Leading land broker Aston Mead has welcomed the arrival of a new test devised by Natural England, which can detect the DNA of great crested newts in ponds and streams.
The test, which is being piloted in Woking, Surrey, means that developers and councils may soon be able to resolve clashes over dealing with the legally protected animals, without the current lengthy surveys to find and count them.
Aston Mead Land & Planning Director Charles Hesse said: “This is the sort of simple and straightforward test that developers all over the country have been crying out for. It will allow councils to balance the protection of valuable wildlife habitats with the requirement to provide desperately needed new homes.
“Without a definitive process like this, developers have been forced to put construction on hold – sometimes for months on end – after the discovery of just a single newt. This has meant projects have suffered long delays, often adding tens of thousands of pounds in costs.”
The great crested newt is protected under EU law which means that licensed ecologists have had to carry out four time-consuming surveys to establish their presence in any given area. If discovered, developers are currently obliged to apply for a licence to disturb them, before painstakingly re-homing them one by one.
The new plans from Natural England, which advises on protecting the species, will mean that developers will no longer be required to move individual newts, as long as councils protect the biggest populations and best habitats.
Charles Hesse added: “This is not about riding roughshod over important ecological sites. Instead, the new technology will be used to identify areas where great crested newts are most prevalent and should be protected. This means development will be guided away from these places towards more suitable locations.
“It should also mean that a quick test will determine whether building work can continue, saving months of costly delays, and preventing developers being forced to down tools and re-home every single newt they discover.”