Work at Stansted halted for rare newts

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Of all the considerations that have stopped important work at Stansted airport, the welfare of newts must be among the most unlikely.

But the discovery of a colony of the amphibians, specifically a number of endangered Great Crested Newts, has brought the repair of an electricity substation at London's third airport to a standstill. A number of the newts, which are strictly protected from injury or disturbance, were found slithering around the north side of Stansted last week.

An ecologist confirmed the presence of the rare breed, whose numbers have been declining at a rate of 2 percent a year, after an engineer from the London Electricity Service made the surprise find. The company is currently applying for a permit from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in order to allow the work to continue without causing disturbance to the newts.

Vincent Burke, a spokesman for the London Electricity Group, said one of the engineers working at the site, who had been an avid frog collector in his childhood, alerted experts after correctly recognising the protected breed, which is black and has a characteristically orange belly. They can grow up to 16cm long.

"We hope we can finish the work without having to move them as they are entering their watering cycle and they may go back to water soon," Mr Burke said.

The clay soil and ponds on an airport site make ideal breeding territory for newts, which live on land but breed in water.

The repairs, which involve replacing a faulty high-voltage switchgear, will be suspended for another two weeks.