Protecting Britain's wildlife: Developers' worst enemies

This small snail almost halted the Newbury bypass. Sadly, it was revealed yesterday that it has died out in the area but its name will live on as a symbol of planning protest. Jonathan Brown looks at 10 animals that stood in the way of the bulldozers
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Desmoulin's whorl snail Newbury Bypass

The battle to save a colony of tiny snails that stood in the way of the controversial Newbury Bypass went all the way to the High Court. Environmentalists argued that as one of Europe's most imperilled molluscs, Desmoulin's whorl snails (Vertigo moulinsiana) should not have a road built through their natural habitat.

The judge threw the green groups' case out of court and the A34 went ahead but not before the colony was offered a glimmer of hope with a £250,000 translocation plan which saw them moved further along the river Lambourn.

But the tale of the snail was not to have a happy ending. This week it emerged that vandalism and silted-up pipes caused the snails' new habitat to dry up and according to wildlife charity Buglife, Desmoulin's whorl snail is extinct in its new home.

To make matters worse, numbers have collapsed in at least three other strongholds close by. According to Matt Shardlow, director of Buglife, the results could be catastrophic. "If it is not OK here we are talking about global extinction," he said.

The bypass became one of the most high-profile environmental battles of the 1990s, with protesters defying the road builders with a variety of ingenious and determined tactics. A report published by the Highways Agency this week found that while the bypass had cut journey times by 11 minutes, it was at odds with the Government's environmental pledges.

Great crested newt North Wales playground and Westbury bypass, Wiltshire

Itmay be Britain's third rarest newt, but when it comes to development schemes, Triturus cristatus seems to find itself all too commonly in the way of the bulldozers. Protected under schedule 5 of the Countryside and Wildlife Act 1981, the five-inch amphibian enjoys considerable shelter beneath the arm of the law, both in the United Kingdom and in Europe. Not only is it an offence to kill or injure one, it is also illegal "intentionally or recklessly" to disturb its habitat. As a result, campaigners opposed to everything from new mines to road-widening projects have rallied to its cause. In 2003, the European Union paid £43,000 to re-home a colony of newts in Rhyl, Wales, to make way for a new children's playground. In the same year, an engineering firm was told it would have to pay £2,000 for every newt killed during the building of the A350 bypass in Wiltshire. The great crested newt is particularly vulnerable because it can take up to four years to reach sexual maturity.

Bog bush cricket Landfill site at Aucheninnes Moss, Scotland

The plight of this nationally scarce priority species has been highlighted by plans to turn an ancient peat bog known as Aucheninnes Moss, into a landfill site. Despite a campaign under the banner Don't Dump on our Bog, Scottish ministers gave the go-ahead in 2003. Metrioptera brachyptera is frequently found on southern heaths and bogs, but it is rare in northern England and the Aucheninnes area is the only site in Scotland where it is found. The bog was once part of the extensive Barclosh Moss Complex which has been nibbled away by development and the planting of forests. Other species threatened are the sorrel pygmy moth (Enteucha acetosae), which is unique to the bog, and the small pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene).

Black redstart The Dome, Greenwich, east London

Considering all the trouble it has caused the Government, not least in recent weeks, perhaps it would have been for the best if the presence of Phoenicurus ochruros on the Greenwich site had strangled New Labour's ill-fated baby at birth. The robin-sized bird has adapted to living in inner-city areas such as the former gas works on the Thames peninsula. With fewer than 100 breeding pairs in the UK, the bird is on the amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern. It was the ironically named Lord Falconer of Thoroton, then the Dome minister, who green-lighted the Dome and three breeding pairs were required to vacate the premises. In October 2000, the species returned, with pairs spotted setting up home on the roofs of three tower blocks at nearby Canary Wharf where wildlife-friendly gardens had been built. On average there are between eight and 12 pairs breeding in Greater London each year with a further six to 10 singing males present.

Water vole Housing development in Dartford, Kent

Often mistaken for its unloved relation the rat, the water vole occupies a unique position in the mythology of the English countryside. Kenneth Grahame's Ratty in The Wind in the Willows, was in fact a water vole (Arvicola terrestris). But despite its status, the water vole has no special protection under the law and has been in long-term decline, not least because of the impact of predatory North American mink escaped from fur farms. Although wildlife groups are increasingly critical of relocation projects for affected animals, considerable time and expense goes into minimising the impact of construction upon species. At Dartford in Kent, where 1,000 new homes are being built, contractors collected hundreds of water voles from the river and transported them to Devon for the duration of the construction phase - due to last for up to three years. They were due to be returned to the site once the builders have gone.

