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Newts v wet feet - potential impact of the Wildlife and Countryside Act

27 June 2008

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 can have an impact on building work close to or adjoining any waterways.

Under the Act, it is an offence to intentionally kill or injure various species of plants, animals or birds that are in danger of extinction or to interfere with places used for shelter and protection by them.

The protection of the WCA covers many species including otters, newts, frogs, toads, snails and water voles.

New legislation came into force in England in April 2008 extending the level of protection. It is now an offence, even if unintentional damage has been caused to an endangered species or its habitat, if it is reasonable to expect that the person who caused the damage, should have foreseen it as a consequence of their actions.

Before this new legislation came into force, it was only necessary to prove that the damage caused was intentional for an offence to have been committed.

In a recent case, a Wiltshire couple was ordered not to clear an overgrown ditch that had caused their farmhouse to flood several times. The ditch, they were told, might be a habitat for the great crested newt and would have to be assessed for potential damage to the creature’s habitat.

The check is likely to take months and in the meantime the farmhouse will continue to be at risk of flooding.

As always, if you need pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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