| 11 January 2019
As ever, the ecological industry is constantly changing, evolving and being debated, policy and laws are often reviewed and here at GES we take great pride at being aware of future potential changes. Our Principal Ecologist, Guy Newman recently attended a meeting in Kent with Natural England and other leading professional and conservation groups to discuss and learn more on the what may be in store for GCN District Licensing. His review of that meeting and the potential impacts and cost to clients can be seen below…
GCN in Kent, Surveys or District Licensing
'At this time of year our mail-outs would usually be encouraging our clients to consider the approaching great crested newt (GCN) season, but having recently attended a Natural England (NE) meeting to discuss the release of District Licencing; perhaps the forthcoming season (in Kent at least) will be less about muddy boots, torching and early morning bottle trapping and more about area calculations, cost risk assessments and potentially eDNA water sampling.
Having been involved with the discussion for a while, I think it fair to say that the project has experienced some interesting twists, turns and delays throughout the last 12 – 18 months. However, the information presented at the latest meeting certainly had the air of finality about it, so…
With a suggested release date of early 2019, the long awaited GCN District Licencing option may well be available for the forthcoming season and, although provided as an addition to the traditional surveying option, what this will mean for forthcoming development/planning applications in regard to GCN surveys, licencing and trapping includes the following:
• Clients will have the option to choose between district licencing and traditional survey/licencing route. • Should district licencing be the chosen option, the choice of either (a) submitting the application with survey data (eDNA sufficient) or (b) submitting with no survey data, will be available.
• Where survey data is submitted a multiplier will be applied, with a different metric applied to whether a pond is occupied, unoccupied or un-accessed.
• Where no survey data is submitted the metric will assume all ponds within 250m are occupied by GCN.
• Alterations to the metric will be made to account for NE determined Risk Zones (Red, Amber, Green), these zones having been identified due to their occupation by GCN.
• Having chosen the data / no data route, the application boundary and associated enquiry form will be submitted to NE for the metric to be applied (no fee).
• NE will then calculate the impacts and costs associated with the development and then provide the fees required to off-set the calculated impacts to GCN.
• The calculation is currently based on the cost to construct, enhance and monitor a compensatory pond, where the loss of a pond is calculated through use of the metric.
• The cost per compensatory pond is currently set at £15,165 + VAT per pond, with NE estimating that most payments in Kent will not require a full pond to be created and that the fees will be < £15,000.00
• If agreeable, the applicant will sign an associated contract and NE will issue an Impact Assessment and Payment Certificate (IAPC) to be submitted with the planning application.
• The IAPC will be sufficient for the associated authority to relieve their concerns regarding GCN licencing and mitigation.
• When planning is approved (and all wildlife related condition are discharged) the calculated fee + £700.00 admin will be submitted to NE for processing.
• NE estimate 28 working days to process payment.
• Once the payment has cleared NE will commence a 30 working day processing of licence.
• Once the licence is issued works can commence with no further consideration to GCN required.
Whilst benefits in regard to avoidance of delays and the implications of mitigation requirements are clear, GES recommend consideration to the following still be applied:
• With the GCN season just around the corner, the scheme has yet to be released and NE have been known to miss deadlines.
• The scheme considers all waterbodies occupied (or assumed occupied) by GCN within 250m of a site as lost, even when they are not. In certain areas of Kent this could be costly and may skew any economic benefit.
• The scheme only considers GCN, and should other protected species exist within a site (specifically reptiles) seasonal constraints, fencing, trapping and mitigation land will still be a lawful requirement.
• Planning policy / EIA obligations may require assessment of ponds to determine net gain requirements, irrespective of the availability of district licensing.
That said, clear benefits include:
• The ability to resolve GCN considerations at the outline planning stage;
• The omission of survey, licencing, fencing, trapping delays where no reptiles are present;
• Increased developable land within application boundaries; and
• Although yet to be confirmed, as all ponds within 250m are considered by the metric as lost, ponds known to support GCN may become available for attenuation purposes.
Although selected due to their known lack of reptiles, GES have run hypothesised calculations for some of our existing sites and although significantly greater than the £15,000 estimated by NE, the financial savings in fencing alone have made the District Licencing a route of preference in these instances.
I guess the big question is; will ‘District Licensing’ remove the need for GCN surveys and associated licencing requirements in Kent? For a while at least, I believe it’s likely to be another ‘tool in the GCN box’.
For some sites this will clearly going to be the chosen option, but I’m quite sure there will be many (most likely the smaller developments within high pond density areas) where the traditional licencing route will remain the most viable route.
With so many twists and turns it’s become an interesting subject to keep up with, but ifs there one thing we can be sure about, it’s that 2019 will make for another interesting year in the world of ecology and all at GES are very much looking forward to the exciting times ahead.'
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