Friday, 16 May 2008

Pissed At A Newt

Madness stalks the land over in Leicestershire, where, according to the Telegraph, the County Council shelled out £1 million protecting a colony of rare newts on a building site - only to find that there were no newts there.

The so-rare-as-to-be-totally-absent-newts in question were (or weren't) great crested newts - an endangered species that the Council was legally obliged to protect. So, when a group of mental enviroists produced a report claiming there was evidence to suggest the presence of between one and ten of the absent amphibians on the site, the Council swung into action.

A major road building scheme was put on hold for at least three months, and the authority stumped up hundreds of thousands of pounds for special newt-fencing and traps. A 1000-yard exclusion zone was erected around ponds on the site, and it was hoped that the traps would capture the newts and allow them to be moved. Staff were required to check the traps twice a day once temperatures rose above 41F (5C).

But the great crested newts were nowhere to be found, and Council officials are hopping mad to have spent so much money, not to mention delayed the new road, for the benefit of a few six-inch newts that were never there. Derek Needham, council engineering manager, confirmed: "We have caught a number of normal newts but no great crested newts."

And yet, despite spending a fortune and looking totally foolish, the Council can, quite rightly, claim that it was carrying out its legal duty; had they failed to protect a single genuine great crested newt, or colony thereof, officials could have faced a hefty fine or even jail.

Clearly, a change in the law is required. I wouldn't go out of my way to harm any living creature, be it a newt, a snail or something even more primitive like a politician, but nor am I unduly concerned if a few of them go West in the name of progress - there has to be some common sense involved. Are the lives of up to ten (or, in this case, no) great crested newts worth a sum anywhere close to £1 million? If so, why? Lets see it on a balance sheet, clearly broken down into quantifiable components.

If they're worth the money, then by all means protect them. If they're not, they must take their chances. Although, in fairness, it might be reasonable to allow a short period in which armies of bewhiskered tree huggers are given the chance to capture and transplant the beasties before the bulldozers roll in - on a voluntary basis, at their own expense and using their own equipment, of course.

Billy Seggars.

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