New plans from Natural England have unveiled a scheme to sacrifice individual and very small populations in order to encourage councils to deny planning permission in areas where there are larger newt residents with ‘high grade habitats’. The newt species is currently protected under EU law and as a result developers are currently obliged to apply for a licence to disturb them before painstakingly rehoming them one by one.
Alan Law, Natural England’s chief strategy and reform officer said under the new system it may “no longer be necessary to catch and relocate any newts found on the development sites”.
“Although this approach means that a number of newts may be lost on development sites, their overall population in the pilot area is expected to be strengthened through habitat improvements so there is no threat to their conservation status,” he said.
If the pilot is successful, they plan to roll out the scheme Nationwide however it could infact have detrimental effects on the overall distribution and genetic diversity of Great Crested Newts; larger groups that become more geographically isolated may become more susceptible to interbreeding and it may become harder for newer populations to split from a high competition area to establish on their own with little to no legislation to protect them.
They are the scourge of the building industry: little amphibious creatures that can halt a development in its tracks and add thousands of pounds in costs thrown away to ecological surveys. projects can suffer months of delays which often ends up costing thousands of pounds if even a single newt or potential newt habitat is discovered once building work has begun. The organisation said it had issued about 1,000 licences to disturb great crested newts so far in 2015, the vast majority of which were to move them for development purposes.
“In recent years, the existing guidelines have caused considerable delay and consequent business costs to large numbers of sites, in many cases for very marginal benefits in terms of species protection,” he said.
In one recent case in Milton Keynes a building firm claimed to have had to spend more than £1 million catching 150 of the creatures – delaying the construction of 6,500 new homes by up to a year at a cost of £6,700 per newt saved.
Steve Turner, spokesman for the Home Builders’ Federation, welcomed the plans which he said would “balance protecting valuable wildlife with the provision of desperately needed new homes”.
Tony Gent, chief executive of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, said it supported Natural England’s new approach, so long as it ensured it was implemented in a way that delivered benefits for newts as well as for people.
instead Mr Law proposes new technology which could be used to test ponds for the DNA of Great Crested Newts which would identify areas where they are abundant and should be protected.
“Development will be guided away from these areas towards more suitable sites,” he said.
The new DNA mapping, being trialled in Woking, Surrey, will pave the way for much quicker and cheaper development in areas where there are found to be fewer newts.
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