does not favour garden ponds, as these are often small and offer far from ideal habitats, they have been recorded in larger garden ponds where they are known to breed.
The GCN is widespread in Europe, but is threatened and in decline throughout much of its range. This decline has been for a number of years with GCN becoming increasingly rare or absent in some areas because of a reduction in suitable breeding ponds, pollution and neglect and the variety of habitats required in their lifecycle.
The UK has probably Europe's largest population and is therefore, very important to the continuing survival of the GCN.
GCN and their breeding sites and places of shelter receive full statutory protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) (the Habitats Regulations). This makes it an offence to kill (or injure), take or disturb any great-crested newt or damage or disturb any breeding site or place of shelter.
The combined effect of the national and European legislation is to afford full protection to all life stages of GCN and to their aquatic and terrestrial habitats, including habitats used to migrate or disperse between breeding, foraging and refuge sites.
It is extremely important that developers and landowners wishing to undertake activities that may affect great crested newts obtain site-specific advice before formulating their designs and programme.
Any development proposal or activity that would impact on GCN or any of their habitats is required to provide for conservation of the species and its habitats under licence from Natural Resources Wales.
If the proposed activity requires planning consent, or any other type of consent (e.g. listed building consent, extraction licence, etc), this consent must be in place and provided to Natural Resources Wales with the licence application.
Developers and landowners should note that a licence is often required from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to carry out development and vegetation clearance works that affect GCNs (and any other European protected species), irrespective of whether planning permission is required to undertake those works. Failing to secure a licence before starting development or site clearance works could result in an offence(s) being committed. This could lead to delay, prosecution, fines, confiscation of equipment, legal fees and, potentially, a custodial sentence.
A licence is granted under the provisions set out in the Habitats Regulations. In order to grant a licence, NRW must be satisfied that the proposed activity meets the criteria in the Habitats Regulations, often referred to as “the three tests”.
These tests include:
The Habitats Regulations imposes a similar duty on Bridgend County Borough Council to consider the impact of a proposed development on GCN before determining planning applications that could affect the species or their habitats. The Council must therefore also be satisfied that the proposals will meet the criteria of the three tests set out in the Habitats Regulations in order to grant planning consent. This duty is irrespective of whether the application is for outline, reserved matters or full planning.
In order to assist the Council and NRW (if a licence is required) assess proposals, the developer or landowner must provide sufficient information to make the determination against the Habitats Regulations, including:
The maximum penalty for non-compliance with the above legislation for each offence is a £5000 fine and/or six months imprisonment. Any equipment used to commit the offence may be forfeited. Both the company and the individuals can be held liable.
GUIDANCE NOTE 1:
If there is any water body on or within 500m of the boundary of the development site (with the exception of rivers or streams with a noticeable flow) and/or there are existing GCN records on or within 500m of the boundary of the development site, the Council will require a GCN survey. This survey needs to be undertaken by a suitably experienced and qualified ecologist.
When suitable water bodies are present on or within 500m of a site, a records search should be undertaken to identify any previously identified GCN populations in the local area. The search for records should be made to at least 500m from the proposal site, sometimes further depending on the scale of development, likely impacts and whether a landscape scale population assessment approach may be beneficial.
GCN can be found in ephemeral ponds that hold water until at least August.
The South East Wales Biological Records Centre should be requested to undertake a search. In addition other relevant organisations may hold useful data including NRW, and the local amphibian and reptile groupsi.
If no records of GCN are present within 500m of the development site or survey does not confirm presence of GCN, but there are water bodies on and adjacent to the development, site developers will need to refer to guidance sheets relating to reptile and amphibians and bats.
GUIDANCE NOTE 2:
If the proposed development is within 8 metres of a watercourse please consult NRW.
GUIDANCE NOTE 3:
The Council will only accept survey/assessment work which has been undertaken by a suitably qualified person within the recognised survey guidelines
General survey guidance for protected species can be found in Guidance Sheet B9: Survey Requirements. In addition The Great Crested Newt handbook provides detailed guidance for surveying GCN. The appointed ecologist should make an assessment of any ponds on or near the site (within around 500m provided that they are not separated by significant barriers to dispersal such as a major trunk road or motorway), even if it holds water only seasonally.
