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Great Crested Newts: District Level Licensing

In November 2022 Natural England launched a District Level Licensing scheme in Cumbria for Great Crested Newts to aid the conservation of local newt populations whilst also enabling sustainable development to proceed. Developers now have the option to apply to join this scheme as an alternative to applying for a traditional mitigation licence. 

Great Crested Newts (GCN) are a European Protected Species. The animals, eggs, breeding sites and resting places are legally protected and must be taken into account in the planning process. To meet their legal duty to protect GCN any developer proposing works that may disturb or damage GCN or their habitat must apply for a mitigation licence in one of the following ways: 

  • GCN Mitigation Licence - Apply for a traditional GCN mitigation licence
  • Low Impact Class Licence - This scheme only applies where impacts to GCN and their habitat are considered to be small scale. This is implemented through a consultant ecologist who is registered for the scheme
  • District Level Licensing - A county-wide scheme in which developers make a conservation payment to fund a net increase in GCN habitat in targeted locations as a quicker and simpler alternative to applying for a traditional mitigation licence, and instead of relying on site-specific mitigation and compensation.

District Level Licensing (DLL)

DLL is a strategic approach to licensing for GCN. Traditional mitigation licensing requires on-site mitigation measures to be carried out. Development may be delayed as some measures can only be carried out at certain times of the year. DLL does not require on-site mitigation; instead developers make a payment based on the impact of their development. This conservation payment is used to create compensatory habitat off-site in targeted areas where it will be of most benefit to GCN.

Benefits of DLL

  • Simple to use
  • Offers developers certainty in terms of costs and timescales
  • Developments that have been through the planning system will not be held up by a protracted post-planning licensing process
  • Increased flexibility in layout and design
  • Better conserves GCN, bolstering existing populations and improving range and connectivity
  • Results in high value secure ponds for GCN which are managed and monitored in the long term
  • Can be used for all types of development

How the Scheme Operates and How to apply 

Developers apply to Natural England for a DLL.  The impact of their development is calculated using a NE impact assessment tool based on risk zones or on survey work undertaken by the developer.  Developers pay a conservation payment based on the impacts of their developments. Ponds outside the development site are considered via the proportion of terrestrial habitat impacted.  NE uses the payment to deliver, maintain and monitor off-site compensatory habitat.  For every occupied pond lost, 4 ponds are created or restored.  

Natural England has published guidance on how DLL works and how to apply which can be accessed here .

Interaction with the Planning process

An Impact Assessment Conservation Payment Certificate (IACPC) issued by NE can be submitted with a planning application instead of site survey information for GCN and an associated mitigation strategy. The certificate confirms eligibility with the licensing scheme and the applicant's intention to enter DLL, demonstrating that due regard For GGN has been taken. 

Providing that the certificate has been signed by NE and the site boundaries and details match those of the planning application, the IACPC can be relied upon by the LPA that the impacts of the development on GCN are capable of being fully addressed in a way that complies with the requirements of the habitat regulations. Planning permission is required before the developer applies for a licence.

DLL does not remove the need to survey and assess impacts from proposed developments in relation to other protected and Priority species and habitats, and the requirement for avoidance, mitigation or compensation measures in relation to other species and habitats remain unchanged.

Costs of Joining the DLL Scheme

The number of ponds needed to compensate for the impact of a development site is calculated on the number of ponds affected and whether these ponds are confirmed or likely to be occupied by GCN. Ponds both on site and within 250m of the site are taken into account.
Each compensation pond required currently costs £17,215 + VAT; this figure covers the initial creation or restoration and includes everything required to maintain and monitor the pond for 25 years. In addition, Natural England currently charges an upfront enquiry fee of £570 + VAT for the issue of the Impact Assessment and Conservation Payment Certificate, and a licence fee of £690 (exempt from VAT) is required prior to the provision of the licence. All costs are correct as of April 2023 but are kept under regular review by Natural England. 

Further information

Further information on the DLL scheme is available on the government website  

A series of webinars presented by Natural England with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) also provide additional details on aspects of the DLL scheme (links to recordings of the webinars on youtube):