Countryfile Magazine - - Gardens - JOHN CRAVEN

“The mere presence of great crested newts has been able to de­lay build­ing projects”

It’s a small, strik­ing-look­ing (and, for de­vel­op­ers, trou­ble­some) crea­ture with mighty pow­ers. For years the mere presence of great crested newts has been able to de­lay or even stop mul­ti­mil­lion pound build­ing projects right across the UK. But not for much longer.

The Govern­ment’s en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­viser Nat­u­ral Eng­land is rolling out a plan to give en­hanced le­gal pro­tec­tion to the species, which is clas­si­fied as rare across Europe. It’s a scheme that, at first sight, seems con­tra­dic­tory be­cause it will al­low builders to po­ten­tially de­stroy all but the great crested newt’s most im­por­tant habi­tats.


“If we fo­cus too much on pro­tect­ing in­di­vid­ual newts, the whole pop­u­la­tion may be lost,” says Rob Cameron, the pro­tected species re­form man­ager at Nat­u­ral Eng­land. So here comes the sec­ond and cru­cially im­por­tant part of the plan – de­vel­op­ers will have to foot the bill for im­prov­ing great crested newt habi­tats in a much wider area be­yond the one they are con­cret­ing over.

Un­til now, in­di­vid­ual li­cences have been is­sued on a site-by-site ba­sis for track­ing down, re­mov­ing and then ex­clud­ing the newts be­fore any work can be­gin – an ex­pen­sive, in­ef­fi­cient process. There have even been al­le­ga­tions of great crested newts be­ing de­lib­er­ately ‘im­ported’ onto con­tro­ver­sial sites to im­pede con­struc­tion.

Nat­u­ral Eng­land says it wants to cre­ate more habi­tat for newts while sim­pli­fy­ing the li­cens­ing system for de­vel­op­ers. It will carry out a three-year sur­vey of 150 dis­tricts where great crested newts are most preva­lent, map­ping out all their sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tions across the UK, as­sess­ing the im­pact of de­vel­op­ment and propos­ing con­ser­va­tion strate­gies.

From this, de­vel­op­ers will get a bet­ter pic­ture of newt ‘hot spots’. Should they get the go-ahead to build, lo­cal au­thor­i­ties will im­pose charges on them on a slid­ing scale, de­pen­dent on how much habi­tat is dam­aged, to help the newts else­where.

“It will rad­i­cally im­prove our knowl­edge of this species so we can bet­ter plan the con­ser­va­tion ef­fort,” says Cameron. “We can ac­cept losses on de­vel­op­ment sites be­cause the new system will pro­vide a re­ally sub­stan­tive gain over­all.”


The project, broadly wel­comed by con­ser­va­tion­ists, would link habi­tats to­gether across the country, al­low­ing great crested newts to move freely and giv­ing their sur­vival a bet­ter chance.

But the Wildlife Trusts do have some reser­va­tions. Steve Trot­ter, their Direc­tor Eng­land, tells me: “This ap­proach has been given the green light na­tion­ally be­fore the pi­lot project has been com­pleted. “Will enough com­pen­satory habi­tat be cre­ated to make up for build­ing over ar­eas that are im­por­tant for this rare species and will it be in the right place? We don’t want new hous­ing es­tates to be wildlife-free zones. What are the thresh­olds for de­cid­ing a colony is so im­por­tant it should be left in place? And are there enough peo­ple with the right ex­per­tise to man­age and mon­i­tor the new ap­proach?

“While we do have these con­cerns, we will still be work­ing with Nat­u­ral Eng­land to do our best to en­sure the roll-out of this new ap­proach is a suc­cess.”

Watch John on Coun­try­file on Sun­day evenings on BBC One.

Great crested newts are strictly pro­tected in the UK. But new rules for de­vel­op­ers could see some pop­u­la­tions de­stroyed

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