A delayed start to a John Lewis store in York due to a successful breeding season for great crested newts on the site highlights the impact that statutory conservation measures can have on construction projects.
The Strategic Forum’s biodiversity working group is currently working on a new, more proportionate guidance on protecting great crested newts, which it hopes will be adopted by Natural England.
Natural England enforces the UK Habitats Regulations, which are in place to ensure that threatened species aren’t driven to extinction.
The biodiversity working group is chaired by Vinci environmental manager Richard Smith, one of “The Modernisers” in this month’s cover feature (click here to read feature).
At the Monk’s Cross retail development, ecologists led by Dr Mark Hampton from URS Corporation were moving the site’s resident newts to a specially created habitat nearby, but found that the wet conditions of summer 2012 had resulted in a population explosion of nearly 300 juveniles born in summer/autumn.
Guidelines from Natural England do not require every great crested newt on a site to be captured and moved, but they do expect development teams to make reasonable efforts to catch as many as possible. It applies a threshold test: if five clear days pass without any newts being seen on site, then no more newts need be caught.
But at Monk’s Cross, ecologists were catching two or three a day throughout the autumn, and were unable to meet the five-day test before colder weather signaled the start of the hibernation season.
The site team – developer Oakgate and contractor Caddick Construction – must now delay the start of construction until spring. The John Lewis store will now open for Easter 2014 rather than Christmas 2013.
Richard France, director of Monk’s Cross (Oakgate), told Construction Enquirer: “Naturally, I’m disappointed that work cannot start as early as we would have liked it to. However, as developers, we take our responsibility to the environment seriously and are making sure that all the newts are appropriately rehomed in line with our legal requirements.”