Newts

Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary last week which made me wonder whether the habitues of Lou and Perry’s diner were all voting for him – maybe they are all Democrats anyway.

Newts are tricky things though aren’t they?

There are three species of newts in the UK; smooth, palmate and great crested,  and the greatest of these in weight, length and legal terms is the great crested.

Great crested newts may well be in the sights of the government as it reviews the Habitats Regulations on George Osborne’s instructions so that we can all be rich again.  There is a better case than most to say that the great crested newt is bringing the economy to its knees because it is an offence to ‘recklessly disturb’ a great crested newt and the great crested newt is a quite widespread species across the UK (even if you and I have never seen one – or have you?).

Any old housing estate or factory that is planned might run up an aggressive newt or two and it certainly seems like you have to jump through quite a few hoops to be newt-compliant.

A report from Natural England last year, with the work done by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, confirms that great crested newts are declining but also that they are still widespread.  Although great crested newts are scurrying around in flower rich fields they do need ponds and the decline in number and quality of ponds in the countryside is a concern for all newt-lovers (except, probably, right-wing Americans).

Pond Conservation‘s Million Ponds Project is the sort of thing that is needed in order to save great crested newts from ongoing declines.  Maybe it’s the time for developers to put a few million quid into pond restoration?

I have heard quite a few developers moaning about newts and quite a few conservationists showing a lot of sympathy for these concerns.  Might there be a deal to be done that would involve throwing the newts (or some newts) to the wolves of Frances Maude and George Osborne (actually,  Maude does look a bit wolf-like whereas Osborne is clearly a weasel) in order to save the rest of the natural world and allow government to save some face ?

Newt’s moving on to Florida – pastures newt?

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
Article Global Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati del.icio.us Digg Google StumbleUpon Eli Pets

6 Comments

  1. alan parfitt

    Hi Mark, while great crested newts are reasonably widespread but declining in the UK, I understand on a European scale they are a very rare species hence their protection. I also understand (I hope correctly) that it is pefectly feasible for a developer, with the consent of Natural England to translocate a population at the right time of year to an agreed suitable alternative site. So I strongly suspect that these issues raised by developers about "nature getting in their way" are just a smoke screen for basically not wishing to take the time, trouble and the limited finance to do the right thing for nature protection. Having worked on the Wytch Farm Oil Field development in Purbeck in the 1980s, BP showed that with propoer planning, surveying and some financial outlay, a major developement in the national interest, in a highly rated wildlife area is pefectly feasible and nature need not be harmed. The problem is, in these situations good quality developers are needed and they are pretty thin on the ground and getting thinner. Are Mr. Osborne and his colleagues in the good "quality developer camp" or are in they the "nature just gets in the way camp"? I think the answer is fairly obvious.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    • Mark

      Alan - thank you, great comment!

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  2. Jo

    Alan is correct in his understanding. I'd also add that if these things (ie nature) are considered at the outset by the developer it is perfectly possible to plan for any problems and prevent almost all delays. Especially if it is a large one which will take several years to complete. Getting a newt licence is more difficult than a badger (very easy) or bat licence (quite easy) admittedly, but their needs are also very different! In the main though my experience is that the problem is in the planning stage and occasionally the sudden changes in said plan. Cost is comparatively minimal unless the development is tiny such as a householder wanting to expand their building footprint. Problems do occur on occasion where consultant ecologists are over zealous though.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
    • Mark

      Jo - welcome and thank you.

      Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  3. John Miles

    A friend of mine has a great way of spreading Great crested Newts around the countryside. Place a corrugated plastic sheet into the pond at breeding time and the newts prefer to lay their eggs on the sheet rather than all that water weed. Move the sheet to another pond and eggs hatch and newts have started a new colony. The main threat to his newts in his pond are from Blackbirds eating the adults.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)
  4. Great crested newts (GCNs) are probably the most 'controversial' of the European Protected Species (EPS), which includes all species of bat, dormouse and otter (in the UK). A complete list can be found here: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/EuropeanProtectedSpecies_tcm6-10703.pdf.

    I say 'controversial' for a number of reasons:

    1) it is probably, with bats, the most frequent of the EPS that developers come against when undertaking ecology surveys; but unlike bats, the regime is generally more restrictive:

    2) the survey season to determine presence is short (early March [weather dependent] until June) and the methodology specific: four surveys on every pond within 250 m to 500 m of the proposed activity, with two surveys having to be completed between mid-April and mid-May. If GCNs are recorded in a pond, a further two visits are required (making six in total) before the end of June;

    3) mitigation can be onerous and can only be done under licence from one of the statutory authorities (SNCO) (Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or Countryside Council for Wales). Obtaining a licence can be a lengthy affair, requiring a Method Statement, and two other relatively less cumbersome documents. A licence will normally require between one and two weeks preparation and the developer should expect a minimum of six weeks for the SNCO to issue the paperwork; sometimes considerably longer;

    4) once the licence is received, the developer would be expected to provide two new ponds for one that is lost and the guidelines expect that the ponds are established before translocation can take place;

    5) translocation is typically expected to take 30 consecutive days (for a small population) and anything from 60 days (frequent) to 90 days (less frequent) for larger populations. Translocation is normally undertaken using temporary amphibian fencing (TAF) with pitfall (bucket) traps. You may well have seen this fencing on motorway embankments or elsewhere. It is green, rigid fencing or translucent plastic and wooden posts, approximately adult knee height. The site may be 'cleared', i.e. handed over to the developer once five consecutive blank days are achieved, i.e. no GCNs are recorded. The TAF may well extend some distance (i.e. 10s or 100s of metres) beyond the pond itself and adjacent habitat and will need to be visited at least once every 24 hrs; and

    6) finally, a destructive search whereby the vegetation is cleared, tree roots etc uplifted and checked for any last remaining individuals before the handover.

