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Man fined for harming protected amphibian

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    Posted: 22 Mar 2005 at 5:57pm
Press Releases
EN/05/16 22 March 2005
Man fined for harming protected amphibians
A man was fined ˙1,000 and ordered to pay ˙500 costs after being found guilty of offences against endangered and protected amphibians, English Nature announced today (Tuesday 22 March 2005).

Mr Peter Dennis, of Spennymoor, County Durham, was found guilty of controlling and recklessly disturbing great crested newts whilst occupying a structure or place used for shelter or protection, in a verdict announced on 16 March.

The Court heard that in November 1999 Mr Dennis acquired land, which included a large pond, in the knowledge that a significant population of great crested newts was present.

English Nature gave Mr Dennis extensive advice and assistance over several years in relation to the management of the pond, and through consultation with Sedgefield District Council, over his development proposals to build three bungalows next to the pond.

Mr Dennis was specifically advised by English Nature against water weed removal in the critical spring and summer breeding period. The court heard that a large quantity of weed was removed from the pond between 21 and 25 March 2004.

Mr Dennis admitted in evidence that he was aware there was a risk that newts would be in the pond during March, and that if newts were in the pond they were at risk if the weed was cleared. Mr Dennis admitted that he did not check the pond for presence of newts prior to removal of the weed. Being aware of the risk, Mr Dennis admitted that he removed the weed from the pond and did not check the weed after removal. Durham Constabulary investigated the incident which revealed that numerous newts and frogs had been trapped, and some killed, inside the piled up water plants.

Sgt Dave Wray, of Durham Constabulary, said: "We are very pleased with the outcome of the hearing as Mr Dennis was given extensive advice beforehand but chose to ignore it. If the police have evidence a wildlife crime has been committed, we and the other relevant agencies will take action. I hope this case serves as a warning to anyone else tempted to flout the law."

Mr Dennis admitted in evidence that he had commissioned his own great crested newt report the previous year for planning purposes. This report indicated the presence of newts during March.

Great crested newt numbers have plummeted across Europe over the last century, with an estimated 40,000 breeding pond losses in Britain during the 1960s to 1990s alone. Such declines are largely due to loss of ponds and surrounding habitat through agricultural intensification in the countryside, but residential, industrial and commercial development around our towns and inappropriate management of ponds has also played a part.

A similar pattern of decline is happening throughout the European range of the species, with England emerging as one of the strongholds for great crested newts. As a result, the newts and the places they use for breeding, resting, shelter and protection are safeguarded under UK and European law.

Great crested newt ponds may need careful maintenance to keep them in good condition, and this is best done in late autumn or winter when most newts are on land. Undertaking substantial management in the pond during the breeding season can be damaging. English Nature produces clear guidance on how to manage newt ponds effectively and within the law.

Sgt Dave Wray continued: "Without the expertise of our colleagues from English Nature this case would never have got off the ground. The law on this issue is very complex and we needed specialist advice from a number of different agencies. Everyone concerned has put in a great deal of time and effort to get the case to court.÷

Jim Foster, English NatureĂs amphibian specialist, said: ˘In most cases there are only minimal restrictions on land management where protected species occur, and English Nature is keen to help landowners if they have any concerns. Where there are plans to develop the land, additional considerations are required. Generally, we work well with the construction industry to ensure wildlife is safeguarded. Unfortunately we are witnessing an increase in reports of wildlife crime associated with development. In some cases the activity is driven by a desire to save the time and costs associated with considering protected species in development. This case demonstrates that harm to protected species is taken seriously.÷
Notes for editors
  1. English Nature is the GovernmentĂs independent wildlife advisor and champions the conservation of wildlife and geology throughout England.

  2. The Police lead on the investigation of species offences. The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for prosecuting these offences in court. English Nature has an advisory role to the police in relation to species offences.

