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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

March of the newts

Today's Western Mail reports that rare newts are being “parachuted” onto controversial development sites far from their natural habitats in a bid to influence planning disputes:

Millions of pounds have been spent providing alternative habitats for great crested newts and other protected species found on sites earmarked for construction.

But experts last night said the small amphibians were now actively being used as “weapons” in bitter planning tussles.

Scott Felton, a former water keeper of Colwyn Bay, helped a local residents’ association develop plans to turn the neglected Eirias Park lake into a fishery.

However, stocking the lake with fish has been put on hold after great crested newts, protected under the European Habitats Directive, were spotted there.

Mr Felton, who managed lake fisheries in Merseyside, claimed the newts may have been introduced by someone who objected either to angling or to an alternative proposal to drain the lake and build on its site. He said the newts’ nearest known breeding site was four miles away, past urban streets.

“You’re talking about newts not only travelling that distance, but travelling in sufficient numbers to create a viable population,” said Mr Felton, whose father was a zoologist. “Everything is wrong about the habitat in Eirias Park. These newts colonise ponds like the Polynesians colonised the Pacific by island hopping.”

Great crested newts would have to run a gauntlet of predators to reach their new North Wales home. “There are places where they can get out of the lake at Eirias Park, but they’d have to cross hundreds of yards of mown grass to get to the nearest cover. If a gull saw one it would eat it straight away. The place is overrun with rats, which eat newts and frogs.

“Great crested newts lay their eggs singly and fold a leaf around the egg for protection. They have to have the right sort of weed in the pond. As far as I’m aware, that sort of weed isn’t found in Eirias Park lake. I think these newts have been put there.

“I would love to see great crested newts all over the place. They’re an important part of the wildlife of this country, but they shouldn’t be used as weapons.

“It’s amazing how these animals are so scarce yet they inevitably appear where people are objecting to development. I’m sure that in some cases they’re being moved, which isn’t ethical.”

His claims were echoed by a Welsh property developer who claimed great crested newts were now appearing wherever his company planned to build. The developer, who did not want to be named, said, “We do have suspicions. We put two and two together. We’re seen as the big bad developers. It’s getting more difficult. The newts appear to be everywhere.”

The appearance of newts can spell huge losses to developers. This month Cheshire councillors wrote to the Government questioning habitat rules after their council spent £60,000 rehousing four great crested newts. Last month Leicestershire council announced a three-month delay to a £15m road scheme while great crested newts are moved, at a cost of up to £1.7m. And 26 new homes in Trefnant, Denbighshire, were delayed six months while a £140,000 habitat was created for two great crested newts.

Could this be a biblical manifestation or just the start of a great-crested newt revival? Somebody should fund a study.
The Western Mail article gives an erroneous impression of Great Crested Newt (GCN) habitat. Mown grass would not be a problem, they travel up to half a mile with no problem. The rats do not take GCNs generally as their skin is toxic. There is not a "wrong" type of weed for GCNs. They will lay their eggs on any materials including dead leaves or even plastic bags.

This is something that we have more of than the rest of Europe and we need to protect them.
Perhaps that renowned newt expert, Ken Livingstone, could be retained to carry out an inquiry. It would give him something to do after Brian Paddick defeats him in the London mayoral election. ;-)
I don't understand why the Council never knew of there existence and the excuse these newts have been dropped into the lake by some activist. I remember catching newts at Eirias Park Lake in the 70's and there were hundred's of them living & swimming along the boundary wall.

Save our NEWT's..!
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