£1million – to save 150 great crested newts

Great crested newt
Great crested newt

More than £1 million has been spent catching 150 NEWTS on the site of one of the city’s biggest housing developments, the Citizen can reveal.

The quest for the highly protected great crested newts has caused up to a year’s delay in building works on the western expansion area, where 6,500 new homes are planned.

Developers Gallagher Estates had a legal duty to protect the creatures before the 900 acre site was disturbed. But they also had to bone up on a totally different speciality – in the form of skeletons.

For as well as the newts, which EACH cost almost £6,700 to trap and relocate, the land was ‘home’ to 21 whole or partial skeletons dating back to Saxon times.

A report from Gallagher’s states: ‘Interestingly two of the skeletons have revealed that prior to burial their arms and legs had been chopped off... A third skeleton would also appear to have been subjected to a major trauma, noteably a knife, sword or spear wound.’

Other historic finds included remains of Iron Age round houses, pottery shards. Together with the skeletons, these will be displayed at a a public exhibition in Stony Stratford later this year.

Meanwhile the newts have been relocated to ponds specially created on the development site. Experts were paid to trap and transport them, as any member of the public who damages a great crested newt would face prosecution and possibly prison.

Last week Gallagher Estates representatives met with Stony Stratford Town Council to report on the progress of the western expansion area, which runs from Crownhill to just south of Stony.

Though the company’s amphibian-saving efforts have been applauded by wildlife preservationists, city UKIP candidate Philip Blowfield was not sympathetic to the creatures.

“As a result of this enormous effort only 150 newts were found. The expense, delay and priority given to this rather privileged minority is difficult to justify. What a waste of time and money when so many people are in need,” he said.

Gallagher hopes to start work in June on the infrastructure and access roads, which will take a year to complete.