The great crested newt has developed a certain notoriety with developers due to the costs and time constraints associated with current means of maintaining populations. This is being addressed by the introduction of district licensing following successful pilots. To find out more about district licensing and what it might mean for you please read on.

Great crested newts (GCN) are a widely occurring protected and priority species. They are the UK’s biggest newt species and are widespread through England and Wales, but more sparsely distributed in south-west England, mid-Wales and Scotland.

In the last century GCN have suffered severe declines across Europe as a result of agricultural intensification and the consequent degradation, fragmentation and loss of both aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

This species is a key consideration in the planning and development program due to its distribution and high level of legal protection by both European and British law. The current licensing system for a site that contains a population of GCN is focused on preventing harm to individuals and populations present on the site. The process is long and requires a high survey effort at the optimal time of year to determine the presence or absence of GCN on a site and also an estimate of their population; this can be costly and time consuming.

The new system of district level licensing aims to improve this process, making it quicker to obtain a licence and providing benefits to GCN at a higher level.
Under the traditional licensing scheme, developers who wish to build on land hosting a population of GCN will need to undertake four nocturnal newt surveys to determine their presence or absence, followed by a further two to determine a population estimate if the species is present. Then, newts need to be trapped and relocated before any development work can start; this takes a significant amount of time and is costly due to seasonal restrictions and the number of hours dedicated to surveys and translocations by ecologists.

Under the district level licensing scheme, developers will no longer need to do this; instead a payment is made that is proportionate to the likely impact of the development on GCN populations. This payment covers the creation, restoration and ongoing management of ponds in areas mapped by Natural England where surveys have shown it will be most effective, by connecting and expanding existing GCN populations. This habitat is maintained and monitored for 25 years; a process aimed to ensure a net benefit to GCN populations country-wide.

There are a number of benefits to district level licensing for developers. It enables effective forward-planning as the costs are known from the outset and there are no longer seasonal constraints, as surveys for GCN are not necessary, which also means fewer late nights and early mornings for ecologists! Ecologists continue to be involved in the process by consulting during the application process and also conducting on-site works such as toolbox talks to contractors and conducting Ecological Clerk of Works duties.

District level licensing for GCN is currently available in a number of local planning authorities overseen by either Natural England or NatureSpace, but is expected to be available across the country in the future.

For details of the authorities where the scheme is live, please click here

Further information

If you need assistance with a project involving great crested newts please email We also have further information on the great crested newt on our website here.