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New scheme to conserve newts rolled out across Swindon

Swindon Borough Council has teamed up with Natural England to launch an innovative and strategic approach to great crested newt (GCN) licensing.

Published: Thursday, 5th March 2020
great crested newt

Great crested newts have seen dramatic declines in their populations over the last 60 years despite being protected under UK and EU law, with approximately 50 per cent of ponds in the UK being lost in the 20th Century. It is an offence to disturb the species, so landowners or housing developers must apply for a licence before undertaking any building work on or around the places that they live.

The ‘District Level Licensing’ scheme (DLL) better conserves this orange-bellied amphibian by offering a new licensing option for developers. Developers make a conservation payment, which is used to create and secure new habitats in locations that will benefit the species. It is a simple and straightforward option and is helping to provide more homes for people and newts alike.

Councillor Gary Sumner, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, said: “We have a large number of great crested newt populations across the Borough so I am delighted we have signed up to this District Level Licensing scheme from Natural England, which will continue to protect these endangered species in Swindon.

“We have already identified a new habitat area designated specifically for great crested newts at Mouldon Hill and we will be looking for additional Council-owned and third party land which can act as a haven for these protected amphibians, which may otherwise be impacted by our planned growth.

“The conservation strategy seeks to create healthy and resilient newt populations and builds on our work elsewhere in the Borough to create wildlife habitats through our Forest Meadows project, underlining our commitment to protecting the local environment.”

Jen Almond, Natural England’s District Level Licensing Programme Manager, said: “District level licensing is transforming an area of regulation from one that has been problematic for great crested newts and people into one that is writing a real conservation success story.

“The rollout of this scheme in Swindon and Wiltshire represents a win-win for both local developers and the future of this iconic species.”

Despite the more general decline, there are good local populations of great crested newts in Swindon but this landscape scale scheme will improve their habitats and help newts to thrive.

Natural England is working in partnership with Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG) Southwest and Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to restore and create 12 ponds across the county by the end of March, helping to boost newt populations in the area. This will support local growth and development as developers that join the scheme will be able to get on site quicker, while the payment they make will be used to monitor and maintain the ponds for 25 years.

Bel Witham, Farm Conservation Adviser at FWAG Southwest, said: “The enthusiasm with which land managers have entered into this scheme has been fantastic, particularly given the awful weather and ground conditions.

“They have been imaginative and adaptable in their ideas and quickly taken on board the specific needs of the great crested newts.”

DLL is available and already being successfully adopted by developers across England in 49 local authorities including Woking, South Midlands, Kent, Cheshire and Essex and now Swindon and Wiltshire.

In Kent, Barratt Homes’ Chilmington Green development will include over 5,500 new homes, four primary schools, land for community and leisure use, open green space, and local recycling facilities, as well as six new ponds placed in the best locations for great crested newts.

Photo: Dave Kilbey, Froglife.

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