£15k to save newt 'ludicrous' says council
Cheshire County Council has hit out at EU rules requiring it to find a new home for newts found on school land where building work is planned, arguing that a bill amounting to £15,000 per newt is 'ludicrous'.
The tracking, trapping and relocation of the newts cost the council £60,000.
Great crested newts are a protected species under European law and planning applications infringing their habitats are routinely turned down unless it can be shown that measures have been taken to safeguard their numbers.
Cheshire councillor Barrie Hardern has written to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn complaining about the excessive use of public money in this particular case.
"Around £15,000 per newt seems a ludicrous sum of money to me," said Cllr Harden.
"They are a legally protected species under EU regulations because there are parts of Europe where they are quite rare.
"However in Cheshire we have in the order of 16,000 ponds and newts are widespread and locally abundant".
"The EU regulations together with UK legislation carry substantial fines if we do not protect the newts as part of planning applications.
"I am very concerned about tax payers money being used in this way in what appears to be a ridiculous situation.
Great crested newts are Britain's largest newt species, they can live for 27 years and grow up to 17cm long.
Appearing black in colour with orange or yellow bellies with black blotches, they can be found across northern Europe.
Like nearly all amphibians, Great Crested newts are dependent on weedy ponds and small lakes for breeding but usually spend most of their life on land.
There are estimated to be 400,000 Great Crested newts in the UK in 18,000 breeding sites.
Cllr Hardern is supported by Cheshire's executive member for the Environment Andrew Needham who said: "I will be raising the issue at EU level with our European Members of Parliament.
"There is a growing national debate on this issue and we in this country rigorously uphold the law whether we like it or not but the time has come for a major rethink.
"The county council fully accepts its environmental responsibilities, and we aim to ensure that wildlife is properly protected from developments.
"However we do wonder if such sums of money would be better spent investing in improvements to the wider pond network, which would benefit not only great crested newts but all types of wetland wildlife."