    An interesting article on this subject, with some images, is available here (http://www.environmenttimes.co.uk/news_detail.aspx?news_id=998).

    The above process illustrates in my opinion, why this species can be controversial. And as it is a widespread species, recorded with frequency across lowland England, Wales and some areas of Scotland, developers will and do frequently come across them. And they are not restricted to greenfield or semi-natural environments; they are also denizens of brownfield sites where the ground may be contaminated by industrial use. I've personally recorded them breeding in the concrete base of an old gas holder and in an abandoned and damaged swimming pool.

    The existing regime requires a developer to undertake a similar mitigation programme, regardless if just two or two hundred newts (or more) are recorded, i.e. there is no proportionality. It is no wonder that developers, and ecologists, tear their hair out at times. And it can generate excruciatingly bad publicity for the ecology/ nature conservation profession...headlines that scream out that £100,000s are spent on moving a few newts are not rare and pop up from time to time in the broadsheets as well as the tabloid press. This gives the impression that ecology is a financial burden to business and 'gets in the way of development'. In other words, the existing regime is, in my opinion, counter-productive and supports the lobbyists that push for the Directive to be watered down, reduced or otherwise diminished.

    So what to do? The core issue, in my opinion, is that proportionality and common sense have been lost to a rigid and intractable interpretation of the Habitats Directive which protects EPS in the first instance. The domestic guidance, published by Natural England’s predecessor (English Nature) in August 2001 is long overdue an update (my opinion). Unfortunately, it can be all too frequently interpreted as the ‘rule book’, rather than guidance, resulting in over-the-top mitigation and extremely frustrated ecologists and developers. Not surprisingly, any goodwill towards nature conservation is lost.

    The current existing system essentially requires every last single individual to be collected and translocated whereas the Directive aims to protect populations (or sub-populations in the instance of GCNs which form meta-populations). The EU has published guidance on EPS (http://circa.europa.eu/Public/irc/env/species_protection/library?l=/commission_guidance/english/final-completepdf/_EN_1.0_&a=d) which provides some parameters on what may constitute ‘disturbance’ – a potential offence if you translocate a EPS (any life-stage such as egg, juvenile, or adult) without a licence. The EU guidance on this specific point differs somewhat to how some interpret this in the UK.

    I am not saying that protecting EPS is not important – it is. We have a moral as well as a legal duty to protect them, and their habitats. But, we do need to review how we apply the legislation to protect EPS to regain proportionality and a common sense approach. Do we really need to erect kilometres of TAF (which is essentially plastic that cannot be recycled or used again), emit the carbon dioxide travelling to and back from the site for 30 – 90 consecutive days, in order to move a few 100 newts? Surely, a more proportionate response in most instances can be completed with no loss in the species favourable conservation status. Thus, for most sites following a robust survey, a shorter, less onerous mitigation exercise could equally be undertaken limiting TAF to the ‘core habitat’ and not extending it for hundreds of metres. This will in all likelihood collect a significant proportion of the trappable population. Instead of 60 days, why not c. 25 days followed by a destructive search, collecting any remaining individuals. Yes, not every newt will be collected but I would suggest that a significant proportion will be and the population will remain post-construction - the intention of the Directive. This would still be undertaken under a licence and all activities documented, with all parties signed up to it. The ecologists on site will have a ‘feel’ for what would be appropriate and modify the approach accordingly, but without the need to formally amend a licence, resulting in any further delays, if this proves necessary.

    The benefits? A less onerous regime that reduces developer’s costs (financially and temporally) and offers more flexibility but without compromising nature conservation. And perhaps, restores developer’s confidence in nature conservation and subsequent goodwill.

    Of course, in some circumstances, if a 'large' population is recorded, the status quo may be appropriate, but I would suggest this will contribute a small percentage of such activities.

    So I do believe that there is scope to review the Habitats Directive, for the benefit of all. More information is available here: http://wp.me/p1sWWx-7x – scroll down to the image of a GCN.

    And finally, John Miles. Your friend could well be committing an offence, unless he has a licence from the relevant SNCO. Furthermore, moving amphibians around the countryside without certain precautions risks transmitting a fatal disease: chytridiomycosis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chytridiomycosis) - see http://www.zsl.org/conservation/regions/uk-europe/ukchytridiomycosis,842,AR.html and http://www.arguk.org/projects/uk-chytridiomycosis-survey-frog-swab and http://static.zsl.org/files/biosecurity-arguk4-511.PDF for more information. Whilst their intentions may be good, such activities could pose unforeseen problems.

    Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Leave Your Comment

Your email will not be published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>