ENGLAND'S great crested newt population is predicted to increase under a new scheme to reward landowners for creating ponds.

Earlier this year, Natural England set up a District Level Licensing Scheme that holds 'auctions' where landowners can bid to create new habitat for the newts away from land outlined for development.

These auctions have already secured more than 125 ponds in Cheshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Nottinghamshire, with Cambridgeshire and Essex being the next targeted areas for landowners to take part. Overall, the Natural England scheme has delivered more than 700 new ponds across England since 2019.

Great crested newt populations in the UK have declined rapidly over the last century, despite being protected under UK and EU law, largely due to loss of habitat caused by building development and pond neglect. The new scheme is designed to better conserve numbers, while also helping developers to complete their projects quicker, and offer farmers and landowners sustainable new revenue streams.

“The District Level Licensing Scheme provides win-win solutions for all who are involved,” said James Peacock of Natural England's auction provider, EnTrade. “Using the EnTrade platform, landowners can easily learn about the requirements needed to create suitable ponds, enter a price for which they can provide them, then apply for two to six ponds for their land.

“Creating clusters of ponds in this way has been shown to maximise the chance of colonisation by great crested newts and improve population resilience.”

Habitat delivery strategist at Natural England, Craig Thomas, explained why certain areas are being targeted for the scheme: “We market the auctions to landowners in areas of the country that are particularly important for great crested newts. Habitat is targeted within Strategic Opportunity Areas – where evidence tells us that there is a good likelihood of the ponds being colonised by newts," he continued.

“We use the EnTrade platform as an engagement tool, allowing us and our local Habitat Delivery Bodies to build long-term relationships with landowners to positively manage and monitor the new ponds over the next 25 years to maintain healthy newt populations.”