Muddy, cattle-poached, heavily vegetated or shady ponds, ditches and temporary, flooded hollows can be used by GCN.
Sites with refuges (such as piles of logs or rubble), grassland, scrub, woodland or hedgerows within 500m of a pond should be surveyed/ protected provided that they are not separated by significant barriers to dispersal such as a major trunk road or motorway.
A habitat survey should also be carried out within the proposal site to determine the value of the site for breeding and terrestrial amphibians.
All suitable ponds identified during the preliminary appraisal should be subjected to a survey to establish the presence of great crested newts. Pond survey is the only way to effectively and confidently confirm the presence of GCN, their abundance and, in many cases their population distribution. Pond survey is the surest way of providing sufficient information to the Council and NRW. However, pond survey is highly seasonal and must be carried at the correct time of year, or risk being inadequate to validate a planning or licence application or subject to challenge.
Terrestrial surveys may assist GCN assessments, but cannot provide robust population information without considerable cost, effort and time.
To determine if GCN are present in a pond, the pond must be surveyed on four separate occasions. In the event that great crested newts are found, at least two further surveys need to be carried out to establish a population size class. Surveys for great crested newts are licensable activities and must be carried out by a suitably qualified and experience ecologist who is licensed for the survey methods to be employed.
GUIDANCE NOTE 4:
Where surveys indicate that GCN will be affected by the development proposal, the Council will require a Method Statement to be submitted with the planning application for the application to be registered. If it is considered that the proposed avoidance, mitigation, compensation measures are not satisfactory, the Local Planning Authority will refuse the planning application.
The data obtained from the GCN surveys must be formulated into a Method Statement which is submitted to the Council to inform their planning decision.
The Method Statement should detail the survey area, project proposals, survey methods and results. The impact assessment should be presented in the Method Statement, detailing how aquatic and terrestrial habitats and the amphibians might be affected. Impacts should be classified as temporary, short term or long-term and the scale of each impact should be identified. The Method Statement should include practical avoidance measures and, where avoidance is not possible, provide a detailed mitigation strategy, including a timetable.
The Method Statement should also identify whether a licence is required prior to commencing development activities.
Developers and landowners should note that the Council will not condition the production of the Method Statement. The information in the Method Statement is required to assist the Council to make their determination in regards of the Habitats Regulations. Applications in which an effect upon GCN is anticipated as a result of the proposals, but which do not include an appropriate Method Statement will most likely not be validated.
If the application is validated, but the information relating to GCN is subsequently found to be insufficient during the determination, this may affect the result of the planning decision.
NRW has a standard method of application for licences in respect of development. Briefly, a licence application requires the developer or landowner who will be undertaking the proposed works to appoint a suitably qualified and experienced ecologist who will be named on the licence application. The appointed ecologist will most likely be responsible for coordinating the licence application, which requires the completion of an application form and a Method Statement. The Method Statement must be to the approved NRW format (provided with the licence application information) and will present much the same information as that required by
the Council to inform the planning application. Licence applications normally take up to 30 days for a determination.
The licence granted will have conditions attached and will only be valid with the approved Method Statement. The licence permits only those activities identified in the Method Statement, so it is important that developers and landowners carefully review and agree the Method Statement before submission.
The activities and measures detailed in a licence are there to avoid unnecessary harm to the protected species. Failure to follow the exact measures in the licence can lead to prosecution. Any activity carried out that deviates significantly from the licensed Method Statement may be considered a breach of the licence. This includes works carried out in different locations, using different methods or at a different time than that identified in the Method Statement. Any committed works identified in the Method Statement, such as inspecting and maintaining exclusion fencing, carrying out monitoring and management works or mitigation measures being supervised on site by the ecologist, which are not implemented as specified in the licensed Method Statement might also be considered a breach of the licence.
A breach of the licence is considered to be a criminal offence. Under the current legislation, anyone authorised to carry out activities implemented under
the licence may be held responsible for breaches of the licence terms and conditions.
It is therefore important that all staff and contractors on the site are fully briefed on the licence and its implications for working on site, prior to being allowed to start on site. An up to date copy of the licence and the associated Method Statement should be held on site at all times, together with any identification sheets that may be helpful to site workers and contact details for the appointed ecologist.
