Property: Tough rules for new(t) housing

Animals need nice homes as much as we do, and developers have to be very careful when building on sites where rare or threatened species may be in evidence. Mary Wilson reports

PROTECTED WILDLIFE - bats, badgers, butterflies and greater crested newts - can often hinder a new development, as house builders are required by law to either move the animals to new homes or ensure that they are not disturbed.

These creatures are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and builders can only move or disturb them under licence. Badgers are further safeguarded under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and between December and June may not be disturbed at all. Their paths cannot be obstructed and disruptive activity within 30 metres of a sett also has to be licenced. Penalties for infringing the law can be severe, with fines of up to pounds 5,000, plus up to six months imprisonment.

Bryant Homes, for example, had to make special provisions on a site for 250 homes at Church Crookham, Hampshire, which was previously farmland. This involved providing several hundred yards of badger corridors between the area of the setts and a foraging area close to the Basingstoke Canal. And no part of the site is closer than 30 metres to the badgers' territory.

"Badgers and humans live in harmony with no reports of difficulties from either side. Indeed, the badgers in their various journeys are a visual attraction for the residents," says Carole Sobey, sales negotiator. The remaining two-, three- and four-bedroom houses are priced from pounds 95,000 to pounds 190,000.

An environmental and ecological study had to be carried out at Princess Christian Farm, Tonbridge, Kent, where Berkeley Homes is building a 30- acre development, Hildenbrook Farm. Both bats and badgers were found at the derelict hospital site. The bats were using the buildings as a summer roost only. "We had to build six bat boxes as an alternative roost before they commenced their nest building. These had to be located on a number of oak trees, which had a clear flight path from the existing buildings," says David Rick, sales manager of Berkeley Homes, Kent.

"Also, a barn owl was using one of the out-buildings as an overnight roosting site. English Nature advised us on the best course of action to avoid disturbing the bird."

Berkeley Homes is converting an oast house into two semi-detached homes, another 8,000sq ft property into a seven-bedroom house with 12 acres, and building 31 detached and mews-style houses. Guide prices range from pounds 175,000 to pounds 350,000.

At another Berkeley Homes site, Springfield Park in Horsham, Sussex, the company discovered a badger sett where they had proposed to build some houses. They stopped work immediately and reported it to the council. As the sett appeared to be vacated, the company was asked to monitor it for two weeks, 24 hours a day, to ensure the badgers had left.

With none in evidence, Berkeley applied for a licence to build where the sett was and launched the first phase of two-, three- and four-bedroom houses in late August. Prices range from pounds 150,000 to pounds 350,000.

Bewley Homes has had to move an entire population of greater crested newts, which had established themselves in one of two abandoned chalk pits at Sherborne Fields, a site in Sherborne St John, near Basingstoke, Hampshire.

"We wanted to make sure we gathered up all those which might have been destroyed during construction," says Colin Brooks, the managing director. "Forty eight buckets were dug into the ground around the newts' migratory path with leaves in the bottom to cushion the fall. For three months, Ron Allen, environmental consultant, myself and a few others, went to the site twice a day, and we eventually collected 31."

To prevent them from returning to the area, which will be housing and gardens, a 2ft-deep fence has been dug below the perimeter of the site. Forty-eight two-, three- and four-bedroom homes are being built, with only five still available. These range from a three-bedroom house from pounds 132,000 to the four-bedroom show house for pounds 185,000.

In Burgess Hill, West Sussex, Sunley Estates had to made tunnels under a new road so that badgers could get from their setts to their natural foraging areas south of the road.

"We had to get various licences ensuring we only worked around the setts at certain times and at certain distances," says Robin Bishop, engineering manager.

Now the badgers are now using the tunnels as planned. "This was without doubt the smoothest badger operation in relation to road schemes that I have ever done," says John Kelcey, Mid-Sussex District Council's environmental consultant.

The remaining three- and four-bedroom houses at Bourne Park are for sale from pounds 120,000 to pounds 163,500 and there is a two-bedroom terraced showhouse available for pounds 87,000.

Bryant Homes, 01252 816608; Berkeley Homes, 01959 561499; Bewley Homes, 01256 472131; Sunley Estates, 01444 871535

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