For British Homeowners, No Newts Is Good Newts
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For British Homeowners, No Newts Is Good Newts

Endangered amphibian endangers new construction for pop stars and politicians; Boris Johnson promises to build a ‘newtopia’ to compensate for a swimming pool

By MAX COLCHESTER
Fri, Aug 25, 2023 9:05amGrey Clock 4 min

EASTCOURT, England—The bane of Britain’s great and powerful is a couple of inches long, has warty skin and a bright orange underbelly—and the power to disrupt some of their most heartfelt ambitions.

Singer Ed Sheeran, King Charles and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson are among the many homeowners in Britain who have, at one time or another, been warned they might have to alter their building plans to accommodate the great crested newt.

Britain is a country where the public proudly regard themselves as animal lovers. There are no wolves, lynxes or bears left in the wild here. But it turns out parts of the island nation have one of the greatest concentrations of great crested newts in Europe.

The tiny amphibian has a protected status here because its population is shrinking. Purposely killing a crested newt or destroying its habitat can result in a six-month jail sentence and unlimited fine. So before anything is built, Britons must be sure the area is newt-free and no newt home is harmed, a process that can take months and cost thousands of pounds.

Johnson once railed against “newt counting” as a symbol of excessive red tape hampering Britain’s notoriously slow housing developers. But when his plan to build a swimming pool at his Oxfordshire manor was recently delayed because it might disturb newts that might be in his nearby moat, Johnson offered to roll out the red carpet. He pledged to build a special pond, or, as he called it, “a newtopia,” to house them. He declined to comment further.

If a newt is found in a pond near a construction site, mitigation measures must be taken before the first brick is laid. That can range from building a special “newt fence” to protect it from wandering into harm’s way to hand collecting newts to move them to an artificial wetland, a la Johnson’s planned pond.

The regulations have spawned numerous newt consultants, who charge a fee that starts at around £200 ($253) to make sure homeowners don’t run afoul of the law. Teams of trained sniffer dogs can be employed to comb ponds near construction sites to give the all-clear. There are specially constructed “newt tunnels” dug under several major British roads—often costing millions of pounds—that allow the animals to crawl around freely. They have to be over 6 feet wide; otherwise they get too chilly and the newts refuse to use them.

On a recent day, Freya, a lively 8-year-old springer spaniel, charged around a field here in southwestern England, lying prone whenever she sniffed a crested newt. Her handler, Nikki Glover, is an ecologist who works for Wessex Water, a utility that wants to install water pipes in the area in September. It needs a newt count before it embarks on plans to move them to a suitable habitat.

Soon after starting to sniff around, Freya tugs at her leash and dives into a thick bush of brambles. “There’s interest there,” Glover says, before yanking on a blue plastic glove, crouching into the undergrowth, and reaching into a small muddy crevice. Her hand emerges cradling a newt.

The British government champions kits that detect DNA in pond water that it says can cut the red tape and find crested newts when they congregate during their breeding season. Annoyingly it means the tests must be completed between March and July as that is the only time the newts get it on, an elaborate ceremony which can include the small male newt tail-whipping his larger partner. “There are seasonal constraints,” says John Wenman, who runs an ecological consulting firm in Berkshire.

The little amphibian plays an outsize role in British culture. “Eye of newt” is a key ingredient in the witches brew in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (although even those witches wouldn’t actually hurt a newt—the expression is a pseudonym for mustard seed). When British people get very drunk they say they are “pissed as a newt” (origins unclear but perhaps linked to young sailors who were called “newts”). Former London mayor Ken Livingstone made political hay by owning pet newts.

Recently, newts have suffered a public-relations setback, becoming a symbol for unnecessary bureaucracy in a country where getting permission to build anything is lengthy and expensive. Britain faces an acute housing shortage, and homes remain unaffordable for many families. “For many years now, the great crested newt has had to live with a bad name,” Natural England, a government agency tasked with protecting the environment, warned on a blog a few years back.

In 2018, a council in Nottingham tendered for a contract worth up to £40,000 to relocate some 40 newts from a construction zone. When developing the stadium for the 2012 London Olympics, newts on the site in east London were hand collected in special plastic bottles and moved elsewhere. In 2017 the U.K. government reported that a house builder once paid an average of £2,261.55, or more than $2,800, per relocated newt. “No newts is good newts,” said one headline in Building Magazine.

