I recently attended a workshop that was discussing the potential impact of Brexit on Environmental Laws. There was a mix of people in the room, although about a third worked in the Environmental Impact Assessment field. This means that they co-ordinate the surveys that look at the potential impacts (positive as well as negative) of developments on the environment, produce a report, suggest mitigation and monitoring schemes.
One of the topics that seemed to come up a lot – and this is not the only place I have heard it mentioned, is the protection given to Great Crested Newts. This is a species that strikes fear into the heart of developers, or at least it used to as they are a protected species. The hope amongst this set of co-ordinators/ assessors was that if the planning laws were amended (and the general consensus in the room was that the current government is likely to weaken pretty much any environmental law they can, if not abolish it entirely) then surely it is worth getting rid of the protection for great crested newts – perhaps we could protect hedgehogs instead was a suggestion.
The reason there is so much debate about these newts is because in the UK they are more common than the general public usually think. It is just that internationally they are rare. Whereas in the UK at least, hedgehogs are in decline.
But, does that mean that in some countries in Africa they should be able to disregard elephants for example, just because they have lots? If we have an internationally important population of a creature, then surely we should do our best to look after them? That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing anything about hedgehogs, but there are lots of them around the world, so do UK populations matter in the grand scheme of things. (I think they do, but they could be added to the protected list, it is not a case of newt or hedgehog.) I’ve seen quite a few hedgehogs in my time, never seen a great crested newt yet though.
Besides, if we stopped protecting great crested newts, how long would we keep our large population for – we haven’t done very well with other species – even the starlings and sparrows are disappearing.