Breeding newts delay York Monks Cross shop development

Plans for John Lewis store at Work was due to start on York's Monks Cross development in January but will now be delayed until the spring

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The start of building work on a major new shopping development in York has been delayed due to a breeding newt population at the site.

Construction at Monks Cross was due to start this month, but developers Oakgate said the wet summer had meant a huge rise in newt numbers.

The great crested newt population had grown from nine to 300, said Oakgate.

All the newts would have to be rehomed before building work could start at the site, said the developers.

A John Lewis store, which was due to open at Monks Cross at Christmas 2013, will now open at Easter 2014 at the same time as a Marks and Spencer and a Next store, Oakgate said.

Great crested newts

Great crested newt
  • Great crested newts are Britain's largest newt species, reaching up to 17cm (6.7ins) in length
  • The amphibians are near black, with spotted sides, an orange belly and warty skin
  • Although they are protected by law, the population has declined as a result of the destruction of habitats
  • It means developers who find colonies must sometimes go to extreme lengths to avoid disturbing the newts
  • Estimates suggest there are about 400,000 great crested newts in Britain

Sources: BBC Nature / JNCC

Under rules laid out by Natural England - the authority which issues "newt licences" and enforces the species' protected status - all the great crested newts on the site will have to be individually caught and rehomed to a nearby specially created £300,000 wetland habitat.

Dr Mark Hampton, whose job it is to safeguard the newts during their relocation, said the newts' breeding prowess was down to one of the wettest summers on record.

"The two males and seven females, which have been found both this year and in previous surveys of newts at the Monks Cross site, have been using trenches dug as part of an archaeological dig in 2005 for breeding.

"These trenches usually dry up in May and, because newt larvae need wet conditions to survive, this small newt population hasn't successfully bred before.

"However, because 2012 was the wettest summer in 100 years, the trenches have remained wet and the newts have had an exceptionally successful breeding season."

Richard France, director of Monks Cross (Oakgate) Ltd, said while he was disappointed that work could not begin at the site, the firm took its responsibility to the environment seriously.

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