Wildlife trust treasurer in row with waste site boss over great crested newt habitats

Great crested newts are a strictly protected species Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Great crested newts are a strictly protected species Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A trustee of Suffolk’s largest wildlife charity has become involved in a dispute with the boss of a waste site over great crested newt habitats at his Grade II listed farmhouse.

A female great-crested newt Picture: BILL DARNELL

A female great-crested newt Picture: BILL DARNELL

James Alexander, treasurer of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said no harm to nature was done when a tennis court was constructed at his property – in Swan Road, Worlingworth – in March 2014.

Mid Suffolk Council launched enforcement action earlier this year over the court not having planning permission but put that on hold after Mr Alexander put in a retrospective application.

In the application, Mr Alexander states he had “inadvertently built it without permission” – believing it was outside the grounds of this listed building and therefore did not need approval from the council.

But criticism has been levelled by his neighbour Paul Lansdowne for building the tennis court near a pond on the property – a habitat for endangered newts.

The waste site near Worlingworth has been used for crushing stone in the last few years Picture: JAM

The waste site near Worlingworth has been used for crushing stone in the last few years Picture: JAMES ALEXANDER - Credit: Archant

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Ecologist Sarah Carver, submitting an objection on behalf of Mr Lansdowne, said: “The destruction of such prime great crested newt habitat to build a tennis court is not justified and would not meet local or national policy requirements.

“It is also highly likely that given the time of year the tennis court was constructed, great crested newts foraging in the grass so close to the pond would have either been killed or injured.”

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However, Mr Alexander hit back at this criticism and claimed it was an attempt to deflect attention from Mr Lansdowne, who is operating a waste centre nearby which wildlife experts also said could have impacted on the newts.

The concrete crushing waste centre called Lansdowne Plant, in Bedingfield Road, has a retrospective planning application to continue operations which has been rumbling on for several months.

Last week, Suffolk County Council planners had been expected to refuse the proposals – which have been subject to a backlash from villagers over traffic and noise fears – but the decision was delayed.

Concerns have also been raised about the safety of great crested newts at this site, by residents including Mr Alexander, with Norfolk-based wildlife officers warning a lagoon likely to have contained the protected species was filled in over the past decade.

But Mr Lansdowne, owner of the waste centre, said an ecological statement submitted with his application gives evidence which does not support the use of the lagoon by great crested newts.

“There used to be a man-made lagoon on the site that was used for fire-fighting purposes when it was a large factory,” he added.

“This is not there anymore, and only a small quantity of fire-fighting water is required now before the new smaller building is built and becomes operational.”

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But wildlife experts said in their review of the site that ongoing operations would have created “disturbance and unsuitable conditions” for great crested newts to move into the lagoon.

Regarding his own application to build the tennis court, Mr Alexander added: “I’m very keen on nature, as you may know, so of course we took the mitigating activity we needed to – to ensure it wasn’t being built during the middle of the breeding season when the newts would be likely to be wandering about.”

Mr Alexander, whose home is now for sale for £950,000, said he was made aware that great crested newts were present near his home when he submitted proposals for a swimming pool in 2011.

Both retrospective planning bids are still being reviewed by councils, with decisions expected in due course.

Mid Suffolk Council confirmed enforcement action against Mr Alexander over alleged building work is on hold while his planning application is considered.

Great crested newts are native to the UK and are strictly protected due to massive declines in population over the past decade.

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