The development is in the Popley area of Basingstoke. The site is being developed by David Wilson Homes. They acquired the land roughly in the year 2000 and have been working closely alongside The Landmark Practice of ecological consultants and JPR Environmental ever since, to implement the great crested newt mitigation strategy for the sites. The site has been developed in various phases since the year 2002. They’re currently on the fourth phase of development, which is the Spiers Meadow phase, which is going to be the construction of 450 new homes. The challenge for David Wilson Homes on this site was that they encountered a far bigger population of newts than they were originally expecting.
When The Landmark Practice were brought in to carry out the initial surveys, they got a small count of about 29 adult newts in the initial surveys which indicated a medium size population. That would have been consistent with what we would have expected. The breeding pond is located a few hundred meters away from the site here, which is Popley Ponds which is designated as a site of importance for nature conservation. The only other habitat past that was arable farmland and some mature hedgerows, which you would have thought in itself constitute a huge population of newts.
What we discovered when we undertook the initial phase of trapping was that there was, in fact, a huge population of newts here. By this point now, we had actually translocated over 8,000 great crested newts off the site, which makes it arguably one of the largest great crested newts translocations ever to have happened. Following the initial surveys, JPR first attended site in 2004 to install the first load of newt fencing for the initial translocation. Following that, we then work on helping to create and enhance some of the major wildlife corridors that run through the site. The site itself has the breeding newt ponds to the south and is boarded on the north by Basing forest.
This essentially means the newts are moving from the terrestrial phase on the edge of the forest down to the breeding ponds. There are two 40-meter wide corridors that run from the forest down towards the breeding ponds. These border the site on the eastern side and run directly through the center of the sites. The key issue for JPR was to keep the integrity of those corridors free whilst leaving destruction space for David Wilson Homes.
As a sympathetic developer, David Wilson Homes have been fantastic at accommodating the great crested newts on their site. They’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to preserve the habitat and also create an enhanced extra habitat for the newts. They spent far more money than was really needed in order to do this, going to great lengths with civil engineering measures as well as wildlife enhancement to preserve the newt habitat.
One of the biggest challenges is preserving the corridor of movement. The development did require three access points which went through that corridor to allow people onto the development. In order not to compromise the integrity of the corridor, David Wilson Homes working with JPR Environmental helped to install three large underpasses which allowed newts to go under the road and move freely and traffic move on top of it.
The attenuation pond behind us serves as one of the main drainage catchments for the development. What’s brilliant about it is that this is now being colonized by great crested newts. You can see that JPR have installed semi-permanent newt fence which contains the site behind it. The pond sits just outside of that. So as not to compromise the effectiveness of the drainage ponds, we have installed a permeable newt fence next to it. A semi-permeable fence allows water to pass off the site into the drainage ponds but keeps a fence newt proof at the same time.
The pond is situated about 300 meters from the edge of the woodlands and it’s also right next to one of the main corridors of movement for the newts. This is great because it means the newts can wake up from hibernation, move down from the woodland edge that moved around the site by the semi-permanent newt fencing. Where they cross the site entrance, there is a newt grid in place which means the newts can enter the site in the gap in the fencing. This allows the newts to keep moving down the corridor, and they can then reach the pond here for breeding in the spring and summer.
What may look like a simple drainage pond, has actually been designed with two functions in mind, as well as coping with the runoff from the site. They also are an important part of the habitat management plan to increase habitat for great crested newts. There are many features around development sites that people probably don’t realize are specifically aimed at improving habitat for wildlife.
What looks like general landscape planting and ponds is very specifically designed to create habitat for great crested newts on this site. On this development, there have been nine ponds installed, two further water bodies, as well as nine hectares of species-rich grass planting and shrub planting. That makes a huge contribution to the wildlife habitat in this area.
One of the best things about this project, in particular, is that far from us mitigating the damage to the great crested newt’s population, it’s actually boosted the population. Monitoring is now showing that the population in this area hasn’t been damaged at all by this development. In fact, it’s advantaged from it and has increased significantly.