Wildlife protection group refuses entry to ecologists over newt concerns

A protected greater crested newt, which a Harrogate wildlife group fears isn't being well protected enough by ecologists hired by developers.
A protected greater crested newt, which a Harrogate wildlife group fears isn't being well protected enough by ecologists hired by developers.

A Harrogate environmental protection group says it won't allow ecologists on to a parcel of land it controls, in a bid to protect great crested newts at the site.

Harrogate Trust for Wildlife Protection says it has refused permission for three lots of ecologists to survey a pond at their Scotton conservation site, in which the protected great crested newts breeds.

Honorary secretary of the trust, John Barker, said ecologists working on behalf of housing companies weren't offering enough protection to the amphibians, so they were being refused access to the site.

The group's most recent concerns regard a 16-house planning application proposed adjacent to their Scotton reserve, which as well as being a conservation area, is also a "natural burial ground", where people can bury their loved ones in a graveyard surrounded by wildlife.

"Our public service depends on complete privacy and seclusion but that is now under very serious threat," he said.

"HBC has a legal duty to protect and promote health, so hopefully that will result in rejection of the application to build the 16 houses."

An environmental assessment submitted by the developers behind the application, Jack Lunn Properties, stated that ecologists carrying out a greater crested newt survey earlier this year were refused access to the site.

The report states that because the trust's ponds could not be examined, it must be assumed that a "medium sized population" reside there, based off a 2016 assessment which recorded 23 individuals there.

The assessment stated that while access was restricted access to that pond, two other adjacent ponds near the development were surveyed, with no specimens found.

However, the report concded that both ponds were likely used "on occasion", but not for breeding, with it stated that the two surveyed ponds are of "no real significance" to the newts.

The report states that the site's "rough neutral grassland, scrub, tall ruderal vegetation and log piles (are) all considered optimal terrestrial habitat for this species".

While the absence of newts breeding in the two surveyed ponds "bodes well" for the development of the site according to the report, "the presence of suitable newt terrestrial habitats" means a mitigation strategy to lesson the impact of the development would be necessary for it to be approved.

However, Mr Barker said he hoped that the proposal would still be rejected, stating that the draft local plan had enough housing in it to negate the need for the 16-dwelling development.

"There is no need to threaten our bereavement work," he said referring to the burial service offered on the site.

The move comes after the local authority approved a 175 house development on Knaresborough's Bar Lane earlier this year, despite objections from the wildlife trust that a pumping system to be installed at the site could be deadly for newts in the area.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter