Celebrating one year of Berkshire’s District Licence

In September, NatureSpace and the Newt Conservation Partnership (NCP) invited councillors and ecologists from councils in Berkshire to visit Sulham Estate in West Berkshire. The purpose of the visit was to showcase the newly created habitat, which has been delivered for the benefit of great crested newts and other freshwater species through the county’s District Licence, granted in June 2022.  

Sulham is an old parish and estate above the Thames Valley on the edge of Reading in an area of strategic significance for great crested newt populations. The Estate boasts a variety of terrestrial habitats that are crucial for newts and supporting biodiversity in the wider landscape, including rough grassland, scrub, and woodland. Thereis an existing network of five ponds which already have great crested newt populations established, as confirmed in eDNA surveys carried out by NCP in 2022.  

NCP, which delivers and manages high-quality habitat compensation as part of the District Licensing Scheme, is working to enrich the existing freshwater network at Sulham with new and restored ponds to support and boost newt populations – a phased, long-term project that will be managed and monitored for 25 years. In the last year, two new ponds have been created and one has been dredged and restored, totalling nearly 1,300 square metres of habitat for great crested newts. Work is due to start on a further two new ponds at Sulham in spring 2024.

Once created or restored, the ponds are left to vegetate naturally – this is a key principle of NCP’s conservation strategy as it allows the natural regeneration of the surrounding habitat, which in turn supports flora and fauna species at each ecological succession phase, thereby creating a more biodiverse habitat. During the recent site visit, Pascale Nicolet, CEO of the Newt Conservation Partnership, was excited to discover fine-leaved water dropwort growing in the restored pond, demonstrating how quickly vegetation can recover if left to do so naturally.

Councillor David Marsh, leader of the Green Party Group, West Berkshire Council, said: “I found this visit absolutely fascinating and learned a lot about newts and the work that is being done to create and restore a network of ponds and habitat that will benefit them and other flora and fauna.

I was particularly impressed by the way that once suitable sites are identified and the ponds dug, nature is allowed to take its course. It is a completely natural process.”

Sulham is just one of four compensation sites in Berkshire that have been provided through the District Licence Scheme. Including Sulham, the Newt Conservation Partnership has created six new ponds and restored seven existing ponds in the scheme’s first year, which is more than 3,000 square metres of new freshwater habitat. In addition, over 36 hectares of terrestrial habitat within 250m of a pond has been made available to newts, which is vital to connect populations across the landscape and help the species thrive.

Councillor Richard Somner, Executive Member for Planning, Transport and Countryside at West Berkshire Council, said: “We are pleased to be part of the NatureSpace District Licensing Scheme that protects and delivers better conservation for great crested newts alongside wider biodiversity benefits.

“The scheme will allow us to create and maintain more ponds across the district that will not only benefit the great crested newt population overall but also the wider ecosystem that would benefit from this type of habitat.”

Council representatives alongside NatureSpace and the Newt Conservation Partnership at Sulham’s   restored pond. NCP cut down overhanging willow to allow more light into the area, which was left as hibernacula for newts and other species. (Photo credit Matt Blee, NatureSpace)

Council representatives alongside NatureSpace and the Newt Conservation Partnership at Sulham’s restored pond. NCP cut down overhanging willow to allow more light into the area, which was left as hibernacula for newts and other species. (Photo credit Matt Blee, NatureSpace)

Sulham-5-credit-Matt-Blee

Council representatives alongside NatureSpace and the Newt Conservation Partnership at one of the newly created ponds at Sulham. (Photo credit Matt Blee, NatureSpace)