Pre-submission Screening Service (PSS) for Wildlife Licensing
Since 2012 Natural England has offered two chargeable services aimed at providing advice relating to protected species at the early stages of a project. Changes to this system have recently come into effect to increase the benefits this service can provide, and simplify the application process.
- Engage with Natural England advisers to find out whether current proposals are likely to meet licensing requirements and if not what/if any changes to the proposals would be required.
- This should reduce waiting times to get a licence application approved following planning permission
- The service is now being extended to water voles and badgers, as well as European Protected Species
- Natural England have increased their capacity to offer the service, which has had limited availability over the last few months.
PSS is available once the details of the proposed licence application are known. To provide advice prior to this stage Natural England also offers a Discretionary Advice Service (DAS). This provides the opportunity to get advice on licensing casework even earlier in project lifecycle.
Licences that do not Require a Reasoned Statement
In their newsletter Natural England provides further clarification about whether mitigation licence applications require accompanying Reasoned Statements. This document is still required for most development projects in order to outline the purpose of the scheme. However, recent changes mean that this is now not required in all situations, including for small scale developments. Full guidance relating to situations where a Reasoned Statement is not required can be found on the Natural England website.
These changes to the requirements for Reasoned Statements should not however affect other parts of the planning process. Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) will still independently consider the ‘need’ for and alternatives to a project as part of the broader planning process.
Consultation on New Policies for EPS Mitigation Licensing
In February 2016 a Consultation will be launched that proposes new policies for EPS mitigation licencing with the aim to shift focus away from the current system of protecting individual animals on development sites towards improving populations in a wider local area. The proposed policies include flexibility in the location of compensatory habitat, providing EPS access to temporary habitat that will subsequently be developed and allow a reduced survey effort in appropriate circumstances, in an attempt to help reduce delays, costs and uncertainty for developers.
Great Crested Newts - eDNA
In 2014, Natural England first started to accept the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect the presence or presumed absence of GCN in water bodies. Since then Ecosulis have started to employ this as a method to detect GCN with both presence and presumed absence results. Whilst Natural England does not accredit laboratories, they are working on facilitating a proficiency test to provide validation of laboratories’ methods.
Natural England will accept eDNA samples taken between the 15 April and 30 June, provided that animals are active and moving in the areas the samples are taken
Further information on eDNA testing can be found here - http://www.ecosulis.co.uk/blog/environmental-dna-edna-testing-great-crested-newts - and there are several options for proceeding with an eDNA survey dependant on your project timescale and the time of year.
In addition to its use in determining presumed absence of GCN, eDNA testing can now be used in post development monitoring where presence / absence only results are specified by the mitigation licence.
Great Crested Newts - Licensing
Natural England are introducing a new version of the GCN method statement document. This new version will resolve an error in a formula and has been updated to accommodate sites with more than 10 ponds present, as well as simplifying the way information is requested. The old template will be withdrawn as of 30th January 2016, although re-submissions, modifications to existing licences, draft Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects and draft Pre-submission Screening Service (PSS) where already reviewed will still be accepted on the template they were first submitted.
The full version of the December EPS newsletter and all previous issues can be found here - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wildlife-licences-european-protected-species-newsletters