  3. Great crested newts and the places they use for shelter or protection are protected under both UK law (the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) and European law (The Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994). It is an offence to:
    • Intentionally kill, injure or take a great crested newt
    • Deliberately capture or kill a great crested newt
    • Possess or control any live or dead specimen or anything derived from a great crested newt
    • Intentionally or recklessly damage, destroy or obstruct access to any structure or place used for shelter or protection by a great crested newt
    • Deliberately, intentionally or recklessly disturb a great crested newt while it is occupying a structure or place which it uses for that purpose
    • Deliberately take or destroy the eggs of a great crested newt
    This legislation applies to all life forms of great crested newts. Penalties are up to ˙5,000 fine per offence, and/or a custodial sentence of up to 6 months duration.

  4. The great crested newt has suffered a major decline in Britain over the last century. Ponds have been lost at a dramatic rate, particularly since the Second World War. With new piped water supplies, field enlargement and agricultural intensification, many ponds have been destroyed or left unmanaged, and surrounding habitats damaged. Residential, industrial and commercial development has also destroyed ponds and associated terrestrial habitats. Newts have become increasingly fragmented through development, roads and other unfavourable land-use; smaller, more isolated populations are more vulnerable to extinction than larger, well-connected populations. The loss of grassland, scrub and woodland means there are fewer opportunities for foraging, dispersal and hibernation.Local and national surveys have estimated colony loss in England at between 0.5% and 4% a year during the 1960s to 1990s; a conservative estimate gives around 40,000 great crested newt breeding pond losses in this period. A similar pattern of decline has also been noted across the European range of the species. However, England is thought to support a significant number of newt breeding sites on a European scale, and despite the declines the species is still fairly widespread in England.

  5. Amphibian breeding ponds may need careful maintenance to remove accumulated vegetation, and in general this is best done in late autumn or winter when most newts are on land. English Nature produces free leaflets on amphibians in gardens and provides advice to landowners on managing habitats. See:

  6. The presence of a protected species is a material planning consideration when local planning authorities are considering a development proposal. The protected status afforded to great crested newts means planning authorities may require extra information (in the form of surveys, impact assessments and mitigation proposals), before determining planning applications for land proposed for a change of land use. Where a proposed development will affect land known to be used by great crested newts, consideration needs to be given to the likely impact on the population.

  7. In 2004, English Nature commented on over 500 planning cases involving protected species in the North East of England. The vast majority of these were resolved such that the development aims and conservation of protected species were achieved side by side through careful planning.

  8. For further information contact Dave Mitchell on 01661 845500 or Jim Foster on 01733 455000.

  9. A photograph of a male great crested newt can be sent via email.
Please contact English NatureĂs press office on 01733 455190, email or out of hours 07970 098005.


Edited by administrator
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote test Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Apr 2005 at 2:27pm

A few comments about this story.

Firstly can this prosecution be regarded as a gain for GCN conservation?

Though I can't condone Mr. Dennis's actions I'm a little perplexed.

Surely now house owners will live in fear of finding GCN in ponds on their land incase they are fined for removing some weed, or carrying out any other normal garden maintenance task. Those that are considering any sort of minor development work will surely be inclined to fill in ponds before anyone records any newt species, most wonĂt know if they are actually GCN or not.

What about the real criminals?

Yet, large development companies continue to flout the law trashing GCN habitat at will. Whilst promoting themselves in a good light to the public they use any loophole or bad practice they wish with no real fear of prosecution.

Though I believe that actions such as Mr. Dennis's must be regarded as deliberate and therefore prosecutable, when will we see EN start to prosecute developers responsible for wiping out entire meta-populations of Great Cresteds?

Edited by Gemma Fairchild
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Apr 2005 at 7:37pm


Errr should we mention the Nature conservation bodies aswell? they also carry out activities which would normally be considered 'illegal' under the legislation - yes I know that it is for restoration for an unnatural habitat but hey who should be setting the example - you sort of expect it from those nasty developer types.



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