Actress Cate Blanchett had to acquire a special license after newt consultants concluded there was “average to excellent habitat suitability” for crested newts in nearby water. She is trying to install several solar panels at her house in Sussex. King Charles was warned about disturbing newts by a British amphibian lobby group when he recently proposed to build a gift shop at his residence at Highgrove. Crested newts briefly threatened a plan by Ed Sheeran to build a chapel on his property until he built an amphibian-proof fence to protect them.

Many newt consultants rely on low-tech methods such as “torching,” or shining flashlights at ponds during the night to count crested newts. Glover, the ecologist, swears by dogs.

To teach Freya to find newts, Glover turned to Louise Wilson, a veteran dog trainer in north Wales who cut her teeth using canines to search for improvised explosive devices and drugs.

When a sewage pipe cracked near Bristol recently, before Wessex Water could stop the effluent from flowing out it had to first make sure no crested newts would be harmed by the diggers turning up to do the repair. Glover and Freya appeared and within days had evacuated 86 newts. She estimates more traditional methods would have required a month of newt hunting.

“There is no other tool that would show you there is a newt in the burrow,” she says.



MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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Hotel experience at home in Castle Hill

A new development in the Hills District sets a new standard in buyer expectations

By KANEBRIDGE NEWS
Wed, May 22, 2024 3 min

Castle Hill is set to be home to a new hotel-like development, with the announcement that the 94-apartment Astrid site is just weeks away from completion.

While the penthouse apartments across the two buildings have already been snapped up, there are still one, two and three-bedroom residences on offer. The development comes with a gold star iCIRT rating, guaranteeing it has met quality construction standards. The iCIRT rating system has been developed by Equifax in partnership with government, industry and market and rates projects from one to five stars following a rigorous and independent review process.

Steve Harb from developer CBD Core, said it’s the best indicator would-be buyers could have that their investment is safe.

“The iCIRT rating gives people the assurance that we’re trustworthy and have integrity as a developer,” he says. “Our service is complete from start to finish, from developer to builder. 

“As a buyer, you have one point of contact, there’s no shifting responsibility or passing the buck so if anyone has an issue, it can be sorted out as soon as possible.”

He said Astrid has proved popular with locals interested in upgrading without leaving the convenience and amenity of the Hills District. Surrounded by some of the best restaurants, clubs and recreational facilities in the area, it is also just six minutes’ walk to the new Metro station and a seven-minute drive to Castle Towers Shopping Centre. Schools and tertiary education options are also within an easy drive. In addition to some of the best parks and reserves in Sydney, it’s an attractive option for families on the move.

Mr Harb said the concept for the development, as with all his projects, was to create a hotel-like environment.

“I only do boutique projects and when I say ‘boutique’, I mean hotels without the concierge,” he says. “The quality and integrity is built into it.”

The infinity edge pool is surrounded by leafy gardens in a resort-style environment.

Leisure facilities include rooftop gardens and entertaining spaces as well as a fully equipped gym on the ground floor overlooking an infinity edge pool surrounded by lush landscaped gardens. Mr Harb says beautiful landscaping is a signature of all his developments.

“I have lived in the Hills District for more than 15 years and the reason I live here is because I love the leafy environment, the greenery,” he says. “I always like to emphasise that in my developments with strong landscaping.”

WORK FROM HOME HUB

Recognising the ongoing desire to adopt a hybrid working model, Astrid provides a dedicated on-site working environment suitable for exclusive use by residents needing focused work time, as well as those seeking professional meeting rooms to receive clients, with wifi enabled work desks, as well as more casual seating. 

Mr Harb said the pandemic taught him that, while working from home was convenient, having breakout spaces within a wider residential development was highly attractive.

“You’re not stuck looking at the same four walls,” he says. “The shared work space at Astrid has comfortable lounges, chairs, coffee tables and more than a dozen cubicles,” he says. “It’s more like going into a meeting room in a hotel.”

The apartments are characterised by light-filled interiors.

IN RESIDENCE

The apartments are light-filled living spaces with seamless access to balconies, through to integrated joinery secreting storage. Finishes have been chosen to last, from the Michael Angelo Quartz benchtop and Char Oak Polytec Ravine joinery in the kitchen to the stone splashback and custom-made joinery in the bathroom.

Access throughout the buildings is via a swipe card, providing a secure environment. 

For more information, see Astrid Castle Hill.

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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