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Great British Bureaucrats

By PHILIP BUSHILL-MATTHEWS [email protected]

Philip Bushill-Matthews is a Member of the European Parliament and is the Employment and Social Affairs Coordinator for the European People’s Party / European Democrats.

WHO WOULD have thought that a creature measuring only 20cm could cause so much trouble? The Great Crested Newt has received widespread media coverage in recent weeks. It has been held responsible for halting house re-builds, preventing development of schools and bringing filming of the latest Bond film to a standstill. What on earth – or in this case, what in the water – is going on?

According to some, it is of course all down to Brussels. The EU Habitats Directive has apparently insisted that no construction or development can take place anywhere unless ponds and puddles are first examined for possible newt activity. There are rumours of night newt smugglers trying to stop unwanted developments by nicking newts from elsewhere….  

In fact the newt has been protected under UK law via the Wildlife and Countryside Act well before the EU Directive was even drafted. Sanctions already decreed included fines and even imprisonment for failure to demonstrate due care to the species. EU legislation has merely reinforced existing provisions, and confirmed the species is indeed endangered.

This is a serious concern. The Great Crested Newt is particularly rare. It is fussy about its habitat, and its numbers are dwindling across the UK. It is already almost extinct in Scotland, Wales and parts of the continent. If we genuinely care about our environment, we should care about creatures that share our planet. But there is a matter of balance.


What the EU law has indirectly done in the UK is enable another protected species to breed, namely the Great British Bureaucrat. In order to be allowed to undertake any works in the UK that could disturb possible habitats of any Great Crested Newts, the Government has decided you now need to apply for a Great Crested Newt Licence.

For this purpose you need to produce an Application form (two copies) detailing your ‘newt experience’, supported by two referees, one of whom must have held a Great Crested Newt Licence for at least three years. You need a Method Statement (two copies) showing how your activities will conform to the Mitigation Guidelines (all of 77 pages). You need a Reasoned Statement describing the legal basis for the application, and finally you need a Local Planning Authority Consultation Document supported by a separate Declaration signed by a Planning Officer.

By the time this is all completed, the newts may well have finished their breeding season and moved on.  

Wolves are being protected in Spain and bears in France, also under the EU Habitats Directive. But neither country requires so much bureaucracy to deliver such protection. It would be good to see more habitats for newts – but in exchange for less protection for Great British Bureaucrats.

Philip Bushill-Matthews can be contacted by emailing [email protected]