The long-awaiting Natural England consultation document on proposed revisions to the European Protected Species (EPS) licensing system has just been published.
Of particular interest is proposed licensing policy No 1, which would relax the requirement to exclude EPS – essentially great crested newts (GCNs) from development sites. This is a policy to be much supported, because it would mean an end to expensive and largely ineffective fencing costs for developers on sites with at best a peripheral value to the species.
Some background: In 2000, JFA inherited a license – produced by another consultant, and one we would have never promoted. This license required exclusion of great crested newts from a development site. A complex arrangement of semi-permanent peripheral fencing and internal drift fencing was required. The license required 60 days of trapping effort.
A six figure sum and 60 days later, precisely 6 great crested newts were trapped and re-located. I was, to say the least, horrified at the waste, and vowed I would never suggest such a mitigation to any client; I have kept that vow.
What jumps out at me is the terrible mis-allocation of funds. The manpower and fencing costs would have funded substantial habitat improvements of real benefit to the species, but was instead spent on fencing, which was later discarded, contractors to put in the fencing, and manpower on field-workers who would have found far more interesting work than the daily inspection of (empty) pit-traps.
JFA acknowledge that there are scenarios where a full capture and exclusion programme is necessary: one we conducted in around 2007 captured over 7000 GCNs, but importantly, included a significant habitat creation programme which did in fact benefit the local population.
I have always been vocal about the UK regulatory bodies mis-interpretation of the Habitats Directive. The Directive is about population protection, but as promulgated into UK law, has resulted in the protection of individuals of a given species from harm. This duplicates the protection afforded to most species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. The focus on individual harm has come, it seems to me, at the expense of conservation at the population level, which is still poorly addressed by the Agencies.
It has taken now in excess of 16 years for the Agencies to finally concede that they might have got it wrong. It is now equally important that developers ensure that their consultant ecologists assess any potential harm correctly, to ensure that time and funds are not wasted in unneeded site mitigation. The full consultation document can be viewed here.
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