As recently reported by BBC News and BBC Radio 4, Natural England’s consultation on proposed changes to how it implements protected species legislation (especially for great crested newts) ends this week. Great crested newts are a protected species under EU and domestic law due to their overall European conservation status. Under the legislation, great crested newts receive the highest level of protection.

Natural England's consultation concerns great crested newts, like this one pictured. Image by Senior Ecologist, Matt Cook

Natural England’s consultation concerns great crested newts, like this one pictured. Image by Senior Ecologist, Matt Cook

However, many in the industry (including developers, consultants, ecologists and voluntary organisations) have long expressed the view that the current administration of the legislation is not only overly strict and costly to implement, but also does little for the protection of the species. The fundamental problem was the principle of protecting each and every newt, rather than looking to maintain the species at a population level, which is what is actually required by the law.

The consultation

Our Managing Director, Andrew Baker, is an expert in nature conservation law and has been working with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) to assist Natural England in the run up to this consultation.

The new proposals by Natural England aim to make the current licensing system more flexible and strategic while ensuring that populations of newts are protected.

“This isn’t a change in the law, but rather a change in the way that the law is implemented by Natural England. For some time, I have felt that the legislation hasn’t been interpreted properly: it doesn’t make ecological sense to protect every single newt while ignoring the health of the overall population. This proposed change in how Natural England is implementing the law is very much welcomed and I feel that it much more closely reflects the letter of the law and will also have greater conservation benefit”, says Andrew.

More about great crested newts

The great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) is the largest of Britain’s three indigenous newt species. They are black in colour with an orange and black spotted belly. The main threats to the survival of the great crested newt are habitat destruction and fragmentation as a result of anthropogenic development. Emerging infectious diseases such as chytridiomycosis, caused by a pathogenic fungus, also pose a significant threat to this species.

Great crested newt by Matt Cook

Great crested newt by Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist

Great crested newts and their breeding sites are protected by the EU Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

Great crested newts can be surveyed between March and June using standard methods and between 15th April and 30th June using eDNA sampling. Surveys include torchlight surveys, netting, terrestrial search, egg search (on suitable vegetation) and bottle trapping.

Read more about great crested newt surveys here.

Baker Consultants strongly believes that the UK must remain within the European Union. Not only is our membership of the EU good for business, it also benefits the environment.

Baker Consultants trades internationally and currently 50% of our turnover is with companies that are based in EU countries. We expect this export of our work to increase significantly. While at present we have a very good working relationship with our EU customers, this business would clearly be threatened if we leave the EU, as we would no longer have the level playing field that the EU enshrines in law. Andrew Baker, Managing Director at Baker Consultants, says: “We cannot risk losing our European customers, so we are already investigating moving our business to an EU country should the UK vote to leave the EU”.

Construction begins at our latest European project, Gode Wind 1 and 2 offshore windfarm

Construction begins at our latest European project, Gode Wind 1 and 2 offshore windfarm

The benefits of EU membership for the environment must not be underestimated either. Much of the UK’s environmental legislation has its roots in EU Directives. Leaving the EU would throw this environmental legislation into disarray, potentially leading to years of legal wrangling while the UK decides what legislation should be kept and what should be dropped.

Andrew says: “We should always remember that all Directives are implemented through UK domestic legislation. The law is never perfect, but I am of the opinion that the majority of the problems we have are to do with the way the UK has implemented the Directives, not with the Directives per se.”

Andrew Baker and Baker Consultants will be active in the campaign to stay in the EU. “We must not ignore the serious threat that leaving the EU will pose to both UK businesses and environmental protection”, said Andrew.