Licences have an expiry date. If works need to continue beyond the expiry date an extension must be applied for. An extension cannot be issued for a licence that has expired, once a licence has expired then a new licence must be applied for. Depending on the time elapsed from expiry this may or may not require additional surveys to ensure that accurate and up to date information supports the licence application.
GUIDANCE NOTE 5:
Developers/applicants must provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that avoidance is not possible before mitigation or compensation is considered as a viable alternative.
Avoidance measures built into development proposalsmay remove the need for detailed survey work, the council should will seek expert advice from NRW in determining cases when this may be applicable.
Avoidance measures are those measures that can reasonably be implemented to avoid an offence occurring. As such, these Reasonable Avoidance Measures (RAMs) can often avoid the requirement for a licence. RAMs are the preferred approach when considering design of a scheme. RAMs may include measures ranging from revising the site layout to avoid loss of an important feature, carrying out works at a time which is less likely to result in disturbance or amending working methods to reduce impacts to an acceptable level.
If RAMs are practical within a scheme, these must still be detailed in a Method Statement which is submitted to the Council for approval. Implementation of the measures outlined in the RAMs Method Statement will likely be a condition of the resulting planning consent.
If the RAMs avoid all anticipated impacts affecting GCN and their habitats to acceptable levels, a licence is unlikely to be required. This can often avoid or reduce delays to commencing development and will often reduce costs as well. It is therefore important to create communication channels between your architects (landscape or otherwise) and your chosen suitably qualified ecologist during the masterplanning process. This will aid in guiding the design and programme at an early enough stage to identify whether RAMs may be a suitable approach.
Early identification and incorporation of green infrastructure assets e.g. hedgerows, trees, ponds into a development will help reduce the development impact of a scheme and provide opportunities for RAMs and avoid more complex mitigation and compensation schemes which may require a license.
For example: retention of a GCN breeding pond into the design of a development, with a suitable vegetation buffer with connectivity to other ponds may be able to demonstrate avoidance of impact of the development on GCN. The construction of additional ponds and planting of hedgerows for improved connectivity may result in net benefit.
GUIDANCE NOTE 6:
Where RAMs cannot satisfactorily avoid impacts affecting GCN, mitigation measures will be required to ensure no harm comes to GCN and that no net loss of their habitats results.
Depending on the scale of development and predicted impacts, it may not be possible to rely on RAMs alone to fully address all potential impacts affecting great crested newts or their habitats. Early communication across the design team will promote a greater understanding of all the constraints, ecological or otherwise, and allow a balanced approach to the development design.
The exact measures required will be dependent on the population size, distribution and proximity to works and the scale, timing and duration of the works. Measures could include trapping out the site to remove any GCN and the installation of fencing to prevent newts and other amphibians re-entering the site during construction amongst others.
Mitigation measures to be implemented will be detailed in the Method Statement and will be licensed activities and must therefore be carried out in strict accordance with the Method Statement.
GUIDANCE NOTE 7:
Compensation will only be considered where the developer/applicant has satisfactorily demonstrated that avoidance and mitigation are not possible and the compensatory measures result in no net loss of habitat.
Where mitigation cannot satisfactorily reduce all potential impacts to satisfactory levels, additional compensation measures will likely be required. Compensation measures will be requirements of the licence. All compensation measures outlined in the licence must be adhered to; failure to do so constitutes a criminal offence.
Compensation measures most frequently involve habitat losses. For example, if the loss of a pond cannot be avoided in the proposed development then a compensatory pond(s) should be created prior to the pond’s loss, in accordance with the licence requirements. For loss of GCN breeding ponds, at least two new ponds must be created to compensate the loss. The loss of terrestrial habitats also requires offsetting, such that sufficient terrestrial habitat is provided to maintain breeding, foraging, refuge and dispersal functions for the affected population. The population size and natural range must also be maintained, so it will be important to consider the connectivity between retained habitats, new habitats and existing habitats in the wider area.
Habitat compensation must be provided in advance of exclusion of the site and the capture of GCN. This will enable the transfer of amphibians and other fauna to the compensation area(s) before they are disturbed by development.
Large development sites have the opportunity to enhance the surrounding habitats and connecting corridors for newts and other flora and fauna and provide natural interest for residents.