James is a Partner and Head of the Dispute Resolution team and primarily handles commercial…View Profile View all
The great crested newt is a protected species under the provisions of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Schofield Sweeney acted for two employees of a company operating a landfill site who were charged under sections 9 and 21 of the Act with intentionally obstructing access to a place used by great crested newts for shelter and protection, and also intentionally disturbing the newts when occupying a place used for shelter and protection.
These charges were brought notwithstanding the fact that the company operating the site used an ecologist and had in place measures for protecting great crested newts. The Defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges and after the case was set down for trial, the prosecution was withdrawn and an order for costs was made in the Defendants’ favour.
Great crested newts can be a thorn in the side of developers. If they are found on a site, development will in all probability have to be halted whilst a survey and assessment is undertaken and an application is made to Natural England to move the newts, together with measures to ensure that they do not re-occupy the site, before building work can start. The cost to developers in both delay (as steps can only be taken in the newts’ active season) and mitigation measures can run into tens of thousands of pounds.
In an effort to introduce more flexibility into dealing with great crested newts, Natural England has launched a pilot project with Woking Borough Council. Natural England is developing a system whereby instead of looking at the individual development site in isolation, Natural England will make an assessment of a whole area looking at the distribution of great crested newts in that area and also assessing what development is likely to take place over the next 15 to 20 years with a view to agreeing a conservation plan with the Local Authority including measures it will take to develop new habitats, in areas where development is unlikely to take place, to which great crested newts which might otherwise have an impact on a potential future development can be re-homed.
What Natural England wants to do is improve the way that the current legislation is implemented in a way which will mean that great crested newts will have less of an impact on development land because measures will have been put in place by the Local Authority to deal with sites which might be ripe for development in future years.
This can only be a good thing both for developers for whom delay and expense should be reduced or avoided and also for the newts which can be moved to suitable habitats under proper supervision.
For further information contact James Staton on 01274 306 000.