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Great-crested newt, Triturus cristatus

Network Rail pledges to protect great crested newts during upgrades

Image credit: Mikelane45 | Dreamstime

Great crested newts will be protected during a major railway engineering project, Network Rail has confirmed.

The rail engineering firm has pledged that new habitats will be created for the rare amphibians where the upgrade of the Midland Main Line disrupts existing sites.

Network Rail said it is the first organisation of its kind to be granted a licence launched in 2020 by government agency Natural England.

In June last year, prime minister Boris Johnson said “newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag” on productivity in the UK, holding up construction.

The new system is aimed at speeding up and improving protection for the amphibians. Newt counting has been replaced by samples taken from soil, sediment and water.

Conservationists look after the newts, using money from developers to create and manage new ponds and habitats in parts of the landscape not being developed.

All aspects of the Midland Main Line upgrade – which stretches from Market Harborough, in Leicestershire, to London St Pancras International – are covered by the new(t) licence.

The scheme is run by NatureSpace, which brings together local planning authorities, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and other experts.

Gary Walsh, route director, Network Rail, said: “We’re committed to supporting wildlife and increasing biodiversity. This can be a tricky balance for our industry, which relies upon heavy engineering and important standards to keep everyone safe.

“We’re delighted to have received a licence from Natural England that will allow us to actively improve how we look after this vital protected species, while still delivering infrastructure investment which is essential to the community and economy as we look to come out of the Covid pandemic.”

NatureSpace chief executive Dr Tom Tew said: “The great thing about this licence is that it delivers a long-term and landscape-scale approach to the conservation of a rare and declining species.

“Not only are individual newts moved out of harm’s way during rail operations, but we and our partners are creating and managing top-quality new ponds and habitats along the length of the railway line.

“It’s quicker for Network Rail and avoids delays to engineering, but it’s also much better for great crested newts and for a whole host of other wildlife, too.”

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