Newt dispute: bats, badgers, and falcons among the many UK wildlife species clashing with developers

Boris Johnson has joined Ed Sheeran in having projects delayed by newts - but what other UK wildlife do we need to be mindful of when building?

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The UK is home to a veritable cornucopia of incredible wildlife, but its highly-developed status means that inevitably protecting nature will sometimes clash with construction.

This comes as plans for a swimming pool at Boris Johnson's Oxfordshire estate were hampered by the local council's concerns that protected great-crested newts may be living just metres away. The former Prime Minister had infamously criticised conservation surveys of those very newts as an annoyance, slowing down the UK's house-building aspirations.

Great-crested newts are protected under the UK's Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 - the key piece of legislation responsible for making sure people do not interfere with endemic plants, animals, and wildlife habitats.

But they are not the only ones, with hundreds of species - from butterflies to basking sharks - listed in the act. But which ones have been known to come into conflict with developers and building projects?

Here's everything you need to know:

The UK's peregrine falcons, hedgehogs, newts, and bats have all come into conflict with construction projects in the past (NationalWorld/Adobe Stock)The UK's peregrine falcons, hedgehogs, newts, and bats have all come into conflict with construction projects in the past (NationalWorld/Adobe Stock)
The UK's peregrine falcons, hedgehogs, newts, and bats have all come into conflict with construction projects in the past (NationalWorld/Adobe Stock)


Boris Johnson is not the only high-profile Brit who has had to slow down building projects for protected newts.

An objection was also raised against pop star Ed Sheeran's plans to build a wedding chapel in his Suffolk garden for the same reason - that it could harm a nearby newt population. As of 2022, Sheeran had erected amphibian-friendly fencing around the site to make sure none of them were harmed by building work, and had made extensive efforts to make sure the site was eco-friendly, according to the Daily Mail.

The species involved in many of the clashes is the great-crested newt - the UK's largest newt species. They spend the early part of their lifecycles in ponds, before heading onto land to hunt for insects in woodland and hedgerows. They spend the winter hibernating underground, among tree roots or under old walls.

While not endangered, the species is on the decline, and the UK's population is of international importance. They are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the UK - and are also protected in Europe.

People found to be disturbing the newts or their eggs can face up to six months in prison or a hefty fine. Despite Johnson laying the blame for house-building delays on newt conservation surveys in 2020, the Local Government Association told the Guardian it was not aware of “newt-counting” causing any delays to construction or housing developments.


Plans to build the new Norwich Western link road, aimed at cutting congestion, have been widely protested after a colony of endangered barbastelle bats was discovered in the area.

The elusive woodland-dwellers are just one of many bats native to the UK, but unlikely some of their cousins the barbastelle is incredibly rare - and incredibly vulnerable. The Woodland Trusts attribute destruction of their woodland homes and pesticide use wiping out the insects they rely on for food as their key threats.

The Guardian reports the proposed Norwich dual-carriageway could wipe out the newly-discovered "super colony", the largest known colony of barbastelles in the UK, with many of their roosting trees within 2.5km of the road's “impact zone".


While almost all of the UK's resident and visiting bird species - minus game birds - are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, there are some species whose nesting habits bring them into conflict with humans more often that others.

One of these in the peregrine falcon - a bird of prey, and the world's fastest bird. In recent years, nesting pairs have famously selected sites like Derby Cathedral and the BT Tower in Birmingham as their homes.

The Wildlife Trust said it was because the tall city structures "replicate the precipitous cliff edges" that they would naturally nest on.

In Portsmouth, the local council opted to build nesting boxes as alternative accommodation for falcons, after peregrines opted to nest in two tower blocks scheduled for demolition - threatening to delay the £12m project, the News reports.


Migratory Brent geese have also been an ongoing issue - with a number of major construction projects over the years threatening to cross over their flight paths.

The geese scuppered plans for an ambitious 580-strong apartment complex in North Dublin last year, according to the Irish Times, while also bringing the axe down on Southsea's Solent Wheel attraction - amid fears the birds would collide with the Ferris wheel's moving pods, the News reports.

Peregrine falcons have even been spotted on the UK's Houses of Parliament (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)Peregrine falcons have even been spotted on the UK's Houses of Parliament (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Peregrine falcons have even been spotted on the UK's Houses of Parliament (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Brent geese have an 'amber' conservation status in the UK, meaning their ongoing survival is now of some concern. The flocks of migrating geese are an iconic winter sight, and the two distinct subspecies are both known for their lengthy - and taxing - migrations.

Dark-bellied Brent geese breed in Russia and spend the winter in Southern England, while pale-bellied Brent geese breed mostly in Canada and Greenland and spend the winter mostly in Ireland, according to the RSPB.


Badgers and their setts - or dens - are protected under a special piece of legislation, the Protection of Badgers Act, but their underground burrows and winding tunnels have brought the mammals into conflict with builders in the past.

Last month, an Edinburgh construction manager was fined £3,600 for bulldozing a badger sett near a housing development, Scottish Housing News reports, the latest in dozens of similar incidents.

The Peoples' Trust for Endangered Species says badgers were not initially afforded much in the way of protection in the UK, and their numbers fell rapidly due to practices like trapping and badger-baiting. They were finally given their own protections in 1992 - although some may still be culled under special licence.


The UK's hedgehog population is now in some trouble, with native hedgehogs now listed as vulnerable to extinction on the Red List for Britain’s Mammals 2020.

Campaign group Hedgehog Street also says numbers have plummeted in recent years - with up to 75% disappearing in some parts of the countryside. The nocturnal species' tendency to move into the suburbs for safety has caused them some difficulty, with lack of hedgerows and safe access between gardens hampering their efforts to find food and mates.

Hedgehog Street has recently launched a campaign to encourage fencing companies - including those working with developers - to offer hedgehog-friendly options as industry standard.

But larger construction projects put hedgehogs at risk too. A Wildlife Trusts report found that the controversial HS2 project may have underestimated its impact on wildlife, with hedgehogs likely to be one of the main victims, i News reports. The HS2 project has disputed these findings.

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