Dark-bellied brent goose Container port on The Solent

Wildlife campaigners celebrated a rare victory when the former transport secretary Alastair Darling turned down a scheme to build a massive container port on the Solent. After four years of plans and public inquiries, the proposals for Dibden Bay near Southampton, which would have affected two special areas of conservation, one special protection area and eight sites of special scientific interest, were rejected. A major stumbling block was the presence of large numbers of waterfowl which inhabit the mudflats around the bay. The dark-bellied brent goose (Branta bernicla bernicla) was among the birds under threat. It overwinters in Britain, arriving in huge flocks in October after spending the summer breeding in the shallow pools of the Arctic tundra. A favourite with birdwatchers, the goose feeds on the eel grass that thrives on the mud. The species is on the amber list of endangered species because although it is found in large numbers, these occur at relatively few sites.

Badger Edinburgh airport road and rail link

To their well-organised supporters, badgers represent the quintessence of British fauna: the largest land carnivore since the extinction of the bear and the wolf, and a vital link with these islands' ancient past. Yet, with the backing of the National Farmers' Union, the badger faces the prospect of a widespread cull in the face of an epidemic of tuberculosis in both cattle and in badgers. Because they are so widespread, the estimated population is 250,000, badgers are often affected by new development schemes. Only last month conservationists in Edinburgh warned that the future of the species was "hanging by a thread" with plans for a new road and rail link to the city's airport. Under pressure from campaigners, four badger tunnels were built under the M8 close by. However, despite their protection under the law - punishable by a six-month jail term - badgers can still be removed to make way for road and housing developments as well as for forestry and agricultural operations.

Dunlin Barrage on Mersey Estuary

The idea of a barrage across the Mersey has long pitted environmentalists eager to harness the clean power of the river against wildlife campaigners who fear it would devastate the estuary's important birdlife. The last time the scheme was seriously floated was in the 1990s when, much to the delight of groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the project was scrapped when it became apparent it was economically doomed. Opponents of the scheme rallied behind the dunlin (Calidris alpina), a wading bird which uses the estuary mudflats as a staging post on its way to and from breeding grounds in Africa and northern Europe. The bird is responsible for one of the most stunning natural sights in the region when they take to the wing in flocks of up to 5,000. Plans for the barrage resurfaced last year with a new scheme to generate enough electricity to power 15 per cent of the North-west's requirements. Will the dunlin be the victor once again?

Brown-banded carder bee Regeneration plans for the Thames Gateway

When plans were unveiled to build tens of thousands of new homes on the banks of the Thames east of London, wildlife campaigners feared that some of the most endangered invertebrate species could be put under threat. Chief among these was Bombus humilis, one of the most endangered of Britain's 24 species of bumblebee. Populations of all domestic bees have collapsed in recent years, due to habitat loss and intensive farming practices. But some species have found sanctuary amid the derelict factories and overgrown warehouses along the Thames. Entomologists are currently attempting to discover what is under threat in what will be Europe's biggest regeneration project. Typical is the Northwick Road site on Canvey Island, where dredged gravel has created the ideal environment for so many species it is now cited as the most diverse ecosystem in Britain. Such are the stakes for the UK's invertebrates that campaigners will fight to the bitter end to preserve their refuge.

Dartford warbler House building in the Home Counties

The sight of Sylvia undata on a Surrey heath forced housing developers to shelve a vast house building project earlier this year. The Independent revealed how plans to build up to 20,000 homes across a 300 square mile expanse of lowland heath in the Home Counties had to be blocked because it is the habitat of three rare birds, including the Dartford warbler. The bird has attracted the concern of wildlife campaigners since the 1960s, when its population crashed to just a few pairs. Since then, it has increased in both numbers and range, but remains on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' "amber list" and is still at risk of extinction. In the past 200 years, the lowlands, known as the Thames Basin Heaths, have been depleted to one-sixth of the terrain they once covered, but became protected by European wildlife law in March this year. The warbler makes its home in gorse scrub and heather and as an insect eater, is vulnerable in cold winters.